The senior men’s final between Thomas Mackle and Arthur McDonagh is the intriguing bill topper at next weekend’s All-Ireland final series in Baile Bhuirne.
Starting on Friday there are five finals before Sunday’s senior men’s final. That is the first senior All-Ireland between two opponents who have faced each other since their formative years. Mackle is going for his second senior title, while it’s McDonagh’s first final.
Between 2003 and 2009 Mackle, McDonagh and Killian Kingston were the ultimate underage rivals. It started at Ballincurrig in 2003 when Kingston beat Mackle in the All-Ireland under-12 final. McDonagh beat Mackle in the 2007 under-16 final and in 2009 Mackle beat Kingston at under-18. Each went on to win at adult level.
Mackle is well ahead of his Munster rivals. He won the senior All-Ireland at the expense of Kingston in 2016. The he was on his way to four-in-a-row of King of the Roads, in which he beat McDonagh in the 2018 final. He also won the intermediate All-Ireland in 2012. Kingston won the Junior A and contested both the intermediate and senior finals. McDonagh has been knocking on those doors too, but is yet to enter.
McDonagh made a bold statement in his Munster final win over James O’Donovan. And now he’s back on that Baile Bhuirne road he loves. Although he lost to Gary Daly at King of the Roads, it was only in the last shot. He looks poised to move up a step and win his first Hughie Traynor Cup.
Mackle easily dethroned Cathal Toal in the Ulster final, but was not as fluent in his loss to David Murphy at Ballincurrig. He’s had a few weeks to sharpen the blades, but that may not be enough to stem McDonagh’s surge. There was something compelling about McDonagh in the Munster final. If he turns up with the same force and confidence on Sunday, Mackle will not deny him.
The weekend features two pairs of siblings, sisters Hannah and Ellen Sexton and Tyrone brothers Gene and Eoghan McVeigh. Eoghan McVeigh faces a huge challenge in the boys uner-12 final against Ben Cooney on Friday. In the Munster final Cooney looked everything a bowler should be: accurate, speedy and competitive.
Gene McVeigh faces Wayne Parkes in the Junior B final. Parkes has won four championships this year, including the under-18 final in Armagh. That day he was really tested by Darragh Gribben, till he played an unbeatable last bowl. He has momentum, but so has McVeigh, who came to Baile Bhuirne two weeks ago and beat Vincent Kiely.
In the intermediate final Hannah Sexton is bidding for her second All-Ireland title of the year. She has an incredible record, being in at least one All-Ireland final every year since she won the under-16 in 2016. She plays Sinéad Kiernan who contested both the under-18 and intermediate finals in 2014, beating Claire O’Sullivan in the Intermediate.
Sexton’s younger sister Ellen faces Caoimhe Rafferty in the under-16 final. Rafferty is well tuned in for this having played Hannah Sexton in the under-18 final in August and making the trip to Baile Bhuirne to school the road. This one is hard to call as both are huge talents.
Tommy O’Sullivan will be favoured to beat Ulster’s Philip Conlon in the under-16 final. Likewise Munster veteran(over-50) champion Tony Carey will be expected to shade Joe Shortt.