The finding your feet period for club teams is over. Most counties’ group stage campaigns are coming to a close. Some are seeing the knockout stages in full flow. There are some mouth-watering fixtures this weekend. Here are the top five games to look out for across Football and Hurling.
St. Brigid’s vs Elphin
Roscommon SFC, Group A, Round Three
Saturday, 7 pm @ Kiltoom
A Quarter-Final spot is up for grabs as the Roscommon SFC group stages reach its conclusion. St. Brigid’s know a draw will be enough for them. Only a win will suffice for Elphin. This game isn’t last chance saloon though. For the team that misses out on Saturday, there is another chance via a play-off to make the last eight. The luxury of a two-week break and avoiding the unknown of a once-off game would seem the more glamorous.
St. Brigid’s don’t hold the same fear over the rest of the county as they once held. County champions seven times during the past decade, the 2013 All-Ireland champions are in transition. Most of the players from that period of dominance have called it a day. One of the survivors, Senan Kilbride is now unavailable. After playing in the opening two rounds, the ex-Roscommon player has departed for the UAE. Manager Benny O’Brien has great faith in youth and there is plenty of talent around Kiltoom. Ciaran Surgue, Ben O’Carroll, and Ruaidhri Fallon have shown maturely beyond their tender years. There a strong feeling, if it’s not this year, then very soon St. Brigid’s will be top of the pile again.
Rewind the clock ten years and Elphin were the closest rivals to St. Brigid’s. The 2010 & 2011 were contested by Saturday opponents. On both occasions, Elphin were left empty-handed and they haven’t reached those heights since. Underdogs for this game, the 5/2 outsiders will take confidence from last year’s encounter, when they triumphed 1-14 to 0-14. Injuries weren’t a problem in 2019 but the same can’t be said twelve months later. Shane Killoran is out for the entirety of the Championship. Fintan Cregg was carrying a knock in their last outing vs Clann nan Gael. The Cregg brothers (Damien, Fintan, Frankie, and Gerry) are sprinkled all over this team, making up four representatives in the starting fifteen.
Home advantage will give St. Brigid’s a psychological edge but the form will suggest these teams are evenly matched. St. Brigid’s squandered an eleven point lead vs Clann na nGael and struggled to put away fourteen-men Strokestown. Elphin also blew a lead vs Clann na Gael, but it was only the bare minimum at the break. The Johnstown men were traveling home the happier thirty minutes later. In round one, they got the better of neighbours Strokestown. Everything suggests this game going down to the wire.
Clontarf vs St. Vincent’s
Dublin SFC Group Two, Round Three
Saturday, 7:30pm @ Parnell Park
Unlike the situation in Roscommon, Clontarf, and St. Vincent’s Quarter-Final aspirations are solely dependent on the next sixty minutes of Football. There are no more second chances going into this local derby. Ballyboden St. Enda’s are already through from this group and the winner on Saturday evening will join them. However, a draw will also see St. Vincent’s advance due to their superior scoring difference.
Momentum is on the Clontarf side. Victory over Whitehall Colmcille, 3-12 to 0-15, last time out will have boosted confidence. Kevin Lillis, Morgan Walsh and Craig McConnell scored the goals for the seaside club. Star player Jack McCaffrey wasn’t togged out, to make the win stand out more. The 2015 Footballer of the Year was part of the action for the game previous to that vs Ballyboden. An eighteen points hammering doesn’t tell the full story. Only two points separated the sides after three-quarters of the contest before Ballyboden powered away. Clontarf will be keen to avoid a similar faith on Saturday.
Getting scores isn’t a problem for St. Vincent’s. Their defence has been very generous this year. Five goals were shipped vs Ballyboden last week and that went a long way to losing the game. The Marino side got eighteen scores vs sixteen scores. Any team that only raises one green flag and sees five lifted at the other end are in big trouble. Even against Whitehall, they gave up 1-13, a score they put you in danger of coming away with nothing. As stated at the start of the paragraph, the forwards are leading this team. They’re averaging 1-16 per game so far. The 2017 County champions know if they hit those figures and if the defence tightens up, they will be hard beat.
We are likely to see the most anticipated match-up of the weekend in Parnell Park. Chris Barrett (Clontarf) picking up Diarmuid Connolly (St. Vincent’s). These two players have enjoyed great battles down the years with Dublin vs Mayo. However, they will have never really marked each other. Both players are still fully aware of their opponent’s good traits. If we get half the excitement as those Dublin vs Mayo games, viewers on RTE Two will be spoiled.
Donaghmoyne vs Clontribret O’Neill’s
Monaghan SFC Group One, Round Four
Saturday, 4 pm @ Donaghmoyne GAA Grounds
Unbeaten after two games but it has been far from an ideal start for Clontribret. The reigning champions are still searching for their first win. Draws with Ballybay and Maghercloone leaves them fourth and with work to do. Donaghmoyne are the only team below them. Pointless after two games, the South Monaghan club are struggling to adapt at a higher grade after promotion from Intermediate.
In many ways, Clontribret should be grateful they also are not on zero points. Defeat has stared them in the face twice. Ballybay had the upper hand for most of the game until the introduction of Vinny Corey. He was pivotal in helping Clontribret score 1-1 late on to prevent a losing start. Maghercloone will still be having nightmares about last Sunday. Four points up with ten minutes to go, the shock looked on. Credit to the champions, four points unanswered saw both sides take a share of the spoils. Kevin Lavelle was the hero with the sixty-fourth-minute point.
