It is hard to believe but we are now inside the last month of GAA club championship action for 2020. The county finals continue this weekend. Neighbours Dunloy and Loughgiel Shamrocks contest the Antrim Hurling decider. In Armagh, Crossmaglen Rangers are chasing a twenty-second Football title since 1995. Standing in their way are Maghery Seán MacDiarmada. Another action-packed weekend awaits. Here are the top five games between the big ball and small ball.
Dunloy vs Loughgiel Shamrocks
Antrim Hurling Final Takes Centre Stage
After two dramatic semi-finals, Dunloy and Loughgiel Shamrocks will contest the Antrim GAA club championship Hurling Final on Sunday. It so easily could have been O’Donovan Rossa vs St. John’s. Both camps will have numerous sleepless nights this week. Rossa came up short by the narrowest of margins vs Dunloy while St. John’s suffered extra-time heartbreak against Loughgiel Shamrocks.
Reaching county finals is nothing new for Sunday opponents. This will represent both sides third appearance in the decider since 2016. Dunloy are the reigning champions but they came extremely close to losing their crown last week. Midway through the second half, the Cuchullains looked to have the game sewn up. Leading 1-16 to 1-11, Rossa mounted a great revival to hold the upper hand by two points with fifty minutes on the clock. The 2019 titleholders produced the goods when it mattered most. Six points in the closing stages saw them on the right side of a 1-22 to 2-18 scoreline. Chrissy McMahon scored the winning point but Conal Cunning and Seaan Elliott were in top form.
Loughgiel Shamrocks are the only club in Antrim to land a holy grail of an All-Ireland (1983 and 2012). They are on famine in terms of Antrim GAA club championship Hurling honours though. It’s been four years since they were the number one side in the Saffron county. Shamrocks were given a boost before the Championship started with Liam Watson announcing he was coming out of retirement. The veteran forward demonstrated his class once again vs St. John’s. He scored 1-3 that included a crucial goal in normal time. James McNaughton was excellent on free-taking duties and Eddie McCloskey finished with a five points personal haul. After eighty minutes of pulsating action, Loughgiel were the team jumping for joy, winning out 2-31 to 5-18.
The treatment tables in North Antrim will be busy this week. Paul Shields is a doubt for Dunloy. Liam Watson pulled his calf for Loughgiel in the warm-up five days ago. Shamrocks are already missing talented defenders, Neil McGarry, and Tony McCloskey. Last weekend semi-finals provided the most excitement across the country. More people will now see the Final as TG4 will be in Ballycastle on Sunday at 2:45 pm. Hopefully, we will see more high-level entertainment.
Ballyhale Shamrocks vs James Stephen’s
Ballyhale Timing Their Run to Perfection
The old saying of “form is temporary but class is permanent” springs to mind with Ballyhale. After a slow start and no wins from their opening two games, question marks started to arise. Great teams will always turn things around and that’s exactly what the All-Ireland champions have done. Ballyhale as they always do, are finding form at the right time. James Stephen’s know exactly what awaits them in this Kilkenny GAA club championship Hurling semi-final in Nowlan Park.
Four weeks ago, Ballyhale recorded a badly needed win over Danesfort to chalk down their first victory of the campaign. The seventeen times county champions haven’t taken a backward step since. Rower-Inistioge and Clara were dispatched without breaking sweat. Over the last one hundred and twenty minutes of GAA club championship action, Ballyhale has scored 8-52. They haven’t conceded any goals and only an impressive nineteen points. TJ Reid is untouchable at the moment. Eoin Cody and Eoin Reid are scoring goals for fun. In the backline, Joey Holden and Richie Reid look solid as rocks.
It is not surprising James Stephen’s are the 10/3 outsiders. The city club will make the case they are in a good place. Two wins and a draw from the round-robin saw them progress straight to the last eight. A-League Shield Final defeat to Clara didn’t affect their confidence. Last year’s runners-up put that disappointment behind them to see off Mullinavat. The foundations were laid down in the first half. Niall Brassil’s goal helped them to a 1-13 to 0-8 lead at the interval. Mullinavat fought back but James Stephen’s still walked away five points winners. Eoin Guilfoyle, Conor Browne, and Luke Scanlon are the main components of this team.
This a repeat of the 2019 decider which Ballyhale won 2-21 to 1-15. James Stephens won’t be found wanting for motivation at 5 pm on Saturday. Brian Cody’s home club will know there still a big gap to close on the South Kilkenny outfit. On the evidence of the past fortnight, the Tom Walsh Cup holders seem to be even stronger than twelve months ago.
Blackrock vs Douglas
Cork Hurling Reaches Knockout Territory
Two of the form teams in the Cork Senior Hurling Championship clash at the quarter-finals phase. Blackrock won all three of their group games. Douglas suffered a narrow defeat to Sarsfields but that was sandwiched either side of victories over Ballyhea and Midleton. Everything is set up for a great contest in Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday at 2 pm.
