Football finals take centre stage this week

With just one hurling championship to be finished, football will dominate the playing fields for the coming weekend as the end is in sight for the county championship programme.

Bon Secours Premier Senior Football Final

St Finbarr’s v Clonakilty on Sunday in Pairc Ui Chaoimh at 3pm

These sides last met in the final of 2009, when Clonakilty emerged winners and their manager then as now is Haulie O’Neill - an omen perhaps.

For Clon’s Tomas Clancy, Haulie brings so much to the team: “Outstanding manager, he has belief in what we as players can do and that is typified by the way we are playing. He has instilled that self belief in the team, and it has stood to us in recent games.”

Tomas made the point that the manner in which they beat Duhallow, scoring the last seven points without reply has given them huge confidence. “We kept playing the way we were training, doing the basic and simple things well and it paid off.”

Tomas is really looking forward to Sunday but very disappointed that injury means Liam O’Donovan misses out. “It’s great to be in a county final, great for the club and the town itself, but Liam is a real loss, a fabulous player and he has missed so much, but knowing Liam, he will bounce back.”

Ian Maguire is the ‘Barrs captain and went through so many emotions in the dramatic semi-final win over Castlehaven, which took its toll. “It sure did, it was nearly Thursday before we recovered but we got the job done and since then we have worked away in training and it’s great that at the business end of the season we are still playing.”

The sides met in the group stages and with both already qualified, Ian is not reading too much into the game. “It was a bit of a dead rubber but we know that even though we won that game, Sunday will be so different as finals take on a life of their own and we will need to be at our best to win.”

In fact this will be the third meeting of the sides as they also met in the league final and once again victory went to the ‘Barr’s. There is a lot of quality on both teams and Clon will play to a system that the ‘Barrs will have to work hard to break down. This system will surely entail a man marking job or even double tagging Steven Sherlock, whose display in the semi-final was as good as seen at this level for a long time. The absence of O’Donovan from the Clon defence robs them of a serious option.

Ian Maguire drives them on from midfield and how he performs often puts the ‘Barrs in pole position. John Kerins is an excellent goalkeeper, while in defence Sam Ryan, Jamie Burns and Alan O’Connor have been efficient all season. Apart from Sherlock, Down native Conor McCrickard is a good scorer, Brian Hayes and Cillian Myers Murray have all made important contributions, in fact the ‘Barrs have strength in depth in the squad.

Clonakilty themselves have improved since losing in the group phase and while they may lack the depth that the ‘Barrs have, they have a lot of experienced players in their squad. Mark White is an adventurous goalkeeper who is not afraid to venture out the field, dangerous at times, but it has paid off. Tom Clancy, Maurice Shanley and Sean White will need to be at their best to curtail the ‘Barrs attack. Joe Grimes’ probable midfield tussle with Maguire could very well shape this contest. Dara O’Se has been their top scorer and could prove to be a handful for the ‘Barr’s defence, which struggled to contain Brian Hurley in the semi-final, while Sean McEvoy, Ross Mannix and Jack O’Mahoney will need to step up to the plate in the scoring stakes if Clon are to win.

Based on the semi-finals, St Finbarr’s are favourites and the injury to O’Donovan is a blow for Clon, and while the system they play can frustrate the opposition, in this case I feel the Togher-based lads have the ability and quality to break it down and regain a title last won in 2018 and with it win their 10th title.

Macroom’s David Murnane is the referee and the game - like all finals over the weekend - is live on C103.

Bon Secours Senior A Football Final

Mallow v St Michaels on Sunday at Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 1pm

Both these teams have suffered their fair share of heartbreak in finals in recent years, particularly St Michaels who in the Premier Intermediate grade lost as recently to Eire Og, the same side that defeated Mallow in the delayed 2020 final of this grade back in August.

That they are both back in a final says a lot about their resilience and barring a draw, one of them will end their long wait for championship glory, but who will it be as they both have impressed in their route to this decider?

St Michaels made everyone sit up and take notice with an emphatic win over a fancied Knocknagree team in the group phase and then showed their resolve with an extra-time win over Doheny’s, when the depth in squad got them over the line. Mallow came through a tough group and then quality goals helped them beat a spirited Ballingeary in the last four.

