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History of competition almost demands that Gneeveguilla win Munster Club title

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Gneeveguilla's Comnor Herlihy wins possession against Boherbue in the Munster Club JFC semi-final. The East Kerry club will look to win the provincial title on Saturday against Ballina from Tipperary

Gneeveguilla's Comnor Herlihy wins possession against Boherbue in the Munster Club JFC semi-final. The East Kerry club will look to win the provincial title on Saturday against Ballina from Tipperary

Gneeveguilla's Comnor Herlihy wins possession against Boherbue in the Munster Club JFC semi-final. The East Kerry club will look to win the provincial title on Saturday against Ballina from Tipperary

kerryman

MUNSTER CLUB JUNIOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL

Gneeveguilla v Ballina (Tipperary)

Saturday, January 15

Mallow GAA Complex at 1.30pm

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Referee: John Ryan (Cork)

It is a little over 11 years since Gneeveguilla were crowned Munster Club Intermediate champions, which was, without question, the club’s high-water mark on a Gaelic football pitch.

On Saturday the East Kerry club is back on the Munster final stage, and while they have dropped down a grade to Junior – they will be back up to the Intermediate ranks in Kerry after their Junior Premier Championship win last year – they would value a second provincial title now every bit as much as they did with their first back in December 2010.

In the 19 editions of the Munster Junior Football Championship going back to the first in 2001, no club from outside Kerry or Cork has been crowned champions. Consider, then, that there have only been three Cork winners of the provincial championship and it is nigh on impossible to conceive of anything other than a Gneeveguilla win over Ballina on Saturday.

Indeed, only twice in those 19 years has a Tipperary club reached the final. In 2011 Kiladangan put up a respectable challenge to eventual champions Dromid Pearses, who prevailed by 0-15 to 1-5 in a final played in Moyvane.

The most recent final, in 2019, saw Mullinahone face Na Gaeil in Mallow, with the Tralee club cruising to a comprehensive 3-13 to 1-1 win on their way to winning the All-Ireland title in early 2020.

The tea leaves don’t read well for Ballina.

Whether or not Ballina can interrupt the Kerry-Cork duopoly remains to be seen, but preparations haven’t ran smoothly for either club in recent weeks. Like many clubs across the country, Gneeveguilla and the Tipperary champions have been forced to grapple with the impact of Covid-19 cases and self-isolation rules, and while manager Ballina Kevin Byrne admits that Covid created unwelcome complications, he feels his side have now emerged from the disruption.

“Our preparations have been somewhat disrupted,” Byrne said. “We had planned to have two challenge games over Christmas, but the opposition teams pulled out of both of them due to Covid cases and close contacts. We’ve also had a few cases ourselves, and one or two people have been side-lined for being close contacts as well. But I suppose that has been the case for everybody trying to prepare a team over the Christmas period, and thankfully we seem to be coming out the other end of it now.”

Byrne’s counterpart, Seanie O’Leary, confirmed to The Kerryman that Gneeveguilla’s preparations have been disrupted too, but neither manager or team will use that as an excuse when the ball in thrown in on Saturday. Sauce for the goose, and all that.

Gneeveguilla are expecting a full hand to select from, so that means a strong team from goalkeeper Patrick O’Riordan all the way up to a strong full forward line of Sean O'Keeffe, Shane O’Sullivan and Jack Cremin.

O’Leary has noted Ballina’s high scoring in their two games in Munster, but they will hardly have encountered a defence of the calibre of Gneeveguilla’s, which will be anchored by Pa Warren, who made his Kerry senior debut against Limerick last week.

Darren Brosnan, Eoin Fitzgerald, Conor Herlihy, Padraig Doyle and John O’Leary have been notable performers in what is a very balanced Gneeveguilla tam with few, if any, obvious weaknesses that would be detrimental at this level.

Misfortune befell one Ballina player in the Kingdom at the weekend when Willie Connors – who hurls for Kiladangan but plays football with Ballina – badly injured his ankle playing for the Tipp hurlers against Kerry in Tralee on Saturday and is ruled out.

Another Tipperary football panellist, Stephen O’Brien, was sent off early in the semi-final over Mount Sion on a straight red card but had a proposed suspension overturned on appeal and is free to play.

Dan O’Meara is another player who has been involved with Tipperary under-20 and senior squads, while Galway native Tom Lee played with the Limerick senior footballers a few years ago while a Ballylanders club man, before work brought him to Nenagh and a move to the Ballina club.

“Playing football at this time of year, possession becomes even more important,” the Ballina manager said. “The message we’ll give to our players is that you have to mind the ball, you have to retain possession. It’s not the time to try risky, long cross-field passes, because the more you retain possession, the easier you make things for yourself.”

One imagines Seanie O’Leary will issue similar instructions to his players.

All to play for, then, on Sunday, with Gneeveguilla heading back to the scene of their semi-final win over Boherbue before Christmas. The record book suggests that the Munster champions came from that Kerry v Cork semi-final. Logic informs us that it will be a 17th Munster Club title coming back to Kerry on Saturday evening, but, of course, Ballina will try might and main to prevent that.

In the years that the Kerry champions have faced non-Cork opposition in the Munster Junior final they’ve rarely been troubled to any great extent. A couple of four-point wins was as nervy as any Kerry club has been at this stage of the championship. If Ballina can get within that of Gneeveguilla by close of business on Saturday it might be as good as the Tipp men can hope for.

Verdict: Gneeveguilla


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