Nine county finals and provincial action - The weekend's GAA previews
Club football and hurling senior championships
Kerry senior footballer Colm Cooper will line out with Dr Crokes against Kilmurry-Ilbrickane in the Munster SFC.
Mayo SFC final
Castlebar Mitchels v Knockmore, MacHale Park, 7.15 – Castlebar’s Neil Douglas has been a forward star on the local scene over the past few seasons and hit 0-8 in the Mitchels’ convincing semi-final win over Ballintubber. Castlebar kept Ballintubber scoreless from play until injury-time and look set to make another assault on the province under Declan O’Reilly. Knockmore return to their first final in seven years but had a surprise win over Breaffy. They will need to produce another shock in order to prevent Castlebar from retaining their title.
Dublin SHC final
Cuala v Kilmacud Crokes, Parnell Park, 3.0 – School influence is writ large in this city final, with around 20 players from both clubs having passed through the corridors of Coláiste Eoin. Cuala are the Dublin champions but will need to rectify an alarming wides tally against Lucan if they are to prevent Crokes from replacing them as the city team. Although Cuala were in control against Lucan, they were held scoreless for a 15-minute spell. David Treacy is a prolific scorer but with Ross O’Carroll and Oisín O’Rorke on song for a high-scoring Crokes team, Cuala will have their work cut out if they are to defend this title.
Leinster club SFC first round
Baltinglass (Wicklow) v Seán O’Mahonys (Louth), Aughrim, 2.0 – The 1990s giants take their first steps in provincial football since 1994 and face the Louth champions, who have steamed from intermediate to senior success in recent years. Home advantage is important but the Louth men may continue their impressive progress.
Gusserane (Wexford) v Rhode (Offaly), New Ross, 2.0 – Gusserane have escaped from Wexford for the first time in 41 years but face an in-form Rhode team led by Niall McNamee.
Mullinalaghta (Longford) v Stradbally (Laois), Glennon Bros Pearse Park, 2.0 – A haul of 1-5 from Gary Comerford and a never-to-be-forgotten late goal by Jodie Dillion enabled Stradbally to deny Portlaoise a 10th county title. The Longford club won its last title in 1950 and may find the going tough against Colm Begley and co despite having home advantage.
Munster SFC quarter-finals
Kilmurry-Ibrickane (Clare) v Dr Crokes (Kerry), Quilty 1.0 – Something of an autumn stalwart, this, with the teams meeting for the third time since 2011. The Clare champions are still searching for a first win but will fancy hosting Colm Cooper and co in Quilty after their forceful display in last week’s win over Cratloe. Kilmurry are liked to try and keep it tight, leaving Peter O’Dwyer and Keelan Sexton up front and hope to limit Crokes’ formidable scoring threat, led by Cooper and Brian Looney. Keeping the Kerrymen goal less would make their job easier but still: Dr Crokes are 4 to 1 on and should advance.
Monaleen (Limerick) v Carbery Rangers (Cork), Gaelic Grounds 3.0 – Persistence is everything: Rangers, the Rosscarbery club, claimed their first ever Cork senior title after appearing in six of the last seven semi-finals. They are an experienced team, with former Cork regular John Hayes and Kevin McMahon in strong form over the championship. But are they sated with a county title? They have to visit the in-form Limerick champions in order to find out, with Barry Fitzpatrick, Monaleen’s impressive scoring midfielder and forward Ger Collins among their chief threats. The teams should be evenly matched, with the possibility of a home win.
Ulster club SFC quarter-finals
Killyclogher (Tyrone) v Cargin (Antrim), Healy Park, 2.30 – Possibly the pick of the weekend, this. The new bloods from Tyrone are a formidable outfit, with a serious attacking thrust led by Mark Bradley and Tiernan McCann. They are probably paper favourites here but Cargin are back-to-back Antrim champions, have a shrewd – and smooth – operator on the line in John Brennan and have a few attacking jewels on their own in Tomás McCann and Kieran Close and they gave Crossmaglen all they wanted in this competition a year ago. Omagh will, of course, provide its customary partisan atmosphere. Don’t be surprised if these two have to meet again.
Slaughtneil (Derry) v Derrygonnelly (Fermanagh), Celtic Park, 2.30 – Heady times for Slaughtneil, who celebrated their recent football championship with a stunning Ulster hurling title victory over Loughgeil. The comprehensiveness of their football win over rivals Loup may not augur well for Derry football overall. But it gave Slaughtneil their third consecutive title. They coasted to victory when they met Derrygonnelly a year ago. The Harps are the premier club side in Fermanagh, have added Jonathan McGurn to their starting attack this year and have a strong midfield pairing in the Jones brothers, Ryan and Garvan. But this challenge could not be stiffer. Hard to see the Fermanagh men besting Slaughtneil.
