Preview: This weekend’s Senior Club Championship County Finals from around the County:
By John Harrington
It’s another big weekend of club championship action with 12 county finals taking place, two of them replays.
Nemo Rangers go head to head with Castlehaven in what should be a cracking Bon Secours Hospital Cork Premier SFC Final on Sunday. Defending champions Nemo are bidding for a 24th title with Castlehaven going for a sixth and first since 2013. The West Cork side will hope to reproduce the form that saw them defeat St. Finbarr’s in the semi-final when the Hurley brothers, Brian and Michael, kicked 12 points between them. Nemo weren’t quite so impressive in their semi-final win over Duhallow, but still won comfortably with Luke Connolly scoring 2-3. The form-line slightly favours Castlehaven, but Nemo have a happy habit of peaking on the biggest day of all.
Glen go in search of a third Derry SFC title in a row when they play Magherafelt in Sunday’s decider. The reigning Ulster champions had to dig deep in the semi-final against great rivals Slaughtneil, eventually winning by two points with the aid of a somewhat fortuitous goal. Prior to that match Glen had looked a level above every other team in the championship, so Magherafelt will take some encouragement from how close Slaughtneil came to causing an upset. They’ll also be heartened by their own semi-final win, a comfortable 10 point win over Newbridge that sets them up nicely for this match. The form of inside forwards Cormac Murphy and Shane Heavron means Magherafelt have a fighting chance, but Glen are just so strong all over the pitch that it would be a surprise if they didn’t complete a three-in-a-row.
Having lost the 2021 and 2022 finals, Na Fianna will be hoping it’s third time lucky when they play Ballyboden St. Enda’s in Sunday’s Go Ahead Dublin SHC Final. They defeated their conquerors in those two finals – Kilmacud Crokes – in the quarter-final and followed that up win a convincing semi-final win over Lucan Sarsfields so come into this final with an impressive form-line. All the more impressive when you consider they’ve had to do without star forward Donal Burke who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury, though there’s speculation he may be fit enough to play some part in Sunday’s Final. Na Fianna and Ballyboden met in the group stages when Na Fianna triumphed by five points, but Ballyboden haven’t put a foot wrong since then and showed great character to defeat St. Vincent’s after extra-time in the semi-final. This will be a match of very fine margins, but the hurt of losing the last two finals might give Na Fianna a motivational edge.
St Thomas’ will bid for a record equalling sixth Galway SHC title in a row on Sunday. Ironically, the team that stands in their way, Turloughmore, are the only other club to have won a six-in-row. That was back in the 1960s, and they’ve only added one more title since then and lost finals in 1986, 1990, and 2020. St. Thomas’, impressively, have won all seven Galway finals they’ve played in. It looks like they’ve timed their run nicely this year too, and are boosted by the earlier than expected return to fitness of David Burke. Conor Cooney has excelled in attack all year for the champions and will be their main man again on Sunday. If Turlougmore are to pull off a surprise win they’ll need Daithi Burke to hurl up a storm at centre-back, and sharp-shooter Conor Walsh to have an unerring day.
Reigning All-Ireland Club Hurling Champions, Ballyhale Shamrocks, go in search of a sixth Kilkenny SHC title in a row on Sunday. Standing in their way is an O’Loughlin Gaels team that last reached a final in 2021, when they ran Ballyhale to four points. The reigning champions looked uncharacteristically fragile in the league stage of the championship but have found their stride in the knock-out rounds and looked at their very best in the semi-final when hammering James Stephens by 5-19 to 0-14. With players like TJ Reid, Eoin Cody, Adrian Mullen, and Colin Fennelly in their ranks they have incredible firepower, but if any defence can hold them it might be O’Loughlin Gaels who have county men Huw Lawlor, Mikey Butler, and Paddy Deegan in their rearguard. If the underdogs can keep it tight at the back and forwards like Mark Bergin and Owen Wall have a good day in attack, then we’ll have a serious game on our hands.
Patrickswell and Na Piarsaigh go toe to toe in what should be a ferociously competitive Bon Secours Hospital Senior Hurling Championship Final. The two teams met in round 1 when Patrickswell came out on top by two points, but since then reigning champions Na Piarsaigh have won every game they’ve played. Patrickswell’s form hasn’t been quite so consistent – they lost to Doon and Kilmallock in the group phase – but they produced their best performance of the campaign yet when they turned the tables on Kilmallock in the semi-final. If William O’Donoghue is fit to play for Na Piarsaigh he could give his team an edge in the middle third, but with Aaron Gillane in the form of his life Patrickswell will believe they can come out on top if they give him enough ball.
