Provincial football finals weekend: All you need to know

For the first time in recent GAA history, four provincial football finals will be played on the same weekend. Here's your game by game capsules as the football championship explodes into life
Provincial football finals weekend: All you need to know

Kerry’s David Clifford with Seán O’Shea. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Saturday: Munster SFC final: Kerry v Limerick, Fitzgerald Stadium, 3pm

Television: RTÉ2.

Commentary: Ger Canning. Analysis: Kevin McStay. Panel: Pat Spillane and Ciarán Whelan.

Talking Point: Do we detect a hint of hubris from the Kerry camp? Not that we object to Jack O’Connor speaking his mind – it is uncommon in elite Gaelic football management these days – and he has done plenty of that since returning to the helm. However, his criticism of the four-week break for tomorrow’s winners to an All-Ireland quarter-final does raise a slight question about Kerry’s focus. Shortly after beating Cork, despite claiming it was always going to be an awkward game, O’Connor could reel off the throw-in time for the final and already knew his county were due a home game. The man is clearly thinking forward but O’Connor’s remarks about the gap to the last-eight are bound to have been picked up in the Limerick camp this week.

Who's Hot: His Division 1 final display against Mayo wasn’t his best but having been Kerry's top performer in the round stages of the league Diarmuid O’Connor has set a high bar for himself. Having turned 23 last month, the Na Gaeil man is embracing the lead midfielder role. Clearly, having clubman Jack Barry as his covering, more defensive partner helps but there had been indications last year that he was ready for this. Much like O’Connor rued the season-ending injury sustained by David Moran against Monaghan in the 2011 Allianz League, would Peter Keane consider the injury that prevented O’Connor starting last year’s All-Ireland semi-final as a defining one? After all, he was a driving force in extra-time. As David Moran hits his autumn, Kerry have another fear láidir.

Vital Match-Up: Seán O’Shea versus Iain Corbett. Two purveyors of the endearing side of football, O’Shea knows he will have to do as much hunting as running from against Limerick’s playmaker. Given Corbett’s threat, it wouldn’t be beyond O’Connor to put Paudie Clifford at 11 and give Corbett as much to think about the man who pulls Kerry’s strings. And O’Shea did thrive closer to goal last year thanks to the elder Clifford. However, O’Connor very much sees O’Shea as his centre-forward and the Kenmare Shamrock man’s defensive game is strong and he will gladly add to the Kerry wall in front of Corbett.

Keep an Eye On: Limerick's scoring bursts. Yes, yes, the teams they have played up to this point aren’t a patch on Kerry but there is an explosiveness about Limerick that the home team will have at least been warned about by their opposition analysts. As Seánie Buckley said back in March: “There is certainly a style of play that they have come upon and it’s probably a bit sporadic. You would probably want it to be a bit more consistent over a number of games but for short periods they can go on scoring spurts and the scores are coming from lots of areas.” Limerick aren’t shy in front of the nets either but then they are coming up against a county who have conceded just one goal from play in 12 games this year.

Did You Know: Eoin Keating, the man who in 2004 was inches away from breaking Kerry’s hearts and claiming Limerick’s first Munster SFC crown since 1897 only for Darragh Ó Sé’s famous leaps, is now a physiotherapist based in Dublin. Managing director of Work Shape Ireland, Keating spent almost four years in Vancouver before returning to Ireland at the start of 2019. The Monaleen man, who also played for UCD and Limerick FC, was previously physio to the Clare senior and minor hurlers in 2012. Keating broke his collarbone three times in the space of nine months between 2004 and ‘05, ruling him out of the ‘05 Munster semi-final defeat to Kerry.

Words: John Fogarty

Con O'Callaghan. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Con O'Callaghan. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Saturday: Leinster SFC final: Dublin v Kildare, Croke Park, 5pm 

Television: RTÉ2.

Commentary: Marty Morrissey. Analysis: Éamonn Fitzmaurice.  Panel: Pat Spillane and Ciarán Whelan.

Talking Point: Dublin are still second favourites for the All-Ireland but their odds have come in on the back of substantial Leinster championship wins over Wexford and Meath. On paper they have responded well to relegation from Division 1 though, in reality, they have merely beaten a struggling Division 4 side and a middle of the road Meath team. Even if Dublin comfortably take care of Kildare, it won't serve as confirmation that they're ready to gain revenge on Mayo, or beat Kerry, or dethrone Tyrone. Still, it should be Dublin's biggest test so far in the Championship and given how the Lilies contributed to the Sky Blues' getting relegated, beating them in Newbridge back in February, the holders won't lack motivation.

