Weekend GAA Previews: Ballyhale poised to retain their Leinster crown

Nemo can avenge defeat to Clonmel while Kilcoo and Naomh Conaill vie for historic first Ulster title

TJ Reid scores a goal in Ballyhale Shamrocks’ Leinster semi-final win over Wexford kingpins St Martin’s at Nowlan Park.  Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

TJ Reid scores a goal in Ballyhale Shamrocks’ Leinster semi-final win over Wexford kingpins St Martin’s at Nowlan Park. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

SUNDAY

Leinster club SHC final: Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny) v St Mullins (Carlow), MW Hire O’Moore Park, 2pm - TG4 (deferred coverage)

David versus Goliath must be the most overused narrative in club championship previews but here we go again. It’s irresistible when a club like Ballyhale, seeking a 10th Leinster title and who have picked off this season where they left off the last – as All-Ireland hurling champions – take on a club like St Mullins. 

As in the story it is not however without some hope: no one gave St Mullins much of a chance before they took out 2017 and 2018 All-Ireland winners Cuala in the provincial quarter-finals, and with that the picture suddenly changed. 

There’s no denying either the lethal shooting ability of young St Mullins forward Marty Kavanagh. After their close Leinster club semi-final win over Rathdowney-Errill, manager Niall O’Donnell said he would “rate Marty Kavanagh as one of the best hurlers I’ve ever seen”. 

There are only four senior clubs in Carlow and St Mullins struggled to shake off Ballinkillen after extra-time in the county semi-final and just scraped past Mount Leinster Rangers (former Leinster champions themselves in 2013) by a point in the final.

Naturally enough the bookmakers don’t give St Mullins a prayer. They are 8/1 underdogs, and the match handicap suggests Ballyhale will probably win by double figures. 

But there’s some hope too when remembering what Longford football champions Mullinalaghta did in last year’s Leinster football final against another club giants, Kilmacud Crokes. Only with TJ Reid, Adrian Mullen, and Colin Fennelly all in crushing form for Ballyhale, and Henry Shefflin looking increasingly composed and comfortable on the sideline, it would appear to be another title with Ballyhale written all over it.

Verdict: Ballyhale Shamrocks

Munster club SFC final: Clonmel Commercials (Tipperary) v Nemo Rangers (Cork), Fraher Field, 2pm – TG4 (deferred coverage)

Also billed as the match of Nemo redemption, coming four years after Clonmel Commercials produced one of the late, great, last-minute goals – courtesy of Michael Quinlivan – which cost Nemo Rangers the 2015 Munster club title. 

There were just 33 seconds of stoppage time remaining. It was only Nemo’s second ever provincial final loss, and it hasn’t been easily forgotten. 

“I can remember because I was the fecking captain,” Paul Kerrigan, the club and Cork veteran, told this newspaper earlier in the week. Kerrigan is also in the form to help complete the redemption, with plenty of other experience too in the likes of Luke Connolly. 

Seeking an 17th Munster title, they’re not leaving much to doubt either, taking out Austin Stacks with remarkable ease in the semi-finals, winning by 18 points, even if some question marks remain over the preparation of Stacks (who were the Kerry representatives by default, as more county champions East Kerry were ineligible). 

Better still the tally of 2-17 Nemo all came from play, the Cork champions playing like a team in proper championship-mode, unlike Stacks, who bowed out in round two in Kerry and looked rusty in most aspects. Despite accumulating half-a-dozen wides, Nemo still made ample enough opportunities as Mark Cronin, Kerrigan, Connolly and captain Barry O’Driscoll found the range. 

Either way Clonmel have a bog task on their hands, just edging out St Joseph’s Milltown-Malbay in their semi-final, although manager Charlie McGeever can call on plenty of experience in the likes Séamus Kennedy, Jack Kennedy, Colman Kennedy, with Quinlivan still knocking around too. 

Clonmel probably feel they were caught out a little after winning in 2015, at the All-Ireland semi-final stage against ultimate champions Ballyboden St Enda’s. That offers some incentive but Nemo are unlikely to gave them a shot at it.

Verdict: Nemo Rangers

Ulster club SFC final: Naomh Conaill (Donegal) v Kilcoo (Down), Healy Park, 2pm – TG4 (live coverage)

A properly hard and unpredictable Ulster title on offer here, as both clubs look to make the very best of an already hard-earned place in the final to win it for the first time in their club history. 

Kilcoo last reached the final in 2016, when they came up short against Slaughtneil, and having also lost the 2012 final to Crossmaglen Rangers, are still seeking that elusive provincial crown. Winning back a 17th Down county title this season, their seventh in the last eight years, has again raised hopes of provincial glory. 

Standing in the way this time is a Naomh Conaill team who have already endured a demanding schedule following their three-match battle against Gaoth Dobhair in Donegal, the reigning county and provincial champions, before eventually emerging by the narrowest of margins to win only their third Donegal title. 

Since then Naomh Conaill overcame a fancied Clontibret in the semi-final, 0-12 to 0-9, Martin Regan’s team boasting a spread of experience and talent in the likes of Leo McLoone, the Thompson brothers, plus Eoghan McGettigan. It’s their first final since 2010, when guess what? They also lost out to Crossmaglen. 

Their path to the final suggests Naomh Conaill will be more battle-hardened, only Kilcoo will relish the challenge, Conor Laverty proving to be the man in form as they overcome Derrygonnelly Harps in their semi-final, 1-8 to 0-9. Kilcoo also boast a highly-rated management team that includes Mickey Moran and Conleth Gilligan. 

“It’s about who shows up better on the day,” said Naomh Conaill captain Ciaran Thompson this week, and that’s about all that will decide it.

Verdict: Kilcoo

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