GAA Club Championship – August 22nd/23rd

All the GAA talk this week has centred on off-field topics. So, it is nice to have action club championship action to grab the spotlight, even if it behind closed doors. The Government announcement on Tuesday went down like a lead balloon. If there any consolation, there are several televised games and online streaming. Here the standout fixtures across both codes in the club championship from five selected counties.

Shelmaliers vs Naomh Éanna

Wexford Hurling Showpiece Event

There will be new champions of the Wexford Hurling club championship by Sunday evening. Naomh Éanna are going for their second crown in three years while Shelmaliers last title was in 2014. Success isn’t a regular occurrence for this year’s county finalists. They were inaugural honours for both clubs. Come Sunday evening, one of these teams will have their number doubled on the roll of honour. Chadwicks Wexford Park will play host with a 2 pm throw-in.

This is the second meeting between these sides in three weeks. Naomh Éanna came out on top by the slimmest of margin but it was effectively a dead rubber. Both teams were assured of qualification from Group D and the game was only to decide top spot. One-point victories have been a familiar habit for Naomh Éanna. The Gorey based club have won three of their four games with only a point to spare. Spirit and belief are ingrained in the 2018 champions. Every bit of it was on display last Sunday vs Outlart-The-Ballagh. Three points down at half-time, Conor McDonald was the hero with an injury-time point to book a place in the Final.

Since that defeat at the start of the month, Shelmaliers have recuperated stronger. The task of Faythe Harriers in the Quarter-Finals presented very few difficulties. A seven points triumph didn’t flatter the south Wexford men one bit. After a slow start against Glynn-Barntown, Vinny Parker charges ran out easy winners. Goals from Joe Kelly, Sean Keane Carroll, and James Cash sealed the win on a scoreboard of 3-20 of 0-16. Shelmaliers certainly have forwards who know how to finish. The 2014 champions have seven goals in four games this year.

Naomh Éanna contains some of the best forwards within the county. Conor McDonald and Cathal Dunbar are class operators. In defence, Eoin Conroy offers plenty of experience. He was part of the Wexford U-21 sides that contested back-back All-Ireland Finals in 2014 and 2015. Simon Donohoe is a leading figure for Shelmalier. Corner-back for the Wexford seniors, he has excelled at midfield. TG4 cameras will be in Wexford Park on Sunday. This game has the potential for the perfect conclusion to the Model county Hurling club championship.

Sarsfield vs Castlegar

Goal Feast On The Cards In Kenny Park

Two teams of the most entertaining teams in this year’s Galway Hurling club championship. Sarsfield has fired home five-goal while Castlegar has seven goals to their name. Galway GAA is streaming this game on Saturday afternoon. For those intending on paying their €5, they are on course to get their value for money.

There is plenty at stake in this Senior A group decider. One thing is for certain, the winner is guaranteed a spot in the preliminary quarter-final. Dependent on the luck of the draw, the victorious team could get a bye straight into the last eight. The three second-placed teams get put into a hat. One side gets to avoid the unknown of facing a team from Senior B. A draw will also be enough for Sarsfield due to a better scoring difference.

An unstoppable force in the 1990s with four titles, Sarsfield have only risen above all in Galway once since. That sole title came in 2015 and a semi-final appearance two years ago is their best performance since. On the evident to date this year, there are signs Sarsfield could be serious contenders. Running back-back champions St. Thomas’ to within a point will give faith they belong at the top table. Kevin Cooney accuracy from dead balls is vital. The reliable free-taker has hit 1-18 in his previous two games. Jeffrey Lawless scored a couple of goals vs Portumna.  If they continue that form on Saturday, there is every chance Sarsfield will be looking ahead to action in September.

Castlegar will feel there are in a strong position. It was a case of what could have been in their opener vs St. Thomas’. There were on course for a shock victory until Conor Cooney stoppage-time goal. Nine points up at half-time, Castlegar will question how they let the Peterswell side back into the game. No mistakes were made against Portumna a fortnight ago, ending up twelve points winners.  The city club took advantage of their opponents’ ill-discipline to get back on track. They have players on fire. Oisin Connolly got a brace of goals in their clash with St. Thomas’. Enda Concannon has raised a green flag in each of their previous two outings. Castlegar will be hoping these players have that goal touch again at 2 pm on Saturday.

Kilmaley vs Ballyea

Ballyea To Remain On Course For Clare Honours

It is the quarter-final stage of the Clare Hurling club championship. The second part of Cusack Park doubleheader on Saturday evening carries the potential for a thriller. Ballyea have established a national profile for themselves since the latter half of the past decade. Kilmaley were Intermediate champions in 2017 and they haven’t looked back since.

Ballyea had never got their hands on Clare Hurling most prized accolade before 2016. In the last four years, the south Clare club has lifted the Canon Hamilton cup twice. They can also boast a Munster club success in November 2016 and an All-Ireland final appearance the following March. After the opening two rounds, Ballyea look a good bet to add title number three. Tony Kelly and Niall Deasy did the danger against Crusheen. They combined for thirteen points in a narrow two points triumph. It was more straight forward vs Clooney-Quin, winning out 2-28 to 0-11. Ballyea look a side determined to put a disappointing 2019 behind them.