Who's Hot: Ben McCormack was terrific against Westmeath but former All-Star nominee Daniel Flynn remains Kildare's key forward and the team's talisman. He struck 1-2 in last year's Leinster final and, in the 2017 decider, was denied a 42nd minute goal by a wonderful Stephen Cluxton save at a stage when a goal would have put serious heat on the Dubs. Darragh Kirwan is cut from the same cloth, tall and talented, while Jimmy Hyland is an out and out scorer. All of them have the potential to seriously trouble Dublin's backs but Flynn is the one who pulls the attack together. The ex-AFL player, who missed 2019 due to a spell in the US, has flirted with greatness throughout his career. Masterminding a Leinster final win over Dublin would be a crowning moment.

Vital Match-Up: Dublin's Brian Fenton-Tom Lahiff midfield axis is still in the early stages of development. But the signs are positive. A rejuvenated looking Fenton tore Wexford asunder, scoring five points while Lahiff gave arguably his best display yet for Dublin against Meath, contributing two points. In Kildare's midfield, Kevin Feely has the potential to rival Fenton on his day. The former soccer pro netted against Louth in the quarter-finals but, alongside Kevin O'Callaghan, was only mediocre against Westmeath and both players were replaced. If Feely manages to at least break even with Fenton then Kildare will have ticked one of the big performance boxes.

Keep an Eye On: Regardless of what happens in the provincial decider, Dublin and Kildare have firmly established themselves as the top two teams in Leinster. Aside from making it to the 2021 and 2022 Leinster senior finals, the neighbouring counties qualified for all three of the flagship Leinster finals this season, at minor, U20 and senior level. Kildare won the U-20 final and went on to contest the All-Ireland decider while Dublin won last week's Leinster minor final. That was Dublin's first win at the minor grade since 2017 while their U20s have been beaten in the last two provincial finals. Dublin still appear to be out in front at senior level but there are firm indicators from underage results that the future mightn't entirely be sky blue. Kildare, of course, beat Dublin in the National League back in February and a repeat result would mark a historic point in the history of the Leinster championship.

Did You Know: The Leinster decider will be preceded by the ladies provincial senior final between Dublin and Meath. Meath dramatically beat Dublin by two points in last September's All-Ireland final, capturing a maiden title. Dublin responded with a one-point win in the league in March and Meath subsequently pinched a one-point win in the provincial round robin stage. It's developed into a terrific rivalry and has the potential to be the game of the day given the quality of both sides. Dublin are reigning champions having beaten Westmeath in the 2019 decider while Meath are competing in the competition for the first time since 2016.

Words: Paul Keane

Shane Walsh of Galway. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Shane Walsh of Galway. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Sunday: Connacht SFC final: Galway v Roscommon, Pearse Stadium, 1.45pm 

Television: RTÉ 2. Commentary: Ger Canning Analysis: from Éamonn Fitzmaurice.

Talking Point: Can Roscommon score three victories over Galway in one season?

Within the space of a week at the end of March and beginning of April, Roscommon recorded back-to-back League victories over Pádraic Joyce’s side. The first was inconsequential as Galway were already assured of their place in the Division 2 final, but Roscommon’s success in edging the Division 2 decider a week later represented the first time since 1961 that Roscommon had beaten Galway twice in the same season across League and championship.

Answers on a postcard, please, if there has ever been a season where Roscommon thrice bettered Galway?

Who's Hot: Paul Conroy, obviously. The 33-year-old was recently crowned player of the month for April, due recognition for his All-Star form in the Division 2 League final and Galway's Connacht quarter-final win over Mayo. In the former fixture, he kicked six from play, five of which arrived in a sensational first half showing. Against Mayo, then, he rose three white flags.

All the more impressive are the heights Conroy has reached given the double leg-break he suffered in the summer of 2018.

“Today is my third or fourth time being asked about him after a match [this year],” said Pádraic Joyce after the Mayo win. “He has been one of the best players I have had in my three years.” 

Vital Match-Up: The obvious move from a Roscommon point of view is to redeploy Enda Smith from centre-forward to midfield to try and curb the aforementioned Conroy. But such has been Smith’s leadership and conducting of the Roscommon attack that to move him out of the number 11 slot would be massively counterproductive, irrespective of any job done on Conroy.

In actual fact, it is Galway who need to figure out who tracks Smith. Kieran Molloy was given this task in the League final and while the younger of the Smith siblings did not end up on the scoresheet, he was plenty influential from general play. If Molloy is not given a second go, his Corofin clubmate Dylan McHugh is a leading option.

Keep an Eye On: The resurgence of Damien Comer.

Since damaging his ankle playing five-a-side on St Stephen’s Day in 2018, an injury that kept the full-forward out of the maroon shirt until July 2019, Comer has been plagued by setbacks, including a torn hamstring four minutes into Galway’s first game back after the resumption of inter-county activity in October 2020. A run of games or, indeed, form, was for so long beyond him.

