Tuesday 20 March 2018

Today's All-Ireland club final previews

Compiled by Damian Lawlor

All-Ireland club SHC final

St Thomas's (Galway) v Kilcormac-Killoughey (Offaly), Croke Park 2.0

WHAT a battle we have here. Kilcormac-Killoughey are extremely fit and well organised, they have a solid defence, marshalled by the Healion twins, who ensure the rearguard stays tough but disciplined.

They epitomise workrate and honesty and they need those virtues because they're not exactly prolific. They have been reliant on captain Ciarán Slevin (pictured) and Daniel Currams for the bulk of their scoring this season, but Currams cruelly misses out after breaking his arm in a challenge game against Kilkenny's under 21s. He had been in full flow at full-forward during the Offaly championship and had also scored a goal in each of their last three games.

His loss changes things greatly. Although Kilcormac-Killoughey concede little, their moderate scoring average of 0-15 per Leinster championship game will surely suffer in his absence.

St Thomas's look to have more going for them in attack. Though some of their top performers were quiet in the replay against Loughgiel, they nonetheless got through with a bit to spare. Robert Murray, their leader, was immense, overseeing a defence that confined Loughgiel to just one point from play in 60 minutes.

It's a well-documented family affair with six Burke sons on the team. We won't labour that point save to say that Darragh continues to show potential to be considered as the next Galway centre-back.

St Thomas's are looking to become the fifth Galway side to win an All-Ireland club hurling title in the last eight years. Surely such eminence has to translate to the inter-county team.

Both these sides have shown serious heart to get this far – in Kilcormac-Killoughey's case none more so than when they beat Rathdowney-Errill in the Leinster semi-final, coming back from four points down late on in dire conditions to win.

Yet the Galway champions have their own strengths, not least a tight-knit spirit. It'll be a really tight final but we take St Thomas's to edge it.

Verdict: St Thomas's

All-Ireland club SFC final

St Brigid's (Roscommon) v Ballymun Kickhams (Dublin), Croke Park, 3.45pm

BOTH these teams deserve an All-Ireland title after their semi-final exploits.

The Roscommon side's late dismantling of Crossmaglen was epic while the Dublin champions bossed their game against Dr Crokes. Indeed, they were dominant to such an extent that if they can tighten their shooting (12 wides the last day), it's going to be hard to see them beaten today.

They are super-fit, look dominant at midfield and have seven players waiting to step into the Dublin panel. Ironically, it was Alan Hubbard, who is fighting for another chance on that squad, who eclipsed most of the others in the All-Ireland semi-final.

They secured a narrow one-point win over St Vincent's in the Dublin quarter-final before beating St Jude's by 1-16 to 1-7 in the semi-final. That was the last time they conceded a goal. However, except for the final against Kilmacud Crokes, they've coasted somewhat which is one obvious concern for management. Ballymun Kickhams haven't been put to the pin of their collar for a while, but the likes of Hubbard, Philly McMahon, Karl Connolly, Dean Rock and James Burke continue to excel.

The Roscommon champions, meanwhile, are much more battle-hardened. They've made two changes for today's final – Johnny Murray comes in at left corner-back, in place of Garvin Dolan and Damien Kelleher replaces Ger Aherne with Karol Mannion moving to midfield. Kevin McStay hopes Mannion can prevent Ballymun from dominating at midfield like they did in the semi-final.

St Brigid's experience could be crucial. It's their second time in three years to reach the senior club football final. They will have no doubt that they can become the first Roscommon team to lift the Andy Merrigan Cup and in McStay they have a shrewd manager who, as it happens, spent a couple of years playing with Ballymun.

They have led the way in Roscommon and Connacht at both underage and senior level in recent times and with McStay's rotation of the panel there is huge drive and trust among his team. Still, we expect Ballymun to run at them from the first to the final whistle. Verdict: Ballymun Kickhams

Irish Independent

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