Maghery (Armagh) v Ramor United (Cavan), Athletic Grounds, 2.30 – Do a double take at the absence of Crossmaglen prior to the Orchard County brackets. There was a Fall-of-the-Wall feel about the Armagh championship this autumn when Cullyhanna took out Crossmaglen. But it was Maghery who prevailed, winning their first final ever. Ramor step outside Cavan for the first time in 24 years. New country for both clubs then and both will fancy this. Ramor, under Michael McDermott, are resilient, ambitious and young and look well placed to thrive. But the Forkers have been waiting for this chance and have home advantage.
Kilcoo (Down) v Glenswilly (Donegal), Páirc Esler, 2.30 – The Donegal champions used all their craft – and Michael Murphy’s 1-5 – in blunting a hotly fancied Kilcar team in the local final. They are going to have to achieve something similar if they are to stop Kilcoo, Down representatives for the fifth consecutive winter. They have a defence packed with Branagan brothers and an attack led by former Down star Conor Laverty. Glenswilly are experienced Ulster campaigners and reached the final in 2013. They will try to dictate the pace of the game and crowd their defence and hope Murphy goes supernova. Neil Gallagher will have his hands full at midfield where Felim McGreevey and James McClean have dominated for Down: the Donegal men may relocate Murphy here periodically. Fascinating game. Home advantage.
Munster club SHC quarter-final
Thurles Sarsfields (Tipperary) v Ballygunner (Waterford), Semple Stadium, 2.0 – Heady times for both clubs, who square off having enjoyed success within their counties for the last three seasons.Neither team has managed to translate that into sustained winter campaigns and both are tipped for big things. Something has to give. The return to full fitness of Pauric Mahony gives the Waterford champions an attacking edge while Billy O’Keeffe has been in a rich vein of form. Sarsfields have the best defensive unit in club hurling and while they cruised through the local championship, Lar Corbett has admitted that winter is not suited to “tippy hurling” and that they will need to adapt. The Waterford men are capable of sustained scoring blitzes but Thurles are well placed to advance in what could be the game of the weekend.
Meath SFC final
Donaghmore-Ashbourne v Simonstown, Páirc Tailteann, 3.0 – Colm O’Rourke’s Simonstown outfit rode their luck in the semi-final, narrowly avoiding a late goal in their cagey win over Gaeil Colmcille. However, Donaghmore-Ashbourne, favourites for this title, made hard work of Skyrne in their semi-final. Silverware up for grabs in a final in which scores will be at a premium. Simonstown to cause a mild upset.
Tipperary SFC final
Loughmore-Castleiney v Moyle Rovers, Leahy Park, Cashel, 2.30 – Liam Cronin was Rovers’ captain for their last title in 2009: he is now on the sideline as manager. Loughmore-Castleiney, strengthened by the return of the McGrath brothers – Noel and John – knocked out champions Clonmel on their way here. Manager Declan Laffan has asked his team to go for scores with more conviction. If they can achieve to manage that they can win here.
Westmeath SFC final
St Loman’s v Tyrrellspass, Cusack Park, 3.30 – Former county manager Luke Dempsey seeks to guide John Heslin and St Loman’s past a resilient Tyrrellspass team in this decider and are heavy favourites to do so. Tyrrellspass have had the whip-hand in previous fixtures but will need Denis Glennon and the forward line to produce something special here.
Clare SHC final replay
Ballyea v Clonlara, Cusack Park, 3.0 – Did Clonlara nearly win or almost lose the drawn game? They went from five points up to requiring a late point from Cathal O’Connell to force this replay. If the 2008 champions can limit Tony Kelly’s influence on the scoreboard, they may have enough in players like Darach Honan and John Conlon to keep Ballyea waiting for a first title.
Kilkenny SHC final
Ballyhale Shamrocks v O’Loughlin Gaels, Nowlan Park, 3.0 – He hasn’t gone away, you know. Henry Shefflin is still prowling around hurling fields and put in a roll-back-the-years performance as Ballyhale Shamrocks, aided by three closing points from Colin Fennelly, toppled champions Clara. Shefflin’s former team-mate Martin Comerford has been in terrific form for Gaels, whose last title came in 2010. Intriguing final but Ballyhale are capable of adding to their honour roll.
Mayo SHC final replay
Ballyhaunis v Tooreen, Ballyhaunis, 1.0 – Keith Higgins managed six points including an late equaliser in the latest instalment of Mayo’s fiercest hurling rivalry. Ballyhaunis may make good at the second time of asking.
Roscommon SHC final replay
Four Roads v Oran, Athleague 3.0 – Four Roads are looking for a ninth title in a row and shipped three first-half goals in the drawn match, surviving to tell the tale. Many of Oran’s players have been involved in an intermediate football final since. Four Roads have sluggish starters this year but have a formidable record in replays and know how to win. If you can’t be there, Willie Hegarty will be calling the game live on Shannonside Radio.