2022, though, has brought a welcome change in the narrative surrounding the 28-year-old. With no fresh injury raising its head, his football has done the talking. Against Mayo, he provided the assist for Johnny Heaney’s goal, proved an effective target man in the second half, while also making several penetrating runs from deep.

Did You Know? Home advantage has counted for nothing in the last four Connacht final meetings between these neighbours (2016-19), with neither side managing to come out on top when on home soil.

Galway enjoyed home comforts for the 2016, 17, and 19 provincial deciders at Pearse Stadium, the latter two ending in victory for the visitors. The 2016 final, meanwhile, ended in stalemate, with the replay won by Galway in Castlebar.

The Tribesmen were again victorious on the afternoon of the 2018 Connacht final at Dr Hyde Park. Hyde Park was also the venue for last year’s Connacht semi-final, which once more went the way of the traveling side.

2012 was the last occasion a Galway-Roscommon Connacht meeting finished with the home outfit - Galway - taking the spoils.

Words: Eoghan Cormican 

Shane McGuigan, left, and Niall Loughlin of Derry after the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Shane McGuigan, left, and Niall Loughlin of Derry after the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Sunday: Ulster SFC final: Derry v Donegal, Clones, 4pm 

Television: RTÉ 2/BBC 2 Northern Ireland 

RTE Commentary: Marty Morrissey. Analysis: Kevin McStay. Panel: Sean Cavanagh, Colm O'Rourke, Noelle Healy. 

BBC Commentary: Thomas Niblock. Analysis: Marty Clarke. Panel: Mickey Harte, Oisin McConville and Peter Canavan. 

Talking Point: You’ll be glad to hear it’s not kickouts, or not just yet. No, the main talking point around this final, at least in Derry, is the huge demand. GAA fans are an extremely fickle bunch at the best of times, and somewhere at the top of that pile reside the casuals who row in behind Derry when it suits them. At the 2011 Ulster final against Donegal, county board figures put the Derry attendance around 5,000. Now, the clubs sold their 12,000 ticket allocation and a further release online of 3,000 tickets were completely gone in eight minutes. All this for a county that along with Tyrone, barely made it past a five-figure attendance for the Championship opener in Omagh (10,115), with the defending All-Ireland champions.

Who's Hot: Gareth McKinless is a man transformed under Rory Gallagher. Previously a rapid-moving centre-back who you feared for when he went into challenges, lockdown has spat him out the other end as a bullish presence who loves driving forward and making the decisive plays, including a crucial point against Tyrone and the net-busting goal against Monaghan.

The Ballinderry man has not always committed to county football, but is the real deal. Because of how the meeting between these two ended in July last year, Paddy McBrearty always is compelling viewing, right to the death. It was his winner last year that came in one of the final plays of the game when he got loose from Chrissy McKaigue’s marking. The two will renew acquaintances on Sunday.

Vital Match-Up: Where Michael Murphy goes and who goes with him is the starting point in any game involving Donegal. Back in 2013, when Ballinderry met Glenswilly in the Ulster club final, Gareth McKinless was the preferred marking option. He actually stripped Murphy of the ball a couple of times in that game, and his performance went a long way to earning him the Ulster club footballer of the year award. But for this, Derry may go with Conor Glass to follow Murphy around the place and try to test him physically and aerobically up against Glass, the former AFL player for Hawthorn.

Keep an Eye On: Kickouts! You knew it was coming. Look, there is no doubt at this stage that Derry are vulnerable from their own kickout. It might have been well hidden throughout the league campaign as they blitzed teams but when Galway came to Owenbeg and Derry were kicking into a big wind, it all fell apart for them. It was expected to be an area Tyrone could get joy from, but the sending off of Brian Kennedy changed all that and Derry were able to get their restarts away to the free man in defence. Monaghan exploited it, but it’s one thing gobbling up all that possession, and another thing converting it into scores on the board. Donegal have the big men in Jason McGee, Hugh McFadden, Michael Langan and Michael Murphy to gain a strong foothold on the game. They won’t pass up a strong hand like that.

Did You Know: Since 2011, this is the seventh time that Derry manager Rory Gallagher will be on the sideline on Ulster final day. He is the first man to bring three different counties to the Ulster final. He was there as Jim McGuinness’ assistant in 2011, 2012 and 2013, before being Donegal manager in 2015 and 2016. After taking over Fermanagh he brought them to the decider in 2018. He has been victorious on only two of those six occasions to date, winning against Derry in 2011 and Down a year later. He has lost to Monaghan (2013 and 2015), Tyrone in 2016 and to Donegal in 2018.

Words: Declan Bogue.

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