Connacht senior club final
St Brigid’s v Ballaghadereen
(Sun, 2pm, Castlebar )
Roscommon kingpins St Brigid’s have just one more hurdle to clear in their quest to be crowned kings of Connacht for the third year running. Mayo champions Ballaghadereen will provide formidable opposition however and the Kiltoom men will have to bring their ‘A’ game to be sure of writing their names into the history books.
There are a number of angles which add extra spice to this decider. The presence of two of Mayo’s finest ever footballers, Kevin McStay and Liam McHale at the helm in St Brigid’s is sure to attract attention. At least they haven’t traded colours.
McHale has first-hand experience of five or six of the Ballaghadereen side who have represented Mayo at u21 and senior level. Yet on this occasion he will be using his knowledge to aid the green and red of the south Roscommon men.
The fact that Ballaghadereen ply their trade in Mayo despite the fact that the town itself lies inside Roscommon means that in some ways this can be seen as an all-Roscommon provincial final.
Senan and Ian Kilbride are key cogs in the Brigid’s machine yet their father has won junior, intermediate, and senior medals with Ballaghadereen and has represented both Mayo and Roscommon at senior level. He is now fully converted to his adopted club and will be hoping his sons can bring home more silverware to the shores of Lough Ree.
The good news for the reigning champions is that they have a clean bill of health going into the game, with the exception of course of Robbie Kelly who remains on the long-term injury list. This gives the management team of McStay, McHale, and Benny O’Brien plenty to think about as they finalise their starting fifteen.
The main competition for places is up front where Darren and Garvan Dolan, Cathal McHugh, Conor McHugh, and Gearoid Cunniffe are all contenders to join Senan Kilbride, Frankie Dolan, and Darragh Blaine.
Evergreen goalkeeper Shane Curran is relishing his second coming. He will be keen to build on his side’s mean defensive record which has seen them concede just one goal in their campaign to date.
Ballaghadereen will of course be without Andy Moran who continues his recovery from a cruciate ligament injury. Interestingly the Mayo champions are without four key players all as a result of cruciate injuries.
Ballaghadereen upset the odds in their county final against a fancied Ballintubber. In their semi-final outing against Sligo champions Curry they came from two points down at half-time to win by eight points. They certainly are on an upward curve and with home advantage will be a tough test for the Saints.
While the loss of Andy Moran deprives them of their marquee forward, expert free-taker Barry Regan is an important tool in their arsenal. Brigid’s will be well warned not to concede any frees within scoring distance as they are sure to be punished by Regan.
The bookies have St Brigid’s installed as hot favourites and give the Mayo champs three points in the handicap. I expect McStay’s men to deliver and set up an All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Crossmaglen but it will be tighter than many might expect.