Big two on course for club collision
A MORE attractive quarter-final draw could not have been tossed up if it were planned. The expected contenders for the county title have been kept apart, and if Ballaghaderreen and Crossmolina come through their next two games, the final curtain of a season in which the ladies alone have kept the county flag flying may fall on a classic final.
But neither will be unaware of the old adage that there is many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip, and when they line out against Kiltane and Charlestown respectively on Sunday the tag of favouritism could weigh heavily on them.
Conjecture throughout the campaign has been focused on the inevitability of Ballaghaderreen atoning for their defeat in last year’s final. They have powered their way to the quarter-finals with that prediction in no way faded, and the general view is that Kiltane will offer only token opposition to their ambitions.
The Erris men have been on nobody’s lips, but you would rule them out at your peril. On their home ground they have produced their best football, yet the manner in which they clawed their way back to the top of their section in Breaffy is evidence that they are redoubtable opposition in any arena.
Built around the competitive spirit of Patie Sweeney, Tony Gaughan, Rory Corrigan, John Scanlon, James O’Donnell, Edmond Barrett and Shane Lindsay, Kiltane will provide Ballaghaderreen with a test of their real worth, and the return of Sean Carey, who has been sidelined by injury since the start of the season, is a further arrow in their quiver.
Based on the manner of their progress, Ballagh’ must start favourites. The county experience of the Kilcullen brothers, Andy Moran, Pierce Hanley and Barry Regan is more than Kiltane can match, and that may be enough to guide them to the semi-final. But if they do go on to take the title, Sunday’s win may be their principal spur.
Crossmolina are not expected to fall prey to Charlestown, but complacency, and the grit of the opposition, might deny them a smoother entry to the semi-finals than anticipated. With Ballaghaderreen being clear favourites, the spotlight has for once moved from the reigning champions, and the pressure on them is less severe. But the manner in which they have been preparing is an indication of their determination to retain the title.
No club honour has eluded their key men, yet Ciaran McDonald, James Nallen and Stephen Rochford are as keen now as they were for their first title in 1995, and they and the likes of Peadar Gardiner and Joe Keane are the men Charlestown have to fear.
The problem in assessing the real strength of Charlestown is that they have emerged from the easiest of the four sections. To their credit they came through with full points, including a win over Ballina. But neither Louisburgh nor Westport offered them serious opposition.
Like Crossmolina, they are backboned by the old reliables, the Higgins brothers, David Tiernan, Enda Casey and Sean Lenihan, and all of them have been key to their success so far. For some games they were without their young star Tom Parsons, and if they have him back from his sojourn in America their chances will be greatly boosted.
A clash of styles is the main attraction of the meeting of Burrishoole and Knockmore. Crossmolina almost paid the penalty for underestimating Burrishoole, and Ciaran McDonald had to dig deep into his well of craft to extricate them from the jaws of defeat.
Burrishoole’s inspiration comes from their grand old man of football, Colm McManamon, still operating with the enthusiasm of a beginner. But theirs is not a one-man band. Liam O’Malley, Conor Moran and a horde of other skilled McManamons occupy vital positions.
Knockmore, once the kingpins of the county, are struggling to regain old glory. By the skin of their teeth they qualified for the play-offs, and while the collective talents of their young men, Trevor Howley, Aidan Kilcoyne and Damien Munnelly has earned them a quarterfinal place, they need more power in the vital positions… a few more Declan Sweeneys. It will be close, but Burrishoole could shade it.
Former All-Ireland champions Ballina Stephenites have lost a lot of their old shine, but the general view is that they are still good enough to overcome Garrymore. Maybe so. In the Brady brothers, Ronan McGarrity, Pat Harte, Brian Ruane and Paul McGarry they have enough experience to regain the title . . . but hardly the zest.
Garrymore are beginning to stir again, and Ballina ought to be wary of a side that will fight them to the end. Jarlath Varley, Tony Corcoran, sharp-shooter Jimmy Killeen, Fintan Hession and Enda Varley will match anything Ballina can produce. In the end, however, the weight of experience maybe the telling factor.