GAA club championship previews

Malachy Clerkin and Seán Moran look ahead to the weekend’s GAA action

St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh’s Bernard Brogan: will bid  to earn a county final place with his club when they face St Jude’s. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh’s Bernard Brogan: will bid to earn a county final place with his club when they face St Jude’s. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Today Dublin SFC semi-finals (Parnell Park) St Oliver Plunkett’s v St Jude’s, 3.30 – Widely assumed to have missed the bus in recent years, Plunkett’s have bounced back this year and gave a master class in fast, counter-attacking football to beat a fancied Ballymun. Kevin McManamon bankrolled Jude’s with 3-5 against Plunkett’s neighbours, St Brigid’s and this should be very competitive. The Brogans can get another shot at the title.

Ballyboden St Enda’s v St Vincent’s, 5.15 – All-Ireland champions St Vincent’s haven’t burned too much fuel getting to this stage and are favourites to beat a Ballyboden side short of the outgoing footballer of the year, Michael Macauley. Short of dominating possession to an unfeasible extent, considering a weakened centrefield, St Enda’s are likely to struggle to contain the champions’ scoring power.

Tomorrow Ulster SFC first round Kilcoo (Down) v Clontibret (Monaghan), Páirc Esler, 3.30 – Kilcoo are back in the provincial championship after two years of hard knocks, each culminating in losing to opponents who were short red-carded players. That experience should be of great assistance tomorrow but Clontibret aren’t exactly novices with prominent county players Conor McManus and Dessie Mone and a wealth of experience from the last decade. Kilcoo have evolved sufficiently to progress.

Club football finals Kildare SFC Sarsfields v Moorefield, Newbridge, 4.15 – The palaver over the minor final – now being played four hours before this despite Sarsfields’ involvement – has distracted attention from what may be a watershed final. Moorefield have been the outstanding club in Kildare for the past 12 years and that probably explains why they’ve won the four most recent finals between the clubs. But Sarsfields are gradually putting together what might be their own dominant phase in the championship. Will the lines on the graph cross tomorrow? The hunch is that they will.

Antrim SFC Erins Own, Cargin v St Gall’s, Ahoghill, 3.0 – St Gall’s are on an eight-in-a-row in the county but the former All-Ireland champions are probably beginning to wilt. Cargin had a good opportunity to dethrone them last year but weren’t able to make it count. Gall’s haven’t been beaten in the county since tomorrow’s opponents did so in 2006. In Tomás McCann, Justin Crozier and Tony Scullion the challengers have quality players but the champions carry too much threat up front.

Armagh SFC final Armagh Harps v Crossmaglen, Athletic Grounds, 4.0 – Business as usual in Armagh. Should Cross win again – and no team has come within six points of them in this campaign – it will be five in a row and 18 of the last 19. The Harps have Charlie Vernon and a scattering of promising youngsters. Not enough, in other words.

Cork SFC final Ballincollig v Carbery Rangers, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 3.45 – Quite possibly the match of the day, stuffed with novelty and barely an inch to pinch between them. It’s Ballincollig’s first ever county final, Carbery Rangers’ first appearance in the decider since 1906. One way or another, a new name will go on the cup.

Rangers watched their near neighbours Castlehaven take the title last year and had to come through derbies against them and Clonakilty to get here. Ballincollig have beaten royalty along the way, taking St Finbarr’s for the first time in their history and waltzing past Nemo in the semi-final. The experience of John Miskella and Pa Kelly could help Ballincollig prevail.

Derry SFC final Ballinderry v Slaughtneil, Celtic Park, 3.30 – This should be relatively straightforward. Ballinderry are going for four in a row and haven’t lost a league or championship game in Derry all year. They’ve strolled to the county final whereas Slaughtneil needed a replay to get past Dungiven and have had dual players involved in winning the Derry hurling championship and on Ulster club duty last weekend. Mickey Moran has done a fine job with Slaughtneil in his first year but this looks like where it ends.

Galway SFC final Corofin v St Michael’s, Tuam Stadium, 4.0 – This looks like a mismatch whatever angle you take, with some bookies offering 1/33 on a Corofin win. The 15-time Galway champions can even afford a few absentees with injuries to Justin Burke and Gary Delaney, while Pádraig Kelly is on honeymoon. St Michael’s can rely on county forward Eddie Hoare but this will be one-way traffic.

Laois SFC final Arles-Killeen v Portlaoise, O’Moore Park, 4.0 – Of all the serial winners looking to keep their run going this weekend, Portlaoise’s bid for eight in a row is potentially the most vulnerable. As of yesterday, it was still unclear whether they would have Zach Tuohy for tomorrow – the Carlton player returned to Australia on Monday for a wedding and the club have been tight-lipped on whether they will be able to get him back.

