Weekend GAA club previews
Na Piarsaigh aiming to preserve their proud provincial record
Pauric Mahony: the Waterford star has been in prolific scoring form for county champions Ballygunner. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho
Munster club SHC final
Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) v Ballygunner (Waterford), Semple Stadium, 2.0 [Live, TG4]
On one level it’s straightforward: the Limerick juggernaut, unbeaten in five provincial campaigns, against opponents they beat 12 months ago – this is the third final in four years between the clubs – and with the added piquancy of having lost last year’s All-Ireland final after a replay.
It’s likely to be more nuanced than that, though. For a start, the champions just haven’t been fully tested this year, never put to the pin of their collars in the county and barely raising a sweat against Clonoulty-Rossmore.
Ballygunner on the other hand were pushed all the way – whether that was a good thing in some respects – against Midleton and had to navigate two periods of extra time to see off Clare’s Ballyea.
They have worked on fitness and conditioning, as was evident in the latter match, and will hope to stay the pace this time – injury-time goals bloated their margin of defeat 12 months ago.
Pauric Mahony also had a bad day on the frees then whereas his form and accuracy now looks sharp – 0-14 including six from play in the semi-final.
Furthermore, David Breen, scorer of two goals for Na Piarsaigh last year and who has been a perennial menace in this fixture is abroad this time.
The Limerick champions do however have a quality attack and no shortage of leaders. If they can get to the level quickly they will win but they’re up against seasoned challengers, who are bizarrely priced at 3 to 1.
Verdict: Na Piarsaigh
Ulster SFC semi-finals
Eoghan Rua Coleraine (Derry) v Scotstown (Monaghan), Healy Park, 1.30
Coleraine’s horizons have been limited by the supremacy of Slaughtneil in recent seasons but they are a useful team based on the same modern precepts of interchangeability – corner back Barry Daly scored their goal in the Derry final – and defensive structure.
They will be up against it here because Scotstown are well practised – this is their fourth consecutive Ulster campaign and fifth in seven years – and have some marquee players in All Star goalkeeper Rory Beggan, the Hughes brothers and Conor McCarthy.
They suffered an inexplicable drop-out in the win against Burren but ended up coping despite losing Kieran Hughes to a black card and kicking 13 second-half wides.
Gweedore (Donegal) v Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh), Healy Park, 3.30 [Live, TG4]
A clash of styles with Crossmaglen’s man on man set-up against the Donegal champions’ massed defence and short-ball movement, which looked irresistible in the first half of the quarter-final against Cargin but less assured when the Antrim champions got stuck in, physically, in the second half.
Gweedore must be prepared for similar combat on Sunday. Donal Murtagh’s team is evolving if not ‘in transition’ but proved well able to negotiate the intense challenge of Cookstown in the quarter-final.
Conventional preferences notwithstanding, they’ll hardly allow an acre of space between Gweedore’s full forwards and the rest of the team and all of the associated risks. Hard to see the perennial Armagh champions not finding the necessary solutions.
Leinster club SHC semi-finals
Naomh Éanna (Wexford) v Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny), Innovate Wexford Park, 1.30
Naomh Éanna have maintained an even keel after taking the county title to Gorey for the first time and undoubtedly have an edge in attack between Conor McDonald and Cathal Dunbar.
The Ballyhale they face may not be the galactico ensemble of other years but they’re a solid outfit with TJ Reid pulling the strings. The venue has been challenging for Kilkenny teams in the past – including the Shamrocks – but this time their experience should tell.
Ballyboden St Endas (Dublin) v Coolderry (Offaly), Parnell Park, 2.0
Two fairly veteran outfits meet again, with nearly a dozen survivors each, seven years after the Offaly champions won comfortably at the same venue. Coolderry beat former champions Mount Leinster Rangers despite having two players sent off whereas Ballyboden took extra time to see off Clonkill – in admittedly difficult circumstances.
It will probably come down to two issues: Coolderry’s discipline, as Paul Ryan will bank most frees and how a decent Ballyboden defence will cope with an opposition attack that has looked sharp with Brian Carroll and Kevin Connolly sharing 1-9 from play in the quarter-final. That factor can swing it.
Galway SHC final
Liam Mellows v St Thomas’s, Pearse Stadium, 2.0
The last two champions meet in this year’s final with Thomas’s hot favourites in their golden jubilee year to recapture the title they won in 2016.
Both sides had competitive semi-finals. It took a late point from Tadhg Haran to edge the champions past Cappataggle whereas their challengers’ injury-time goal against Sarsfields obscured the tightness of a five-point victory.
Thomas’s have been looking the part so far this championship and their progress included giving Mellows a comfortable, nine-point beating although the champions were understrength on the day.
With county men David Burke and Conor Cooney going well and Burke brothers Éanna and Darragh impressing in the semi-final, it’s hard to look beyond Thomas’s.
Verdict: St Thomas’s
All-Ireland women’s football semi-finals
Kilkerrin-Clonberne (Galway) v Mourneabbey (Cork), Clonberne Sports Field, 2.0
The Galway club brought an end to All-Ireland champions Carnacon’s eventful season in the Connacht final and they have plenty of incentive here, having lost at the same stage to Mourneabbey three years ago when they had to travel to Cork.
Both teams boast fairly high-wattage county stars from Mourneabbey’s O’Sullivan sisters to Kilkerrin’s Annette Clarke, who captained Galway and top-scored in the 2004 All-Ireland win against Dublin.
Foxrock-Cabinteely (Dublin) v Donaghmoyne (Monaghan), Bray Emmets, 1.0
Foxrock-Cabinteely you’d imagine have to be lifted by the involvement of quite a few players in Dublin’s back-to-back All-Ireland wins – especially starting wing backs Sinéad Goldrick and Niamh Collins.
But Donaghmoyne are something of a nemesis and also the only club in the semi-finals to have won the All-Ireland, including two years ago when, after a bravura shut-out and late goals against Carnacon in the semi-finals, the Dubliners were unable to crown the breakthrough with an All-Ireland.
Caitríona McConnell is in customary prolific form but maybe Fox-Cab’s day has come to avenge the defeats of the 2015 semi-final and ’16 final.