The weekend's GAA previews
Killarney Legion’s James O’Donoghue celebrates James O’Sullivan’s equalising point against South Kerry in last week’s drawn Kerry SFC final. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Matches Sunday at 2.0 unless stated
Munster club SFC semi-finals Clonmel Commercials (Tipperary) v Miltown Malbay (Clare), Clonmel Sportsfield – Clonmel’s miraculous recovery from an unexpectedly stern challenge against Newcastle West saw them overhaul a four-point deficit in the last five minutes of the Munster quarter-final with six points – a stunning barrage for winter football.
Managed by Charlie McGeever who took Tipperary minors to September’s All-Ireland final, Clonmel, with Michael Quinlivan and Tip under-21 Ian Fahey on board, are a useful outfit and with home advantage again plus the fright they got the last day they should have enough to see off the Clare champions, who celebrated a first county title in 25 years. Their attack, featuring Kevin Keavey and Eoin Cleary, poses a threat but the home side are more solid throughout.
Nemo Rangers (Cork) v Killarney Legion (Kerry), Páirc Uí Rinn – Nemo have made surprisingly stealthy progress to this stage, winning the county as underdogs after a replay against Castlehaven. The lead-up to this match has been dominated by the controversy over Legion’s nomination, as the Killarney club haven’t yet won the county title. On the field the visitors were lucky to survive last week against South Kerry, needing a late equaliser from impressive centrefielder Jamie O’Sullivan to secure the draw. With next week’s replay a distraction for Legion, the Cork champions look to be better placed. They’ve a good combination of youth and experience – the indestructible Tomás Ó Sé still motoring – and although Legion have 2014 footballer of the year James O’Donoghue (above) leading the attack, Nemo have pace and variety up front with newly-called up international Paul Kerrigan and the experienced James Masters off the bench providing the scoring threat.
Ulster club SFC semi-finals Kilcoo (Down) v Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh), Páirc Esler, 2.30 – A sulphurous meeting in prospect. This is the third meeting in four years between the teams. In the 2012 provincial final Kilcoo nearly recovered from a disastrous start but ultimately lost in a match overshadowed by the racist abuse suffered by Cross’s Aaron Cunningham. A year later the Down club gained revenge after a replay and extra-time and if the Armagh club were well understrength it was partly their own doing with two red cards. Jamie Clarke is back in the fold although the availability of such a talent has to be weighed against the disruption caused by his comings and goings. This is their 19th provincial championship in 20 years and they may well have the wherewithal to remedy the 2013 defeat even if the Conor Laverty-inspired Kilcoo looked impressive when destroying Kingscourt.
Trillick (Tyrone) v Scotstown (Monaghan), Brewster Park, 2.30 – Trillick’s fast-track elevation from intermediate to senior provincial semi-final in the space of a year catches the eye but Scotstown have played some excellent football regaining their county title and beating Derry’s All-Ireland finalists Slaughtneil in the quarter-final. Whereas Trillick have inter-county quality in the shape of All Star Mathew Donnelly and the Brennan brothers, Rory and Lee from Tyrone’s under-21 success, their opponents’ county contingent is even more impressive in goalkeeper and perennial All Star nominee Rory Beggan and the Hughes brothers, Kieran and Darren, who backbone the side, as well as former minor star Conor McCarthy. They have an attacking edge that might suffer on a heavy pitch but ultimately they still look too strong.
Leinster club SHC semi-finals Cuala (Dublin) v Clara (Kilkenny), Parnell Park – On the face of it Parnell Park might be seen to suit a Dublin club against Kilkenny champions but it’s likely Cuala would prefer a bigger canvas. Still they’re well used to it and just a fortnight ago recorded a resounding win in the Dublin final. Last week’s demolition of former provincial champions Coolderry was more impressive however even if they were hurling against 14 men for the final quarter. Clara are impressively consistent with the honesty and work-rate required of a team without a cast of inter-county stars – only Shane Prendergast started the All-Ireland final. They are also without a match in three weeks while their opponents have been building momentum. With Darragh O’Connell flying at centrefield and a dangerous full forward line of Mark Schutte and the Treacy brothers, Cuala have a good chance here if they hit the ground running.
Clonkill (Westmeath) v Oulart The Ballagh (Wexford), Cusack Park – Making Sisyphus look half-hearted, Oulart rebounded from last year’s setback to regain the Wexford title and renew their crusade for a Leinster title, having lost four-in-a-row finals up until 2013. They’re an experienced outfit – Paul Roche, Keith Rossiter, David Redmond, Rory Jacob amongst others – and made short work of Clough-Ballacolla in the last round. Clonkill did likewise against St Mullins from Carlow, goals flowing from the ever-reliable free-taker Brendan Murtagh and Niall Dowdall at full forward. The Wexford club will however be desperate to get back to a final and should do so.
Munster club SHC semi-final Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) v Thurles Sarsfields (Tipperary), Gaelic Grounds – With their extraordinary provincial record of being in a third campaign in Munster and yet to experience defeat, Na Piarsaigh come up against as big a challenge as they’ve ever faced in this championship. This promises to be a compelling match. Thurles answered reservations about their resolve when inching past Nenagh in the county final. The Limerick champions will miss David Breen even if Ronan Lynch (above) has been playing well in his absence at centre back. If Thurles can get all of their best players – Pádraic and Ronan Maher, Michael Cahill, Lar Corbett etc – on song they’ll be hard to beat. But Na Piarsaigh have improved so much with the influx of youth and they are so hard to crack, as evidenced when overcoming a nine-point deficit in Sixmilebridge, that they can survive the onslaught here and reach another final.