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Naas relishing 'dream' showdown with Ballyhale

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Seven years on from beating Ballyhale Shamrocks in the Kilkenny U-16 Division 1 Shield final, the Naas senior hurlers take a huge step up against the same opposition at Croke Park on Sunday.This time it's at the highest possible level as the sides will meet in the AIB Leinster SHC semi-final.The game comes just a season after Ballyhale were beaten by Ballygunner, following a dramatic Harry Ruddle goal at the death in the 2021 All-Ireland senior final.A week before that Naas broke new ground by becoming the first Kildare club to win an All-Ireland hurling championship when they beat Kilmoyley to land the intermediate title.Out of the squad that won last season's intermediate series, 11 played against Ballyhale in that U-16 shield decider back in 2015.And while Ballyhale youngsters are scarcely out of nappies before a hurley is thrust into their hands, the culture of the small ball game is now deeply embedded in Naas too.Each player that represented the club in last season's historic provincial win started out in the underage nursery, run by John Holmes, the godfather of Naas hurling, who continues to spread the gospel of the game in the Kildare town along with a committed cohort of diehards."No one would have believed it would happen.""We appreciate there is a huge challenge ahead this weekend," says another Naas hurling stalwart, club official and former Naas senior hurler, David Delahunty."But once guys hurl to their full potential that's what we want.

To be here in November playing against Ballyhale in a Leinster senior semi-final - that is what dreams are made of."That was a scenario that was unthinkable to the club six years ago.

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