Ulster champions started season at senior grade in Derry
ALL IRELAND CLUB IHC SEMI-FINAL
Kilmoyley v Banagher (Derry)
Sunday, January 23
Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence, 2pm
We’re breaking new ground here.
For the first time ever – unless you count Ballyduff’s 1891 All Ireland triumph as Kerry’s representatives – a Kerry club side will contest an All Ireland semi-final. Truly a red-letter day.
Sitting in the Gaelic Grounds two weeks ago watching Kilmoyley crack the glass-ceiling in Munster, the All Ireland element of the competition pretty much took a backseat in our imagination, such was the excitement at a first provincial club success for the Kingdom.
With a little more time to consider it all, the sheer scale of what’s been achieved, not to mention the opportunity that it's now opened up, becomes much more readily apparent. Kilmoyley are but a hop, skip and a jump from an All Ireland title.
Sure it's going to be hard-fought all the way and by no means easy (anything but), but it’s tantalisingly within reach now and, while it’s next to near impossible to judge the different levels across counties and provinces, having come through the Munster bear-pit Kilmoyley must be ranked amongst the favourites now.
At the very least you’d be saying that the Kingdom kingpins have as good a chance as any other the other sides left in the competition.
Interestingly three of the four clubs (including Kilmoyley) are their county’s senior champions. It’s an interesting trend, one that will be watched with interest we’d imagine in the stronger counties if it becomes too regular an occurrence.
For now, though – while maybe a little fortunate or unfortunate, depending on your point of view, that all these wins have come at once – it's evidence for the grading system working.
These county champions from the weaker counties are being given a fair chance to compete for All Ireland honours against clubs of a similar stature.
Mayo’s Tourneen and Kildare’s Nass are the other two senior county champions still in contention and they meet in Ballinasloe on Sunday.
That leaves Kilmoyley’s opponents Banagher as the only county intermediate champion still standing, so advantage to the Kerry men? Well maybe not so fast.
It's true that Banagher are the intermediate champions in Derry, but they were graded a senior team at the start of the 2021 season with the Oak Leaf county operating a system whereby defeated sides could drop down to intermediate and junior on a sliding scale.
That being the case it would be most unwise to rule out their chances against Kilmoyley in the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence outside of Ballyhaunis in Mayo.
It should be noted that Derry club hurling – principally through Slaughtneil – is something of a powerhouse along with Antrim in Ulster. Slaughtneil, of course, play in the senior grade this weekend against Ballygunner to put it into perspective.
No, these Banagher boys won’t be bad. Not at all. As a dual club they’ve got a few players who might be familiar to football fans in the county, former Derry senior football Mark Lynch for example lines out at wing-back for the Feeny-based outfit.
There are some Derry hurlers in the mix too, naturally enough, with captain Darragh McCloskey a former Derry player, as well as his brother and Banagher full-back Rúairí, who would be a familiar name to Kerry over the years.
Kilmoyley will probably recognise a little something of themselves in how Banagher go about their business. They’re said to be another seriously hard-working, never-say-die outfit with a more than solid defence.
They also seem to have a nice spread of scorers judging by their Ulster final appearance with seven Banagher men on the score sheet. The 2-11 they shot against Fermanagh’s Lisbellaw was more than respectable too.
That said Kilmoyley’s 0-24 against Courcey Rovers – even admittedly over an extra twenty minutes of action – seems like it was on another level. If the Naomh Páirc Erc outfit can continue that level of scoring return this weekend they shouldn't be too far away at all.
Indeed, it does very much feel like a game they should be winning, if they keep their heads down and continue to do all the things that got them to this point.
Certainly Banagher are a strong enough proposition that you’d hope Kilmoyley will go into this game fully focussed and not taking anything for granted.
It is, after all, the first game they’ve played since the start of the Munster championship where they’ll be going in as favourites. In every other game they would have been ranked underdogs with the bookmakers.
This time around they’re being rated raging hot-favourites. One online bookmaker we checked on Monday evening gave Kilmoyley a 1/7 chance – with an implied probability of about 87% – to win the game. That’s a whole new world for Kilmoyley in this journey.
Still somehow we doubt they’ll let that get to them. It’s not really in their nature we would suggest, and it’s not in the nature of the meticulous preparation John Meyler, Maurice Murnane, Shane Brick, et al, have been putting in all season long would allow for complacency.
Even the fact that John Meyler wasn’t present for the Munster final and for a few weeks leading up to it is in a roundabout sort of way a positive. It means that when he did come back in, his impact will be that much stronger.
Knowing the man and knowing how Kilmoyley have hit just the right tone for so many important games over the last two seasons, we can't for a moment imagine Meyler will allow Kilmoyley go into this game half-baked or with ideas above their station.
There won’t be any looking past this weekend. There won’t be any talk of Croke Park or All Ireland finals. Focus instead on the task at half. Do that and Kilmoyley should be good enough to win through.
If they don’t then a side that was able to shoot 2-12 against the might of Slaughtneil in the 2019 Derry senior final are more than good enough to take advantage.
Fair warning for Kilmoyley.