previews the weekend's GAA fixtures.
Should Fr O’Neill’s lose this one, you can be sure there will be claims the game was decided in the boardroom or in the semi-final win over Tooreen. News this week that Mark O’Keeffe and Billy Dunne failed in their attempts to have their semi-final red cards overturned might not have been surprising but will undoubtedly hurt Fr O’Neill’s. Clearly, referee Chris Mooney felt O’Keeffe and Dunne did enough to be dismissed although it’s a crushing blow ahead of a humble club’s big day.
Even more responsibility will be placed on the shoulders of Declan Dalton and Paudie McMahon but how they dealt with the players’ absences for the final 20-plus minutes of the semi-final provides room for optimism. However, Tullaroan are now playing with great abandon and their spine is strong from Pádraic and the younger Tommy Walsh (Village) in defence to Martin Keoghan and the legendary Tommy Walsh (Mountgale) in attack.
For a team that lost their county final, how Conahy Shamrocks have responded since in Leinster and beyond is a testament to them. They could have easily written off the provincial campaign and felt like frauds but they were anything but.
Russell Rovers’ scare against Micheál Breathnachs should be perfect preparation. How they moved away from the Galway champions in additional time illustrated they were the better team and if they were any Christmas cobwebs they have been blown away now.
Brian Hartnett was sensational in that game and he has the ability to make this game his own but James Bergin can be just as masterful. After such a dominating Munster campaign, what happened in Kilmallock the week before last could be the battle Russell Rovers needed to become champions.
Even though he was appointed relatively late, Galway seemed to be cohesive enough on new manager Shane O’Neill’s debut last weekend when they saw off Dublin. There is talk of Joe Canning and Conor Whelan returning to the panel this weekend too, which bodes well, and a good league campaign is key for Galway. Wexford won’t mind the result as long as they produce another decent performance.
Seamus McEnaney is unlikely to have his coach Conor Laverty for this one because of Kilcoo commitments but he will be happy to have a good look at Tyrone up close and personal. College commitments also affect Monaghan and as we have mentioned before Tyrone are old masters at winning this competition.
Pádraic Joyce may be no fan of penalty shoot-outs but he will have gleaned enough from the trip to Mayo last weekend. Roscommon may be a little ahead of them in terms of preparations, though, and that might manifest itself in the performance and result in Roscommon town.
John Maughan mightn’t have been happy with how his team came through their semi-final but on the face of it the win was a more satisfying one than Longford’s against a third or fourth string Dublin side. Cork should be observers in Tullamore ahead of their Division 3 opener against the Faithful County on Saturday week.
If Borris-Ileigh supporters haven’t already looked away after either reading the above headline or the verdict at the bottom of this piece, then they will probably take encouragement from this writer’s history of forecasting their imminent disappointment.
We did so in the Tipperary final as we did again in the Munster semi-final and final and, you guessed it, once more for the All-Ireland semi-final. Although we did fancy them to win their county quarter-final and semi-final clashes, a prediction against Borris-Ileigh from this quarter is a reason for the club to be optimistic.
Their chances here are greater than most expect.
Yes, the Ballyhale forward line has more potential to do damage at a venue many of them are familiar with but Borris-Ileigh are packed with vibrant youth and a work-rate that does shame to the majority of teams (Jerry Kelly and Kevin Maher are prime examples).
Providing they get over their nerves quicker than they did against St Thomas, Croke Park could be a playground for someone like James Devaney. Ballyhale will also have to consider the strong running from Borris-Ileigh’s half-back line - Ray McCormack caused many problems for St Thomas’ when doing so in Limerick 13 days ago.
One wonders if Henry Shefflin will acknowledge the scintillating form of Brendan Maher and detail a player to him. It wouldn’t be the Ballyhale way but Johnny Ryan is almost certain to show the same respect to TJ Reid be it in the form of a single marker or even a tag-team effort involving Dan McCormack.
Those believing the narrow win over Slaughtneil highlighted issues in the Ballyhale team would be misguided.
Slaughtneil were always going to put up a show fight and for Shamrocks it was a step into the unknown. Here they are on more familiar ground against a team that will rival them for graft and guile but are not as gifted.
There was a steely majesty about the way Kilcoo kept out Ballyboden in the final stretch in Cavan the weekend before last.
How Conor Laverty had the gumption, never mind the skill, to effectively grubber kick-pass from deep in his own half as Boden frantically chased down Kilcoo’s lead was a testament to the confidence within their ranks.
Mickey Moran and Conleith Gilligan have been praised by the players for effectively guiding them over the line in Ulster when for so long it appeared beyond them.
And, make no bones about it, had they not done so in November then it might have taken another generation before they got close again.
Kilcoo’s veterans see Sunday as the perfect way to bow out of the senior game.
It’s not as if Corofin are without their own but this is a promised land for men like Laverty and Aiden Branagan.
They are sure to play like there’s no tomorrow because there might very well be none for them and that attitude has to be respected by Corofin.
Two weeks is not enough time for Mickey Moran to do enough homework on Corofin. Sure, they have been on TV enough these last 24 months or so and there is plenty of video of their games available but there are an evolving crew.
Any club team that is able to keep Dylan Wall and Dylan McHugh on the bench for an All-Ireland semi-final and hardly suffer is one boasting depth.
Kilcoo will have to try and bottle up their central areas so they can pen in Corofin’s beautiful use of the hand-pass but Corofin are the type of team now that can size up what’s in front of them and act accordingly.
Kilcoo’s habit of finding the net could keep them in this affair long than expected but the three in a row is most definitely on for Kevin O’Brien’s group.
Queens saw off Dublin opposition with ease last weekend although Technological University Dublin can’t be compared to DCU right now. The Glasnevin college had it tough against Garda College but can show they are title contenders here.
Missing Con O’Callaghan and Darragh Silke, UCD are poorer but that extra-time win over UUJ will have them steeled for this clash with the team that saw them off in last year’s semi-final.
Michael Murphy’s magic is rubbing off on the Letterkenny crew and here they face a college famous for maturing several Donegal stars. A surprise can’t be dismissed but Sligo IT should have more know-how.
For all of Billy Morgan’s anger last weekend and a good bit of it was on the money, UCC’s pathway to the last four looks pretty clear. The Carlow outfit will be buoyed after their first round win but this is a step up in class.
After a slightly surprising result last weekend, IT Tralee led by David Clifford can avoid the drop to the Trench Cup.
DCU look to be young men on a mission and Maynooth won’t have enough to cope with what’s thrown at them.
Limerick IT simply have to win this derby if they are to remain in the competition but Mary I should have too much for them.
A tough opening weekend for the Limerick college although this encounter shouldn’t be as taxing.
A fine start for Waterford IT and they can all but confirm they will be top the table with a victory on their home patch.
Another derby but this isn’t going to be one where you can throw form out the window. UCC are just too powerful.