Tuohy was outstanding in the game and a half he has played. If he plays, Portlaoise are worthy favourites. If not, a Donie Kingston-inspired Arles-Kileen could win their first ever county title.

Meath SFC final Donaghmore/Ashbourne v Navan O’Mahonys, Páirc Tailteann, 3.30 – The coming men against the establishment. Donaghmore/Ashbourne only formed in 1996 but given the size of their catchment area, it’s getting long past time that they started winning Meath titles. Navan might well be there for the taking, especially without county captain Kevin Reilly. There’s a lot of big-game experience in the Navan side but Bryan Menton and Andy Tormey can lead the first-timers to victory.

Mayo SFC final Ballintubber v Castlebar Mitchels, MacHale Park, 3.30 – The undisputed best two sides in Mayo – you have to go back to 2009 for a county final that didn’t feature either or both of them. Ballintubber didn’t kick on after their back-to-back titles and actually lost the first game of this year’s championship to Castlebar. The defending champions lost two finals in a row to Ballintubber in 2010 and 2011 and definitely felt they owed them. Led by the O’Connor brothers, Ballintubber have the more polished forward line and that could prove vital. Roscommon SFC final St Brigid’s v St Faithleach’s, Dr Hyde Park, 3.30 – A feature of St Brigid’s march through Roscommon over the past decade is the ruthless way they’ve shut down the county finals when they’ve had to. Aiming for their eighth title in 10 seasons, they haven’t conceded a goal in a final since 2006, coincidentally against St Faithleach’s. Expect them to take care of business again here.

Waterford SFC final The Nire v Stradbally, Walsh Park, 3.30 – A familiar pairing in the Waterford final, although Stradbally did pull off something of a shock in overcoming Ballinacourty in the semi-final. At the end of a week in which he bowed out of intercounty hurling, Shane Walsh can see The Nire over the line.

Club hurling finals

Carlow SHC St Mullin’s v Naomh Eoin, Dr Cullen Park, 3.45 – All-Ireland finalists Mount Leinster Rangers checked out before the county final for the first time in 10 years, beaten by Naomh Eoin, under former Wexford manager and All-Ireland winning coach Rory Kinsella, who can finish the job here.

Leitrim SHC Carrick v Gortletteragh, Ballinamore, 3.0 – Both came through nerve-wracking semi-finals, Carrick putting out champions Cluainin and Gortletteragh relaying on a late free from county football goalkeeper Cathal McCrann to see off Ballinamore. Carrick may have the edge.

Limerick SHC Kilmallock v Na Piarsaigh, Gaelic Grounds, 3.30 - Forged by two intense seasons winning county and province before losing to eventual All-Ireland winners, Na Piarsaigh should be able to preserve momentum by recording a third Limerick title in four years. They beat Kilmallock comfortably in the early stages of the championship and haven’t been extensively tested on the run so far. Their opponents have however had competitive tussles with Adare and Doon and with Ger O’Loughlin in charge are likely to set up defensively and try to use their physique to close down the game as much as possible. The champions may well put Cathal King on Graeme Mulcahy as a counter to the county man’s roving tactics. Na Piarsaigh have experience now as well as quality and with Shane Dowling in form, can complete the three-in-a-row.

Offaly SHC Kilcormac-Killoughey v St Rynagh’s, Tullamore, 3.30 – Kilcormac are another side on a third successive title trail and although they didn’t retain their Leinster crown last year, they remain the most formidable side in the county and are favourites to win tomorrow. St Rynagh’s are managed by former Galway star Francis Forde and with a youthful panel are looking to alleviate a wretched run of six county final defeats in the past 20 years since they last won the title. It might be a bit early for them this year but an interesting match in prospect.

Westmeath SHC Castlepollard v Raharney, Cusack Park, 3.30 – Castlepollard shocked champions Castletown-Geoghegan in the semi-finals but Raharney are unbeaten since very early in the championship and have been looking likely winners all along.

Wexford SHC St Anne’s v Shelmaliers, Wexford Park, 3.15 – A big change in Wexford with Oulart cooling their heels on final day for the first time since 2003. St Anne’s still have Redmond Barry from their most recent success 14 years ago when they did the double in the county. Another of that team, former All Star Darragh Ryan, is managing the side. They’ve a higher-wattage array of stars with county hurlers Liam Óg McGovern and injury doubt Diarmuid O’Keeffe. But Shelmaliers have been in the semi-finals in the past two seasons and are a very balanced team if lacking the big-day experience of their opponents. According to Wexford manager Liam Dunne, there’s been more black-and-amber bunting around Curracloe and Castlebridge than last month in Kilkenny. This weekend may however be more of a learning experience.

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