Kilmaley are a team on the rise. This is their third year playing Senior Hurling and they are becoming more and comfortable at this level. Semi-Finalist in 2018 and a third-round exit last year, the Cloonlaheen club won’t be daunted by Saturday challenge. After a disappointing start against Cratloe, Kilmaley back bounced two weeks ago. Daire Keane and Tom O’Rourke both found the net twice as they overcame Wolfe Tones by five points. Far from the complete performance but Kilmaley knows they can still construct a big result.

On paper, Ballyea team will appeal more to neutrals. Paul Flanagan, Jack Browne, Tony Kelly, and Niall Deasy are players known throughout Ireland. Gary Brennan has shown if he wasn’t tied with the county Footballers, he is on Brian Lohan’s panel. Kilmaley doesn’t have the household names but they click superbly as a team. Michael O’Malley is reckoned as top club hurler and has been on the fringes of the Clare senior squad. If he hits form, then Ballyea will know they have a game on their hands.

Killarney Legion vs Kerins O’Rahilly’s

Big Causalities in Kerry’s Opening Round

There are two billings of Killarney and Tralee based clubs going head-head in the County Championship first round. First up, Dr Crokes (Kilarney) and Austin Stacks (Tralee) square off on Friday night. Then in Fitzgerald Stadium on Sunday afternoon Killarney Legion and Kerins O’Rahilly’s clash. This game promises to be every bit as fascinating. Add in the element of knockout Football and no team will be holding back come 3:45 pm.

Both sides endured mediocre club championship experiences. Killarney Legion started with a win over Kilcummin last month. Defeats to Dingle (two points) and Austin Stacks (eight points) ended any interest in making the Final. James O’Donoughue fitness problems were a decisive factor. He was unable to start the last two games. To make matters worse, he was sent off shortly after been introduced vs Austin Stacks. Conor Keane and Tom Moriarty have shown real leadership over the past few weeks. This was evident to see in getting crucial scores in the win over Dingle.

Kerins O’Rahilly needed to beat Templenoe in their last fixture to avoid relegation issues. Brave displays against Kenmare Shamrocks and Dr Crokes felt just short. If they had fewer players on the treatment table, victory would have been secured in one of those games. Gavin O’Brien, Tommy Walsh, and John Ferguson all seen little to no action. The view is widely held that from midfield onwards, O’Rahilly ticks a lot of boxes. After delivering much promise in 2017 and 2018, last year was very much a step backward. Failure to reach the quarter-finals again and there will be some head starching around Tralee.

It is no surprise the RTE cameras are taking the journey down south given the array of talent involved. Along with James O’Donoughue for Legion, Brian Kelly and Jonathan Lyne have All-Ireland winner medals with Kerry. David Moran, Tommy Walsh, and Barry John Keane have carved out the goods for the green and gold. The quality is in both camps to go far but one of these sides will have a premature end to 2020.

Warrenpoint vs Kilcoo

Third Time Lucky for Warrenpoint vs Kilcoo?

For the third year in a row, Warrenpoint and Kilcoo cross paths in the Down Football club championship. Warrenpoint are still searching for their first triumph. Unlike 2019 and 2018, this isn’t a winner takes all game in Pairc Esler. The reward for the team celebrating after sixty minutes is a straight passage to the last eight. There is another opportunity for the loser the following weekend. Given the closeness of recent encounters, this Round 2A encounter will be regarded as laying down a marker.

Warrenpoint will feel they are getting closer all the time. Five points were the gap the south Down men were left to ponder over the winter of 2018. They came within a whisker of wiping away that margin in last year’s county final. Seeing what Kilcoo went on to achieve after that game, advocates Warrenpoint are a serious unit. They demonstrated this vs Burren in round one. It was a close game until midway through the second half. Burren were reduced to fourteen men and Warrenpoint saw the game out in style. Ryan Burn, Ruairi McCormack, Alan Davidson, and Ryan Mallon played their part in a seven points victory.

Under normal circumstances, Kilcoo would be looking to get back to Croke Park and complete unfinished business. The scare of January All-Ireland Final defeat still cuts depth. However, it was announced back in June there is no such series this year. Mikey Moran charges remain focused as ever. Jerome Johnston’s long-range goal put the ice on the cake against Mayobridge. All square at the break, Kilcoo finished stronger to win by eight points. To round off the perfect evening for the reigning champions, Darragh O’Hanlon featured as a late substitute. A player with high skill levels, he has been haunted by injury setbacks.

To break the Kilcoo jinx, Warrenpoint needs something different up their sleeve. Alan Davidson could be that missing piece. Operating on the forty-five, he dictated “The Blues” main attacks last weekend. The ex-NIFL Premiership player missed last year’s meeting. He could be the X-factor Warrenpoint need at 7:30 pm on Sunday.

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