Gaels' all-round efficiency can silence big Galway guns
All-Ireland club SHc final
Clarinbridge (Galway) v O'Loughlin Gaels (Kilkenny), Croke Park, 2.0, Ref: J Ryan (Tipperary), Live on TG4
The Gaels will be extremely wary of the favourites' tag, noting that fellow countymen Ballyhale Shamrocks were 13/8 outsiders against Portumna last year, a rating which looked out of place from the start and eventually proved so.
Now, the Kilkenny city boys find themselves well fancied to emulate Shamrocks despite being up against the club which replaced Portumna as Galway champions. Adding to the intrigue is that for the first time since 2004, when Newtownshandrum beat Dunloy, both finalists are pursuing their first All-Ireland title. Indeed, it's the Gaels' first attempt, whereas Clarinbridge reached the 2002 final, losing to Birr.
Former county stars Alan and Mark Kerins and Liam Donoghue are survivors from that side, whereas Brian Hogan, Martin Comerford, Andy Kearns, the Dowlings, Peter and Brian, and top scorer Mark Bergin have been central figures for the Gaels.
Their Leinster wins over a highly-rated Ballyboden-St Enda's (extra-time) and an even more fancied Oulart-The Ballagh underlines a solidity which manifests itself in all-round efficiency rather than individuality. They weren't really extended by Loughgiel in the All-Ireland semi-final, but since the Leinster final was played in January they won't be down on sharpness.
Clarinbridge's 3-22 to 1-27 win over De La Salle in extra-time in the semi-final was a fine achievement in a game which is being talked of as an all-time classic. However, one suspects that the high scoring (53 in all, 38 from open play) may have given it a over-inflated status.
Still, Clarinbridge's attacking strengths -- Alan and Mark Kerins and Eoin Forde scored 2-16 between them -- will certainly test the Gaels defence, but then the same will apply at the other end as the Kilkenny champions landed a total of 7-61 in their last four games.
All of which points to an open game which may buck recent trends where the winning margins have been higher than expected, with Gaels the tip to become the 23rd club to win the title in the 40-year history of the All-Ireland championships.
Leinster c'ship: O'Loughlin Gaels 3-16 Rathdowney Errill (Laois) 0-14; O'Loughlin Gaels 1-21 Ballyboden St Enda's (Dublin) 3-11 (after extra-time).
Leinster final: O'Loughlin Gaels 0-14 Oulart-The Ballagh (Wexford) 1-8.
All-Ireland semi-final: O'Loughlin Gaels 3-10 Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim) 0-10
Average for: 2-15; Average against: 1-10
Top scorer: Mark Bergin 1-26
All-Ireland semi-final: Clarinbridge 3-22 De La Salle (Waterford) 1-27 (after extra-time)
Top scorer: Mark Kerins 2-5
Odds: O'Loughlin Gaels 8/15; Clarinbridge 2/1; Draw 7/1
Verdict: O'Loughlin Gaels