Blackrock looks seriously dangerous in their forward play. The most successful team in Cork GAA club championship Hurling have scored 8-57 to date. Alan Connolly is their leading scorer with 3-26 with his reliable free taking largely to thank. Players like Tadgh Deasy and Mark O’Keefe are not shy about getting scores themselves. An area of concern for the city club is their defence. They have conceded 4-44 in the group stages. Douglas’ forwards will be licking their lips looking at that statistic.
Spuriously for a club of their size, Douglas has never claimed the most coveted prize in Cork Hurling. The 2020 crop of players will feel they are the side to rewrite the history books. Even in defeat vs Sarsfields, there was still plenty of positives. Four points down at the break, they twice came within a point of drawing level. Daniel Horgan late goal for the “Sars” ensured three points was between the sides come the conclusion. Douglas contains some of the most appealing forwards within the county. Shane Kingston and Alan Cadogan are known throughout Ireland. Brian Turnbull was the star of the 2017 Cork minor team.
Just like their opposition, Douglas’ defence gives up scores far too easy. They have the worst defensive record of the seven remaining contenders. A defensive system may have to be put in place to contain Blackrock attacking options. The reward for the winner is a Cork GAA club championship Hurling semi-final showdown with Na Piarsaigh or UCC. A final berth is a real possibility for whoever reins superior from this battle.
Corofin vs Salthill-Knocknacarra
Can Salthill Inflict Corofin First Defeat Since 2012?
It’s the turn of the Football quarter-finals in Galway after a focus on Hurling the previous weekend. The story of the big ball championship once again centres around Corofin. Victory over An Ceathrú Rua last month stretched their unbeaten record to forty-eight games in the Galway GAA club championship. 2012 was the last time they tasted defeat on native soil. Salthill knows they will need to deliver a performance of a lifetime on Saturday afternoon in Pearse Stadium.
Any suggestions that Corofin might take a step back this year have been thrown out of the window. The GAA announced back in June there won’t be an All-Ireland club series this winter. Getting back to Croke Park and defending the Andy Merrigan Cup is put on hold. There was a feeling the North Galway club might not be as motivated. On August 2nd, Corofin illustrated they still mean business. Oughterard were hit for 7-17 in a twenty-seven points hammering. Monivea/Abbey were on the receiving end of a twenty-three points drubbing in their next outing. The seven in a row county champions are determined to keep adding to that number.
While Corofin has been unstoppable in recent times, Salthill-Knocknacarra are seen as a potential side to end their dominance. Beaten U-21 county finalists in 2016 and 2017, there is no shortage in supply of talent. Bringing through underage prospects to blossom at senior level is no guarantee. Salthill will feel they are making progress though. Semi-finalists over the past two years, the West Galway club will have learned valuable lessons from those disappointments. However, they have mixed the good with the bad in 2020 so far. A win, a draw, and a loss in the league format saw them squeeze into the next phase. More constituency has to be shown at 2:30 pm on Saturday to make it a hat-trick of last four appearances.
Corofin has experience spread all across their team but the younger players are now making noises. Darragh Silke has taken his game to another level in the forward line. The departure of Kieran Fitzgerald at full-back has barely been noticed. Eoin McFadden, John Maher, and Robert Finnerty are some of the fresh graduates from the Salthill underage ranks. If these players produce what they are capable of, then don’t rule out an upset.
Clane vs Castledermot
Passage to The Last Eight at Stake
The Kildare GAA club championship in both codes is back on track. Lockdown in the Lillywhite’s county put everything on pause during August. Last week saw action resume and the Football championship group stages reach its closure. An ever-improving Clane versus a battle-hardened Castledermot is the exclusive winner takes all contest. Clane has the safety net of a draw too as their scoring difference is in a healthier position.
After years in the wilderness, Clane will believe there are heading in the right direction to reclaim former glory. The “all whites” ruled the roost in Kildare GAA club championship Football in the 1990s claiming four titles. Over the past decade, they flirted with relegation too much for their liking. Strong minor teams of late are showing early signs of development. It was men against boys versus Monasterevan as Clane only conceded two scores in a twenty-four points victory. The challenge of Athy would represent a better idea of where the North Kildare side stand. On the evidence of Tuesday night, they aren’t far away, only going down by a point to the 2018 finalists.
Castledermot got the win they craved against Monasterevan last weekend. A 2-19 to 0-12 triumph has set them up nicely for this pivotal game. They will be delighted with the response after being a long way off the pace in defeat to Athy. Seven points adrift at half-time, the margin extended out to a further three by the end. They will be underdogs considering Clane gave Athy more headaches. The blue-white side does hold the physical advantage over the seventeen times county holders. Two years ago, they won the last Championship encounter in the relegation play-offs. Now they will be hoping to repeat the dose but this time to make the last eight.
Robbie Phillips, Cian O’Donoghue, and Brian McLoughlin provide the leadership for Clane. Robert Browne, Gavin Farrell, and Emmet O’Keefe partially form the Castledermot spine. The CEO in Hawkfield is the venue with a 4 pm throw-in on Sunday. One team will be moving forward in this year’s Kildare GAA club championship. The loser will be entering football lockdown until 2021.