Fulham Irish and Tir Chonaill Gaels go head to head in the McAleer and Rushe London SFC Final on Sunday. Fulham Irish will surely be motivated by the fact that they were beaten in the previous two finals. They defeated their conquerors in those two games, St. Kiernan’s, in a high-quality semi-final so come into this match with a lot of momentum. Tir Chonaill Gaels enjoyed a comfortable 13-point win over North London Shamrocks in the semi-final, but Fulham Irish will be a big step up in terms of opposition. When these two teams meet in the championship there’s rarely much in it, but Fulham Irish have been that bit better in recent years and are slight favourites to come out on top.
Sunday’s Connacht Gold Mayo SFC Final has a novel look to it with Ballina Stephenites doing battle with Breaffy. Ballina haven’t won the Moclair Cup since 2007 while Breaffy have never won it. Beaten in last year’s final by Westport, it’s no big surprise that a highly rated Ballina team have made it back to this year’s Final. Not many would have tipped Breaffy to be here too, but they’ve consistently defied expectations all year and produced big shocks to beat defending champions Westport in the quarter-finals and a hotly fancied Castlebar Mitchells in the semi-finals. Aidan O’Shea has been absolutely outstanding for Breaffy and how Ballina handle him could well be the decisive factor in this match. Veteran Ger Cafferkey may well be given the man-marking duties. When these two teams met in the group stage it was Ballina who came out on top by a single point, and another very tight tussle is expected here.
When Kiladangan and Thurles Sarsfields drew in the Tipperary SHC Final two weeks ago the teams were level on 10 occasions and another tight battle is expected in Sunday’s replay. Kiladangan may feel they have a mental edge for this re-match having come from behind three times in the final few minutes of the drawn game. Paul Flynn was the Man of the Match last time out, scoring 1-3, and Sarsfields will believe that if they can limit his influence this time around and maybe get a little bit more themselves from players like Eoin Purcell and the Stakelum brothers, Darragh and Conor, that they’ll have a bit too much firepower for the North Tipp men. Kiladangan, on the other hand, will believe they have more players capable of taking scores from distance than Sarsfields do, and that this could be the winning of the game. Whatever happens, it seems likely to be another game of fine margins.
Errigal Ciaran and Trillick do battle in the Tyrone SFC Final on Sunday. Reigning champions, Errigal Ciaran, look even better this year than they did last year, winning their three matches to date by an average of 11 points each. The Canavan brother, Darragh and Ruari, have excelled in attack, while another county man, Joe Oguz, has also been very impressive in the middle third. Trillick won’t be overawed by the challenge, though. They’ve shown their character to come out the right side of tight battles against Loughmacroy and Edendork, and produced their best performance of the campaign in the semi-final against Dungannon. With forwards like Lee and Rory Brennan and Ritchie Donnelly and Niall Donnelly they also have formidable firepower. It should be a cracking match, but Errigal Ciaran’s form is more convincing.
The Nire will hope to complete a three-in-row of Waterford SFC titles when they play Rathgormack in Sunday’s Final. It’s the third straight year these two teams have met in the decider, with The Nire winning by two points last year and one point in 2021. Rathgormack were also beaten in the 2020 Final by Ballinacourty, so will be highly motivated to ensure Sunday isn’t a fourth county final defeat in a row. They’ll take some encouragement from the fact that when they played The Nire in the group stage of this year’s championship they came out on top, and the champions will also be weakened somewhat the by the injury absence of Jamie Barron and suspension of Kenny Brazil. There are also doubts over the experienced Dylan Guiry. Just like the last two years, this match is likely to be decided by very fine margins.
Rathnew and Blessington produced a cracker in last weekend’s drawn Boom & Platform Hire SFC Final and another great game is anticipated for Sunday’s replay. Both teams will feel like they could have won the last day out with James Stafford’s late piledriver for Rathnew going over rather than under the crossbar, and Anto McLoughlin’s late free tailing wide for Blessington. Rathnew will believe if they can tighten up their shooting – they kicked eight wides the last day – they’ll find a vital edge. While Blessington will hope that star forward Kevin Quinn will got more opportunities to show his class this time around.