Gaelic GamesClub previews

GAA Previews: Kilcoo aiming to extend their domination of Down football

Former All-Ireland champions aiming for an 11th title in 12 seasons while high-profile Cork and Tipperary county finals form the highlight of Sunday’s hurling action

SFC finals

Clare: Cratloe v St Breckan’s, Cusack Park, 3.0 – The indefatigable Colm Collins brings Cratloe to within one match of a first title in nine years and with a team that put out Éire Óg, who were chasing a third successive championship. Opponents, St Breckans are only a couple of years back in senior but with heavyweight management of Declan O’Keeffe and former Clare player Odhrán O’Dwyer, they have progressed to a first final since Doonbeg beat them in 1996. With Podge Collins pulling the strings, Cratloe can make it. Verdict: Cratloe

Down: Burren v Kilcoo, Páirc Esler, Newry, 2.15 – The former All-Ireland champions Kilcoo contest a 12th straight final against the only club that has beaten them on that run. Burren won the 2018 final and arrive hoping to exploit any suggestion that the champions pace themselves through the county. Burren’s underage star Odhrán Murdock makes the trip to Down from Australia where he has been checking out AFL clubs and will play. It could be a busy afternoon for match officials, as the champions’ last two matches have seen opponents each lose three players to red cards. The impetus of new management – Kilcoo have Donegal All-Ireland winner Karl Lacey at the helm – can keep the perennial champions on course. Verdict: Kilcoo

Laois: St Joseph’s v Portlaoise, Laois Hire O’Moore Park, Portlaoise 3.15 – Winners of 12 titles in the 13 years up until 2019, Portlaoise look to reassert themselves after a three-year Portarlington interregnum. They bring a nicely balanced side to this with half the team made up of young players, complemented by plenty of experience from previous winning streaks. They go into this as marginal underdogs, as in three previous matches this season they have yet to beat St Joseph’s but it should be close.

Verdict: St Joseph’s


Longford: Emmet Óg Killoe v Clonguish, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 4.0 – Since emerging over the past decade, the current Emmet Óg side have yet to lose a county final along the way to winning five. Recent rivals Mullinalaghta, who won the county’s first Leinster title, were surprisingly put out earlier in the championship by this weekend’s opponents, Clonguish, a club in a hurry with an excellent underage record. Killoe’s experience and big-match efficiency should be enough for this year.

Verdict: Emmet Óg

Wexford: Castletown v Shelmaliers, Chadwicks Wexford Park, 3.30 – A repeat of last year’s final, which hasn’t happened for 30 years, reunites the clubs. The champions were slightly surprising winners 12 months ago given that Shelmaliers had gone so close to reaching a Leinster final the previous season. In the semi-finals, Kilanerin nearly subjected Shelmaliers to another surprise but the arrival of Dublin All-Ireland winner Eoghan O’Gara off the bench yielded 1-2 and a comeback win. They look on a mission.

Verdict: Shelmaliers

SHC finals

Antrim: Ruairí Óg Cushendall v Loughgiel Shamrocks, Corrigan Park, 2.30 – Last season’s All-Ireland finalists Dunloy were unexpectedly taken down by Loughgiel, spearheaded by James McNaughton and Shan McGrath, in the semi-final. Speaking on Thursday, Cushendall’s Neil McManus put it in the context of a competitive county championship.

“There’s always going to be a surprise when the team chasing five in a row are beaten. Dunloy are very strong in football as well. They got to the county final in football so their lads were playing week on week.

“I have no doubt that had some sort of impact. There was always going to be a surprise when somebody beat Dunloy but it was going to happen and the Antrim club championship is just so competitive that nobody has ever done five in a row, and that’s testament to that.”

With the Dunloy shadow lifted, Cushendall look next in line. McManus was assisted by prolific teenager Joe McLaughlin in the semi-final win over Ballycastle.

Verdict: Cushendall

Cork: Sarsfields v Midleton, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 4.0 – The clubs met in the final 10 years ago and Midleton won; a year later Sars lifted the title but they haven’t been back since whereas Midleton were champions two years ago albeit about a third of the team has changed. Conor Lehane spans that decade and is again a prime influence but Cormac Beausang provided the hammer blow that eliminated labouring champions, St Finbarr’s in injury-time. Sarsfields’ Jack O’Connor and Aaron Myers have equally been in scoring form and the teams are evenly matched, neither having been defeated so far in the championship.

Verdict: Sarsfields

Offaly: Kilcormac-Killoughey v Shinrone, Birr, 3.0 – Main buzz around this is the return of the final to the traditional hurling venue of St Brendan’s Park in Birr after a few years in Tullamore. On the field, Shinrone are back after their historic success last year and have gained momentum with progress in the championship. Given all that, they are perhaps surprisingly rank outsiders against last year’s finalists, who had the chances to settle that contest in the early stages. With gifted underage star Adam Screeney now available the sense is that chances won’t go a begging this time.

Verdict: Kilcormac-Killoughey

Tipperary: Kiladangan v Thurles Sarsfields, Semple Stadium, 4.0 – Thurles are back, still looking for a first title since the last of their four-in-a-row, in 2017. Two seasons ago, they lost out by a point after a replay to an inspired Loughmore-Castleiney, a defeat they avenged in the recent semi-final. With Páraic Maher now managing, it falls to his brother Ronan to be the team’s rallying point and his formidable presence under the ball in defence combines with a familiar big-hitting distribution to make his the team fulcrum. Significantly, he missed the earlier championship meeting between the teams, which Thurles lost. Kiladangan lost last year’s final, also after a replay, and this year made the final again with an efficient scoring performance against Tomevara – hitting just three wides, a contrast with Thurles in their semi-final.

Verdict: Thurles Sarsfields

Other finals

Armagh Céide Lámh Dhearg v Middletown GAA, BOX-IT Athletic Grounds, Armagh, 4.0; Kildare: Coill Dubh v Naas, Manguard Park Pitch 1, 3.30; Meath : Kildalkey v Ratoath, Páirc Tailteann, 3.0; Wicklow: Bray Emmets v Carnew, Echelon Park, Aughrim, 3.0

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times