Ahead of the currentaccount.ie All-Ireland Ladies Club Football Finals are players from Castlebar Mitchels, St Sylvester’s, Laura Fitzgerald of Mourneabbey, Kilkerrin-Clonberne, St Judes and Mullinahone. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Huge weekend of football coming up

The last weekend of January is certainly one with a host of important and crucial games leaving supporters spoiled for choice.

Account.ie All-Ireland Ladies Football Club Final

Mourneabbey v Kileerin-Clonberne in Birr on Saturday at 1pm

As this championship was not held last year, Mourneabbey enter this final as the reigning champions; in fact they are going for 3 in a row! They defeated Foxrock in the 2018 final, and having beaten Saturday’s opponents in the 2019 final by the narrowest of margins, expect this encounter to be just as tight.

The Cork girls though would appear to be hitting top form at just the right time. They had an easy win over Ballymacarbry in Munster but it was their demolition of a much fancied Dunboyne side from Meath in the semi-final that has them installed as favourites to retain their title.

Laura Fitzgerald was in goal scoring mood in that game with 4 of the 6 registered while as ever the O’Sulivans Doireann, Brid the captain, Aishling, Ciara and Meabh - not all related by the way - Eimear Meaney and Ella Jack produced quality displays to have this semi-final won before half-time.

The Galway champions had a much tougher tie against Donaghmoyne but a brace of goals by Nicola Ward got them over the line, while Claire Dunleavy, Eva Noone, Chloe Miskell and Louise Ward all made important contributions in a tight contest.

It has the makings of an intriguing encounter and while Kilkerrin-Clonberne will be difficult opponents, the craft and experience of the Cork and Munster champs, especially their ability to win tight games should be enough to see them complete a 3 in a row.

AIB All-Ireland Club Football semi-final

St Finbarrs v Kilcoo at O’Moore Park Portlaoise on Saturday at 3pm

“Well if we are to believe everything be written about Kilcoo and Cork football in general, I’m wondering should we even both travelling, but we are not worrying about that, we are just concentrating on ourselves and looking forward to the game.” The words of St Finbarr’s manager Paul O’Keeffe ahead of Saturday’s encounter.

Paul does accept that the Ulster champions have more experience at this level, but makes the point “we have played in plenty of big games, county finals, semi-finals and that will stand to us as well”.

Having watched their semi-final Paul is aware of Kilcoo’s game plan. “We know their structure, it’s a slow build up with a very defensive system. Again we have come up against that many a time and we will just have to be patient and take the opportunities when they come and they always do.”

Paul was worried though about the valley period that has happened in all their games to date. “Yeah it’s an issue and we are working hard to eradicate it from our game, but the one thing though is we don’t panic when it happens, as it did against Stack’s but we stuck to our game plan and Brian’s (Hayes) point was crucial.”

Kilcoo are favourites on Sunday and the manner in which they cruised to victory in the Ulster final had one particular scribe saying the title is bound for the Mourne County even before the semi-finals are played, but with all due respect to the Fermanagh champions who contested the Ulster Final, they scored 0-3 - not really anything to get excited about.

There is no doubt Kilcoo are a very rounded team with Jerome Johnston, Aidan Branagan, Ceilum Doherty, Conor Laverty, Niall Kane, Paul Devlin, Ryan McEvoy and Darly Branagan sticking rigidly to the system they have perfected under the guidance of the experienced coach Mickey Moran.

The ‘Barr’s though come into this game buoyed by the Munster final and keen to build on the tradition they themselves have established in this championship.

John Kerins is quickly establishing him as a top class goalkeeper - his save on 52 minutes was crucial, while defensively against Stack’s they were brilliant. I lost count off the block downs and turnovers. Sam Ryan, Billy Hennessey, Colm Scully and Jamie Burns hardly put a foot wrong.

Ian Maguire remains a key player in midfield and his leadership qualities always surface when needed most, Steven Sherlock is their go to man in attack, with Cillian Myers Murray, Conor McCrickard, Colm Barrett and the very effective Brian Hayes offering excellent support.

