It’s now over a decade since a senior decider has not involved the big two of Deise hurling and that was 1993, when Lismore edged out Passage East 0-8 to 0-7.
Despite the familiarity of the pairing, a huge attendance is expected for the latest chapter in a story of razor-sharp rivalry between Sion and the Gunners.
However, many will feel the final has been robbed of much of its gloss with Ballygunner forced to line out without their most prized asset, high-scoring Paul Flynn, sent off in the torrid semi-final against Lismore.
Flynn’s loss to the Gunners can hardly be quantified, and his 1-8 contribution in the defeat of Lismore was crucial in booking their place in the final for a sixth successive year. However while mentors acknowledge their chances of beating Sion have receded, they also believe Flynn’s absence will motivate the rest of the team.
“No club or county could find replacement for a player of Paul Flynn’s class,” said Ballygunner president Frankie King. “However, we won’t be going to Walsh Park to make up the numbers, we’ll be giving it a right lash and if the breaks fall our way I would still be confident that we can win.”
There is a precedent for King’s belief. Nine years ago in the replayed final between the same clubs Ballygunner were without Flynn following his sending off in a junior football game, but everyone else in the team put in that little bit extra to fashion a famous 3- 13 to 1-17 victory.
Newcomers Tommy Power and Gearoid O’Connor have been impressive in their first senior championship season, but without Flynn the Gunners will need more from the experienced Billy O’Sullivan, Paul Foley and Andy Moloney in attack. Fergal Hartley, Stephen Frampton, Shane and Rory O’Sullivan, Niall O’Donnell, Tom Fives and Ray Whitty will also have to be on top of their game if the champions are to be denied their first hat-trick of titles in more than quarter of a century.
The big news from Mount Sion is that Ken McGrath will line out at centre forward, with Tony Browne moving from midfield to centre back. Those switches turned the semi-final against Ballyduff Lower on its head, with McGrath the real match-winner on his return to the attack.
His brothers Roy and Eoin will form a new midfield partnership and Jamie O’Meara returns at right full back. O’Meara missed the semi-final because of injury and his return means Kenny Stafford loses out.
The experience of Brian Flannery and Anthony Kirwan makes that defence even more formidable, while All Star Eoin Kelly, county panellist Sean Ryan, and Miceal White will provide support for Ken McGrath up front.
Mount Sion have blown hot and cold en-route to the final, but they remain potentially a team of all the talents. They go into this final as favourites, even more so in the absence of Paul Flynn and it’s difficult to oppose them completing the hat-trick. However, with the Gunners primed to make light of their adversity the stage is set for another county final cracker. Throw-in is at 3.30 and the game is Cappoquin’s Tommy O’Sullivan first senior final as referee.
A bumper attendance is also expected at Fraher Field, Dungarvan tomorrow (3.45) for the second semi-final in the SFC between titleholders Stradbally and Ardmore. And the return after suspension of Niall Curran, means they will be strong favourites to meet Nire in the final.
Ardmore have regrouped via the losers group and, after victories over Rathgormack, Tramore and Clashmore they’ll relish this crack at the champions.
The curtain-raiser at 2.15 is the County Minor A Hurling final between Mount Sion and Abbeyside, with the latter slight favourites to retain the title they won so impressively a year ago.