Aidan Murphy and Cathal Toal contest what looks an evenly balanced All-Ireland senior bowling final at Tullysaran in Armagh on Sunday.
That score brings the curtain down on two days of national finals, commencing with the Women’s intermediate on Saturday morning.
Murphy and Toal also met in the 2014 final. Murphy showed grit and class in beating an emerging Toal that day at Whitechurch. Toal brought expectation from his sensational All-Ireland intermediate win over the same road in 2013. Murphy was more advanced in his career and it told.
In 2019 Murphy has been steady rather than meteoric. In his Munster final win over Martin Coppinger he did just enough. He easily beat Éamon Bowen in the semi-final and Gary Daly in the quarter-final and also won a silver medal at the jubilee European Championships.
Toal has hit all the right notes in 2019. In the Joe McVeigh Cup at Easter in Keady-Tassagh he beat Thomas Mackle and Martin Coppinger and showed a lot of maturity. He beat Mackle again in the Ulster Championship before beating Paul O’Reilly in the final. Just to give a sense that the stars are aligned, his brother, Peadar, was sensational in the All-Ireland intermediate final.
Don’t etch his name on the Hughie Trainor Cup yet. Yes he is the form player, yes he has home advantage, but Murphy is not travelling north for the scenery. He has delivered at home and in Europe, he has pride and determination and momentum. This could turn into a real battle. Toal is now a bowler who can do battle, but so is Murphy. This could be a classic.
There are shades of déjà vu about the Men’s Junior B final on Saturday between Munster’s Vincent Kiely and Mickey Rafferty. Exactly 30 years ago they met in the All-Ireland under-16 final at Bauravilla, which Rafferty won.
Rafferty lost two subsequent All-Irelands, the under-18 1990 to Donal O’Riordan and in 1998 to Denis Cooney at Junior A. He beat Shane Feighan in the Ulster final over the All-Ireland course, which is a plus. However, Kiely was very impressive in Munster and if he can bring that form to Tullysaran it will be hard to beat him.
All-Ireland Veteran (over-50) champion, Joe Shortt, plays John Shorten on Sunday morning. He beat Ted Hegarty last year, but Shorten is younger and holds two All-Ireland intermediate titles. Shorten was a lucky winner against Chris O’Donovan in the top section in Munster, but should have too much power for Shortt.
The women’s intermediate final between Maria Nagle and Aoife Trainor is a repeat of the 2016 under-18 final. Trainor gave Nagle a stern test that day at Madden. It was the year Nagle won the under-18 European gold medal and a third All-Ireland. It’s taken her a while to convert her prodigious talent into adult success, a win here would change that.
Trainor will hope to make it third time lucky. She also contested 2015 intermediate final. She bowled well, in torrential rain, to beat Lorraine Hurley-Mackle in the Ulster final.
In the Boys u16 final Eugene McVeigh is contesting his second final of 2019, having lost at under-18 to Wayne Parkes. He faces Darragh Dempsey, who won a great Munster final against Billy Connolly. Shannon Maguire is also an Ulster double winner. She plays Margaret Sexton in the Girls under-16 final, having lost to her older sister Hannah in the under-18 final.
Cathal Creedon is defending his under-12 title against Ethan Hughes. His Munster campaign suggests he has lost none of last year’s sharpness.