The use of Michael Shields is also important, he has been used mainly as an impact sub and it’s a role that he played to perfection creating vital scores and using his vast experience to great effect.

I will leave the last word to Paul O’Keeffe: “We are looking forward to the game, two more jobs to do to finish what has been an incredible journey.”

Barr’s to win and then it’s on to Croke Park. The game will be live on C103.

Allianz NFL Division 2

Cork v Roscommon at Dr Hyde Park on Sunday at 2pm

The opening game of what is a very competitive Division 2 and while the objective is to gain promotion, it is imperative that they avoid relegation as it could have major ramifications for the championship. With the Tailteann Cup on the horizon, and for Cork to be playing in that competition would represent a serious setback for football in the county.

Last Saturday in Killarney they came up against a very strong Kerry side, and when you introduce David Clifford when you’re leading by 0-12 it was clear that Jack O’Connor was not in experimental mood.

Very few Cork players impressed; there was no shortage of effort and endeavour but the gulf in class and physique was evident from the off and that is an area that the team management will surely focus on in the months ahead, but that’s a long term project. In the short term the need for points in the league is a priority.

Roscommon who like Cork are without players tied up the club championship reached the FBD Connacht League Final losing a competitive contest to Galway by 2 points scoring 1-16 in the process.

Enda Smith, Conor Cox and Ultan Harney were among the scores, while Eoin McCormack, Colin Walsh, Eddie Nolan and Shane Cunnane also showed good from.

That would suggest that they are slightly more advanced in their preparation than Cork, in fact Keith Ricken made that point in Killarney saying “we have only been together since 8 December, coping with injuries, Sigerson and Covid, but I can’t fault the effort and we will go back and prepare for Roscommon and go from there”.

In all 41 players have been looked at but injuries rule Damien Gore and Brian Hartnett for this game and with others opting out, the starting 15 will be interesting.

Micheál Aodh Martin made some great saves last time out, Sean Powter worked hard, Rory Maguire kicked 2 lovely points as did Mark Cronin, Brian Hurley was as dangerous as ever even with limited supply, Mattie Taylor gave a solid display, while Kevin O’Donovan was rather harshly black carded.

Sean Meehan will probably come back into the equation he was carrying a slight knock but few options remain to the selectors.

Hyde Park is never an easy place to get a result and on the evidence of last Saturday and unless there is a major improvement all over the field, the home side should win.

This game is also live on C103.

Corn Uí Mhuirí semi-finals

An interesting double-header in Mallow on Saturday with Cork v Kerry pairings in both games.

It gets underway at 3.30pm with the meeting of Skibbereen Community School and Tralee CBS then at 5.30pm it’s Hamilton High School Bandon and St Brendans Killarney.

Early goals proved crucial for the Bandon lads in their quarter-final win over another Kerry school Mercy Mounthawk Tralee and their resilience was a factor as they survived a stiff test to get over the line by the narrowest of margins.

Conor Ustianowski, Jacob O’Driscoll and Conor McCarthy got the crucial goals in that win and with Richard O’Sullivan, Tom Desmond and Olan Corcoran all impressed. They will need to be as good again if they are to make the decider.

The lads from Skibbereen were equally impressive and dogged in their victory over Rathmore with Robbie Minihane, Niall Daly, Luke Shorten and Jamie O’Driscoll making important contributions in their 1-14 to 0-14 can they repeat that effort and make the final.

Kerry schools have dominated this competition in recent years and an all-Cork final would be the ideal scenario.

Donal Hurley RIP

Donal’s passing a short few days ago severed a long link continued by his sons and grandchildren, with his beloved St Finbarrs whom he rendered outstanding and distinguished service throughout his life.

As a player he won a County Senior Football medal and upon retiring he served in a several positions among them chairman and secretary, roles he filled with the betterment of the ‘Barrs priority at all times, but equally fair and respectful in his dealings with many clubs.

Sincere sympathy to his family and his many friends and colleagues in St Finbarr’s - one thing is certain, they will have an extra voice shouting for them on Saturday.

Ar dheis Dé ar a anam dhilis.