Munster club SHC final: Ballyea (Clare) v Ballygunner (Waterford), FBD Semple Stadium, 3.15 (Live on TG4) – If tearing it up in semi-finals is regarded as dangerous preparation for a final, the All-Ireland champions may be considered vulnerable after a signature performance of verve, in-game calm and lethal striking when the chances opened up for them in the second half against Na Piarsaigh.
But you suspect that’s just in a tortoise-and-hare kind of way – as happened to the Waterford champions against Boris-Ileigh three years ago. We haven’t seen that side of the Gunners in a while, though, and they now look very comfortable with the status of favourites.
Ballyea made very heavy weather of beating 14-man St Finbarr’s but eventually got their alignment right – Tony Kelly, who was well marked by Jamie Burns, drifted out and led the winning drive. It was far from a convincing performance from the Clare champions but they will be liberated from the favourites’ tag and maybe can put down a better display here.
It was noteworthy how Ballygunner raised their overall game after half-time. Their defence attacked possession and Barry Coughlan hustled the ball while Philip Mahony and the half-backs tightened up. Centrefield was top class and Conor Sheahan turned shooter with four from four play-off shots.
Up front Pauric Mahony posted an industrial-sized 13 from 18 attempts and both Dessie Hutchinson, as usual, and Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been sensational in his first senior year, darted here, there and everywhere.
It’s a lot for Ballyea to counter. They have experience and genuine quality from Jack Browne and Paul Flanagan at the back through to Kelly and the great trooper that is retired county footballer Gary Brennan – MOTM in the semi-final – up front.
They have the motivation of wanting to redeem themselves after last year’s 17-point blitz in the same fixture. The champions have added Fitzgerald in the meantime and Ballyea have Kelly back but to turn around that kind of deficit is surely beyond even a certified miracle worker like him. Verdict: Ballygunner
Connacht club SFC final: Moycullen (Galway) v Tourlestrane (Sligo), Pearse Stadium, 12.45 (Live on TG4) – Moycullen are betraying signs of the inexperienced club campaigners. Having emptied Westport, they promptly got into all sorts of bother against Strokestown despite having the capacity to blow them away in extra time. Tourlestrane have been around Connacht for a while, putting in some competitive performances against better fancied teams, and captain Gary Gaughan is fully back in harness but this is their first final in 40 years.
Perhaps if their Galway counterparts go walkabout again, they have a chance – last year, having huffed and puffed past St Kiernan’s in London, they then ran Knockmore to two points – but Moycullen are well resourced with intercounty talent, fronted by Galway captain Seán Kelly, who is at the end of an extraordinarily consistent year, from Sigerson to county to club and is now operating in the forwards. When they’re on song, they have Dessie Conneely, who went to town on Westport, Owen Gallagher and Peter Cooke. It should be sufficient to prevail. Verdict: Moycullen
Leinster club SFC final: The Downs (Westmeath) v Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin), Croke Park, 4.30 (Live, TG4) – Luke Loughlin’s tour de force should have been enough to win the semi-final against Ratoath a bit more comfortably but the Meath champions refused to give up. Champions Kilmacud were, however, impressive and never gave Portarlington the glimpse of a future that made last year’s match so compelling. The champions have been very assured and are likely to make things difficult for Loughlin, whereas their movement and accuracy up front with Dara Mullin and Shane Walsh and effective use of the mark means that The Downs will have to raise their game considerably. Verdict: Kilmacud
Leinster club SHC final: Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny) v Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin), Croke Park, 2.30 (Live, TG4) – Ballyhale, with TJ Reid back from paternity leave to hit 1-6 in the unexpectedly complicated win over Naas, have the incentive of a potential clash with Ballygunner, their All-Ireland nemesis last season, in the pre-Christmas All-Ireland semi-finals. Kilmacud mightn’t let them have things all their own way, though. They have a fresh, mobile team who have clearly benefited from last year’s unpalatable experience. Ronan Hayes is edging back to form and Oisín O’Rorke is in that zone. They can further build here but only to a certain point before the blue-chip Kilkenny champions put the foot down. Verdict: Ballyhale
Ulster club SHC final: Dunloy Cuchullains (Antrim) v Slaughtneil Emmets (Derry), Athletic Ground, 1.30 (Live on TG4 YouTube) – Dunloy get another go against the province’s dominant force, who are after a fourth title in the past five championships and have beaten the Antrim champions three times in that run. Their destruction of Portaferry in the semi-final might have been little more than target practice but Brian Cassidy (1-7, 1-5 from play) and Shane McGuigan (0-4) certainly availed of the opportunity. Conor Cunning, McDonagh Hurler of the Year, gives a comparable cutting edge to Dunloy but the champions have greater depth. Verdict: Slaughtneil