Michael Harrington leads the Munster team in the first All-Ireland series at Grenagh this weekend. The Killarney man is hoping to make history as the first Kerry native to win the title when he faces Paul Rafferty on Saturday.
Momentum is an irresistible force in sport and in this account Harrington is most definitely in credit. From an inauspicious start to the season against Seán Murphy his performances have matured. In the Munster final he rode some choppy waters before surging clear of a player of Donal Riordan’s calibre. If he performs with the same level of intensity on Saturday he well be hard to hold.
Paul Rafferty has been down this road before, winning the title as a teenager in 1994. He won a second title in 2000, reached the final again in 2011 and might even have featured at senior level but for the dominance of Michael Toal. In this year’s Ulster final he beat James Oliver, the impressive 2014 All-Ireland champion. He is a serious competitor and if Harrington gives him an opening he will quickly take control.
Sunday’s Men’s Junior A final could be the score of the weekend. On one side is James Cooney an ice-cool stylist and on the other Ethan Rafferty touted as a potential successor to his uncle Michael Toal as Ulster kingpin.
Cooney won the All-Ireland u16 final in 1997 and would probably have more national and provincial titles, but for his dual commitments to bowling and hurling. This year he has rediscovered all the qualities that made him an underage star. He has speed, accuracy and the most valuable of all qualities confidence and the sangfroid of an assassin. Whatever commotion or challenge comes his way on Sunday, he’ll be ready.
Rafferty won successive All-Ireland titles at u16 in 2010 and u18 in 2011 and like Cooney has to divide his time between bowling and inter-county football with Armagh. He will be part of the county plans at Mullingar on Saturday, which could impact on Sunday. If he is not focused, or tired, or carrying an injury he will flounder against Cooney. If he is sharp and at his best we could have a supreme contest.
Kelly Mallon is contesting her eighth successive All-Ireland senior final, she’s bidding for four-in-a-row and her seventh title. It’s hard to argue with those statistics. She had a lucky escape against Geraldine Daly last year and is just back from a long injury layoff. However, she was absolutely devastating in the Ulster final against Siobhán Mackle. There is a sense that she was most vulnerable against Dervla Toal-Mallon in the Ulster semi-final.
Carmel Ryan beat her in the 2013 All-Ireland final, but was second best in three finals: 2010, 2011 and 2014. This time Ryan is injury-free and was low key in doing the business in Munster. Expectation is low and Ryan is the epitome of the dogged competitor. She won’t crumble if behind nor panic if she’s leading, so she can’t be ruled out, especially as she has more competitive scores under her belt in 2017.
The boys u18 final, between Conor Creedon and Pat Mackle has the ingredients to be a great contest. Mackle, a brother of senior champion Thomas Mackle and a nephew of the great Michael Toal, has a lot of tradition on his side. He is a neat steady bowler rather than a speed merchant. In the Ulster final he showed a lot of grit in hauling in and comprehensively beating last year’s All-Ireland u16 winner Ruairí Hughes.
Creedon’s chief weapon is speed, if he keeps errors to a minimum then he can be champion. He was beaten in last year’s u16 final and won the 2014 u14 All-Ireland. He is very experienced at this level. He is the type of bowler that has the sheer velocity to take control at any point and even if hind bowl for the last shot could easily pick it with a big one.
Leah Grimley will be slight favourite to win the girls u18 final against Hannah Cronin. She is contesting her third successive All-Ireland final, having lost at u16 to European champion Maria Nagle in 2015 and Hannah Sexton in 2016. Cronin showed plenty of guts in her last shot win over Maree Lynch in the Munster final.
In the u14 boys final Eugene McVeigh will be seeking a rare win for Tyrone. He caused a shock when beating last year’s All-Ireland winner Patrick Carr and Aron Hughes in the Ulster final. He faces a stern test in Munster champion Pa Flood, who won the 2014 u12 final, and is seen as a real future prospect.
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