Sean Keating, Joe Golden and Peter Cunningham are solid defenders for Michaels; Daniel Meaney and Billy Cain form an effective midfield pairing, while in attack Keith Hegarty, Liam O’Sullivan and Eoghan Buckley are dangerous, while the likes of Tadgh Deasy and Eric Hegarty off the bench is an indication of their options.

The decision of Cian O’Riordan and James Loughrey to call time on their playing careers did not seem to trouble Mallow and they have coped admirably without them. Eoghan Barry, Mattie Taylor, Darragh Moynihan, Ryan Harkin, Michael O’Rourke and Kevin Sheehan have stepped up to the mark.

The fear of losing might inhibit both sides in their approach to this game, or maybe they might throw off the shackles and have a cut. Picking a winner is not easy, but a nod to St Michaels to finally end their final heartbreak.

Junior A Football Final

Boherbue v Ballinhassig on Saturday at Páirc Ui Chaoimh at 3pm

That Boherbue are in this final - they have just completed a five in a row of Duhallow titles - is no real surprise as they have been regular contenders at this grade for the last number of years without ever closing the deal.

That Ballinhassig are their opposition is a surprise, but make no mistake they are there on merit. Better known as hurling club, there are 13 dual players involved and any side that can beat Tadgh Mac Carthaigh’s and Douglas deserve the respect I am sure the Duhallow champions will give them.

In both games they came from behind and while they came up short last Saturday in hurling that hurt will drive them on especially Cillian Tyers, Diramuid O’Sullivan, Eoin Lombard, Charlie Grainger, Kevin Maguire and Michael Desmond.

Boherbue are favourites and that’s hard to argue with but they got a stern test from Urhan in the semi-final, that could help them shake off any degree of complacency that might have set in after a few comfortable wins.

Jerry O’Connor is their main man and danger in attack while Dan Sheehan, John Corkery, Alan O’Connor and the experienced goalkeeper Kevin Murphy have also impressed.

Having lost the 2020 county final to Iveleary, Boherbue will be determined to go one better. Ballinhassig will test them, but Boherbue look better equipped to win.

Premier Intermediate Hurling Final

Castlelyons v Courcey Rovers on Saturday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 5pm

Castlelyons are back in a final having lost last year’s decider and boosted further by the return from injury of Colm Spillane, as they renew rivalry with Courceys who they beat in last year’s semi-final. In that game, Cork panellist Sean Twomey was injured early denting Courcey’s chances.

The south-east side saw off neighbours Valley Rovers in their semi-final a couple of weeks ago and were full value for that 8 point win notable for the contribution of 1-3 from their goalkeeper Stephen Nyhan.

Sean Twomey contributed 0-3 in that game and he has been a key player for them throughout their run to this final, which saw them top their group and a direct route to the semi-final, along with Brian Collins, Ronan Nyhan, Adam Kenneally, Richard Sweetman and Shane McCarthy and there is a nice blend of youth and experience in the side.

Castlelyons also qualified directly for the semi-final and despite a long gap, they coped with the stern test provided by Ballinhassig. In the end they got over the line by one point, but they were the better team for long periods with a quality display, especially from Jack Barry, Colm Barry, Alan Fenton, Niall O’Leary, Barry Murphy and team captain Anthony Spillane.

There is a strong desire to atone for last year’s defeat, when Spillane left injured within minutes of the start, and with a game under his belt, he will be better again in this final.

A close one but Castlelyons appear to be better balanced and with a very effective attack should win.

Intermediate A Football semi-final

Kilshanning v Mitchelstown on Saturday in Kildorrery at 2pm

A North Cork derby as last year’s runners-up Mitchelstown bid to erase that defeat from the memory bank, but will have to do it without dual player Mark Keane who returned to AFL training with Collingwood on Monday last, that after scoring a crucial goal as Ballygiblin were crowned County Junior Hurling champions on Saturday last.

His absence could very well tilt the tie Kilshannig’s way and set up a final with the form team of this championship Iveleary next month.