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Monday’s football final may have echoes of September but MLR’s hurling feats show the other side of the championship

AIB GAA Football All Ireland Senior Club Championship Semi-Final, OÕMoore Park, Portlaoise, Co. Laois 15/2/2014Castlebar Mitchels vs Dr. Crokes Castlebar players celebrate at the end of the gameMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

AIB GAA Football All Ireland Senior Club Championship Semi-Final, OÕMoore Park, Portlaoise, Co. Laois 15/2/2014Castlebar Mitchels vs Dr. Crokes Castlebar players celebrate at the end of the gameMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

 

Monday’s All-Ireland senior club finals in Croke Park span the spectrum in terms of relevance to the intercounty games. It’s one of the enduring attractions of the club championship that it provides some variety in the counties represented on its biggest stage but this year is one of contrasts.

The football pairing between St Vincent’s, one of the elite names in the championship, having reached the final in every decade except the 1990s, and Castlebar Mitchels, who were previously here 20 years ago, replicates the All-Ireland rivalry of last September.

This is the only the second time this has happened. Coincidentally Vincent’s were also involved on the previous occasion when six months after Kerry had defeated Dublin in the Centenary Final of 1984, the counties’ respective champions met in what would be the last time the climax of the club season didn’t take place in Croke Park.

Dublin teams
The omens for the Dublin champions are ambiguous. Whereas the intercounty precedent was followed, they lost in 1985 to a last-minute goal against Castleisland Desmonds. The following September, Kerry made it three out of three against Dublin teams by retaining the Sam Maguire.

If Mayo football needed any further encouragement before Monday, there have been seven occasions in 43 years on which the county whose club wins the All-Ireland goes on to win again in September. It is however 16 years since Corofin and Galway completed this double.

In hurling the All-Ireland pairing has been repeated in the following spring’s club final on three occasions, most recently eight years ago when Portumna, going for a fourth title next Monday, defeated Newtownshandrum to reverse the outcome of the 2005 Liam MacCarthy climax, which saw Cork beat Galway.

This year’s final features arguably the most remarkable finalists in the history of the club hurling championship. Mount Leinster Rangers from Carlow represent a county in the third league tier of the game – which is an extraordinary achievement in a game as hierarchical as hurling.

Of the 11 counties whose champions have contested an All-Ireland final, only Antrim and Laois would occupy anywhere close to the space where Carlow hurling operates. Their opponents Portumna come from the other side of the tracks and a win in three days’ time will place them joint-second in the roll of honour, just one behind Kilkenny’s Ballyhale Shamrocks, who top the list with five titles.

Galway’s club achievements completely outstrip the county’s. Since last winning the Liam MacCarthy 26 years ago, the county has welcomed 11 club All-Irelands back across the Shannon, borne by seven different clubs – more than a third of all the clubs on the roll of honour.

Football spreads a wider net. There have been 19 counties represented in the finals since 1971. The farthest-reaching champions were probably Baltinglass from Wicklow, then a Division Three South county, who beat Roscommon’s perennially cursed Clann na nGael in 1990 although Portlaoise, who won in 1983, also represented a Division Three county.

Wicklow went on to win the All-Ireland B title in 1992 and the decade previously, Laois famously won the National League three years after the county’s club success.

Coincidentally Mount Leinster Rangers’ greatest parallel in football is perhaps fellow Carlow outfit Éire Óg, who were unlucky not to win the 1993 All-Ireland, eventually losing a replay to O’Donovan Rossa of Skibbereen.

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