From showdown in Killarney to double trouble in Donegal

All this weekend’s county final previews

Ciarán McKeever: will be marshalling Cullyhanna’s defence tomorrow

Ciarán McKeever: will be marshalling Cullyhanna’s defence tomorrow

 

SUNDAY
Kerry SFC final – Dr Crokes v Austin Stacks, Fitzgerald Stadium Killarney, 3.0: County showdowns don’t come much bigger than this. Why, exactly? Colm “Gooch” Cooper orchestrating the Dr Crokes attack, and Kieran Donaghy starring for Austin Stacks, for starters – the respect mutual, the rivalry vintage, all over the field. However, while Stacks have won this title 11 times, twice more than Crokes, the last of them was in 1994, when they beat Crokes in a replay.

Since then, the power has shifted firmly in favour of the Killarney club, who are now chasing a fourth title in succession. Donaghy agreedthis week a Tralee victory would require something of an upset, but they’ll certainly be up for it. Manager Stephen Stack, the 1997 All-Ireland winner with Kerry, in his first year managing the club, suggests Crokes “have to be beaten sometime”. They will, but just not likely here.


Donegal SFC final – Glenswilly v Killybegs, MacCumhail Park, 4.0: The only pity here is the conflict faced by Glenswilly and Donegal star Michael Murphy, who is also set to lead out Ireland in this evening’s first International Rules Test against Australia. It’s a lot to ask of any player, even one of Murphy’s great talent, although manager Gary McDaid is adamant the club haven’t been distracted, as they look to win back the title claimed in 2011.

Glenswilly have other worries too, sweating over the fitness of Ciaran Bonner, who hasn’t trained since their semi-final over Ardara. Killybegs, amazingly, have lost all 14 league games this year, but are the only club unbeaten in the championship, and if they maintain that consistency here they clearly have a chance – further inspiration, perhaps, being provided by the half-time presentation to the 1988 Killybegs team, who ended four decades of waiting for a county title.


Meath SFC final – Na Fianna v Summerhill, Páirc Tailteann, 3.30: Having won the title in 2011 and been beaten finalists five years ago, Summerhill have more experience of what it takes to win. Na Fianna are in their first season up from intermediate but have been shooting the lights out in this championship, including hitting Moynalvey for seven goals in the quarter-finals.

At the same stage Summerhill recorded an equally significant victory, defeating the champions and red-hot favourites Navan O’Mahony’s in a tight contest. Summerhill lost their early fixtures in the championship and so have been playing effectively knock-out football ever since. That experience of walking the tightrope and close finishes may just about give them the edge against Na Fianna’s greater pyrotechnics.


Down SFC final – Burren v Kilcoo, Páirc Esler, 4.0: The two reigning heavyweights of Down club football go at each other again, having won the last four titles between them. Kilcoo are the defending champions, managed by Jim McCorry, but form would appear to favour Burren, who beat Saval by an incredible 28 points in their semi-final.

It will be a lot closer than that here, but the Burren attack, led by James McGovern and Shay McArdle, can do enough damage, perhaps to see them regain the title.


Laois SFC final – Arles-Killeen v Portlaoise, O’Moore Park, 4.0: David versus Goliath quickly springs to mind here, as Portlaoise close in on a historic seventh title in succession, while Arles-Killeen are seeking their first. Only a massive upset will likely deny the champions. They’ve welcomed back Cahir Healy from his sojourn into hurling, with Paul Cahillane as sharp as ever, while Zach Touhy will also be on the bench, no doubt itching to play some part, if needed, despite his involvement with the International Rules. Yet Arles-Killeen won’t lack incentive, naturally. Conor Keightley, Dermot Julian and Sean O’Shea all scored goals in their semi-final win over Graiguecullen – but they’ll need all that and more to topple the giants.


Waterford SFC final – Stradbally v Ballinacourty, Fraher Field, Dungarvan, 3.30: This showdown between two rival heavyweights promises to emulate last week’s exciting hurling final. Stradbally are defending champions, and enjoyed an easy win over An Rinn in their semi-final, while Ballinacourty endured a sterner test against Nire, enough perhaps to leave them in the better form.


Armagh SFC final – Crossmaglen Rangers v St Patrick’s Cullyhanna, Athletic Grounds, 5.30: Life goes on for the perennial champions with Joe Kernan back at the helm but Crossmaglen are short six of last year’s team due to the retirement of Oisín McConville, Jamie Clarke travelling abroad and injury casualties. As a result they are unusually inexperienced in certain areas, notably the forwards.

Cullyhanna have been emerging as serious opposition for Cross, having dominated the underage grades in recent years. With their defence marshalled by Ciarán McKeever, they won’t be easily beaten and in a local derby between the Lower Creggan (Cullyhanna) and Upper Creggan (Crossmaglen), intensity levels will be high. The holders are at artificially tight odds but at this stage winning is in their DNA and they can keep the neighbours at bay for this year at least.


Limerick SFC final – Monaleen v Dromcollogher-Broadford, Newcastlewest, 3.30: Although these are the dominant clubs in Limerick football since the turn of the century – 10 titles between them in 12 seasons – they haven’t met so far in a final. Dromcollogher have the higher profile after winning the Munster title five years ago but Monaleen, not pleased with the venue, can cause a slight surprise.


Wexford SHC final – Oulart-The Ballagh v Ferns St Aidan’s, Wexford Park, 3.15: Oulart are back again in the final after another heartbreak in Leinster last season and seek what would be a fifth county title on the spin as well as an eighth in 10 years but Ferns have had a good year, winning all of their group matches and surviving a bruising semi-final against Glynn Barntown. They took Oulart to extra-time in last year’s quarter-finals but the champions mightn’t be ready to go just yet.


Westmeath SHC final – Castletown Geoghegan v St Oliver Plunketts, Cusack Park, 3.45: They took out defending champions, Clonkill, in the semi-final, and now St Oliver Plunketts contest their first ever county final, the Mullingar club already surpassing expectations. The pressure is on Castletown Geoghegan who lost the final in 2011 and won’t want to slip up this time.


Carlow SHC final – Mount Leinster Rangers v St Mullin’s, Dr Cullen Park, 3.45: It will be a major shock if Mount Leinster Rangers – the reigning title holders, appearing in their ninth consecutive final – don’t get the better of close neighbours St Mullin’s. Rangers captain David Phelan has been preaching caution this week, but they’ve too much class and experience for St Mullin’s, who won’t lie down easy, and boast one big standout player in Jack Kavanagh.


Wicklow SHC final – Bray Emmets v Glenealy, Aughrim, 3.0: Former Wexford manager Séamus Murphy takes favourites Glenealy into a county final against the Bray club, who haven’t won the hurling title for 61 years. Their wait is likely to continue.


Ulster SFC first round – Ballinderry Shamrocks v Clonoe O’Rahilly’s, Celtic Park, 3.30: Clonoe impressed last week against Carrickmore with their defensive set-up not inhibiting some fast-breaking attacks and a three-goal haul that kept their opponents at bay in the Tyrone final.

County player Conor McAliskey did a lot of the damage but was well supported by Danny McNulty. They’re up against it here, though, with the experienced three-in-a-row Derry champions having home advantage as well as the benefit of a proper rest period.