It is still hard to make a case for Donaghmoyne. Last Sunday was a reminder of the gulf in class between Intermediate and Senior. Four goals flew past Shane Garland as Ballybay dished out a twenty-four-points trashing. They were 2-7 to 0-00 down at the first water break. Valuable lessons will have been learned and they will point to the Inniskeen game for encouragement. A much more competitive display saw last year’s Intermediate runners-up only go down by four points. If you had offered Donaghmoyne victory in the relegation play-off at the start of the Championship, they would be delighted. That mindset will not have changed after the first two games.
A lot of Donaghmoyne hopes will depend on how their backs cope with Conor McManus. After no scores from play vs Ballybay, “Mansy” was back to himself last week with three points from play. He is a nightmare for defenders at Inter-County level, so it’s a big task facing the 7/1 outsiders.
Mount Sion vs De La Salle
Waterford SHC Quarter-Final
Sunday, 2 pm @ Walsh Park
When these two city clubs clash, it always makes for a special occasion. Throw in the fact this is a knockout game and losing is simply not an option for either team. Mount Sion proudly sits on top of Waterford’s roll of honour. 2006 was the last time they were the number one side in the county though. De La Salle’s famine is eight years. Both have been looking on in jealously/hurt since 2014 as neighbours Ballygunner domain.
De La Salle did not put a foot wrong in the group stages, winning both games comfortably. Ballysaggart were set aside with the minimum of fuss three weeks ago. Jack Fagan was unstoppable, scoring 1-13 as De La Salle won 2-22 to 1-12. Last weekend, the top spot in Group D was confirmed with a six points victory over Abbeyside, 3-15 to 1-15. That man Fagan, Shaun O’Brien, and Kevin Moran with the goals. Last year’s beaten finalists can also call upon key players like Jake Dillion, Adam Farrell, and Eddie Meaney. They’re a good balance to this De La Salle team and they will feel their more in the tank.
Mount Sion come into Sunday’s game on the back of a heavy defeat to Roanmore last weekend. The damage could have been worse only for a brilliant individual first-half display by Martin O’Neil. His seven points haul saw Mount Sion only trail by a point at half-time. Roanmore dominance told in the second period, winning out 2-21 to 0-17. The early dismal of Austin Gleeson was a huge setback. Qualification for the Quarter-Finals was already guaranteed but they missed the chance to be seeded. Their place in the last eight came courtesy of a 1-19 to 1-13 victory over Clonea at the end of July. Wing-forward Evan McGrath chipped in with significant scores that today and Stephen Roche landed the crucial goal.
De La Salle looks the more consistent side not just this year but over the recent years. Along with reaching last year’s final, they also contested the decider in 2017. Mount Sion last appearance in Waterford’s showpiece event was six years ago. The absence of talisman Austin Gleeson is a massive blow. Hurler of the Year in 2016, he is capable of producing something above the ordinary on his day.
Ballyhale Shamrocks vs Danesfort
Kilkenny SHC, Group A, Round Three
Saturday, 1:30 pm @ John Locke Park
The pressure is beginning to mount for the back-to-back All-Ireland champions. Ballyhale finds themselves playing catch up after only taking one point from the four points on offer. Danesfort are in a worse position, rooted to the bottom of the Group, suffering two consecutive losses. The saying “must-win territory” applies to this game if either team wants to feature at the latter stages.
A lot has changed around Ballyhale since last January. Henry Shefflin resigned as manager, Michael Fennelly has retired and Adrian Mullen is injured for the year. With these adjustments suddenly the kingpins of Kilkenny Hurling seems to be vulnerable. Tullaroan exposited this a fortnight ago. Only for an Eoin Reid injury-time goal, the All-Ireland Intermediate champions would have left Nowlan Park with two points and not one point. That was only a sign of things to come. It’s not often any team can lay claim to a nine points victory over Ballyhale but O’Loughlin Gaels did just that last weekend. A poor final quarter proved costly as O’Loughlin Gaels outscored James O’Connor charges 1-8 to 0-4. Other teams will look at these results and believe it’s an open Championship in 2020.
Danesfort may be the only team in Group A with nothing to show on the table but they haven’t been far away. Narrow defeats to James Stephen (1-14 to 0-19) and Bennettsbridge (1-17 to 3-16) illustrates reasons to be still optimistic. Richie Hogan is arguably the form player in Kilkenny at the moment. In total, he scored 0-22 and this accounts for 59% of their scores. His brother Paddy has popped up with a goal in both games. The Hogan’s are carrying the attack and need more forwards to step up. Danesfort has been doing just enough to keep their head above water in retaining Senior status. Until they develop more scoring forwards, they will struggle to progress.
Only ten miles separate these clubs. Nearly every player taking to the pitch will know each other and there is a heavy county involvement. This is going to lead to some tasty match-ups and the pick of them will be Paul Murphy (Danesfort) on Colin Fennelly (Ballyhale). Murphy is one of the first defenders on Brian Cody’s team sheet. Colin Fennelly has a great eye for goal. The winner of this individual battle will have a huge say on who be celebrating around 3 pm on Saturday.