The last four teams left standing in the Claregalway Hotel Senior Football Championship take centre stage this Sunday in an attractive double header at Tuam stadium.
At 4pm Ger Keane’s Corofin take on Barna, who are managed again this season by former Mayo All-Star Pat Fallon.
Barna have never reached this stage of the senior championship before, but this year they stunned the likes of former kingpins Tuam Stars, and 2001 champions Annaghdown, to reach the last four.
That tie is followed at 5.45pm by the exciting clash of near neighbours Killererin, led by player/manager Tommie Joyce, and Mountbellew/Moylough, who lost last year’s county final to Corofin after a replay.
Barna v Corofin
Sunday, Tuam Stadium, 4pm
Ref: Seán Hehir
Odds: Barna 4/1 Draw 9/1 Corofin 1/5
Barna have been a breath of badly-needed fresh air in this year’s football championship.
Few predicted they would beat Tuam, and yet they did. And, after a very impressive victory over Mick Curley’s Annaghdown in the quarter-final, nobody will be taking them for granted.
They play an intelligent brand of football, backed up by a ferocious workrate all over the field, and they are capable of beating any team in the county on their day.
Their manager, Pat Fallon, who was nominated earlier this week for the Galway senior job, is pleased with how the season has progressed thus far.
“We are enjoying our football and we have a very settled side. The big difference this year compared to other years is that we have all our panel around Galway and available to us for training. That makes a huge difference for morale and training purposes.
“Last season we had only nine and 10 some evenings at senior training for various reasons, whereas this year we have 20 or more. The mood is very positive in the panel and the fact that we are unbeaten in the league and have done well in the championship too has really boosted the team’s confidence.”
Fallon, who has top-class selectors in Bert Curran and Michael Lydon, accepts Corofin will start the game as red-hot favourites and deservedly so.
“We face a daunting task. Corofin have been in the last two All-Ireland semi-finals and we are in our first county semi-final. They have truckloads of experience and some class players. We have taken every game one at a time and this Sunday will be no different.
“ We are making significant progress and next weekend is another step on that journey. We know how efficient and ruthless Corofin can be if allowed, and it is up to us to produce a performance that we are proud of and push them all the way. We have a lot of belief in our group and we are looking forward to the challenge we face.”
Barna’s key players: Barna have an impressive full-back line in John O’Toole, team captain Eoin McDonagh, and the highly-rated Paddy Naughton, who was man-of-the-match against Annaghdown.
Robbie Curran is a solid centre-back and Brian Conneely is a fine fielder at midfield.
Up front, corner forward Ray Connelly normally pulls out the field and that leaves plenty of scope for big John Clifford and Kieran Hanley to make inroads.
DD Flaherty at centre-forward is one of the best free-takers in the county and any indiscretions by the Corofin defenders will be punished cold-bloodedly.
Wing-forward Paddy Kennedy, who played a few games with the Galway seniors under Joe Kernan, has a serious engine and he will run all day, providing a serious test for one of the Corofin wing-backs.
On the other side of the coin Corofin, who have won five of the last 10 county titles on offer, need to improve on their recent performances.
They have not been overly impressive in any of their games to date and yet when the need has been greatest, when the “danger” lights have flashed ominously, particularly against Caherlistrane the first day, they have produced a bit of form and the necessary scores to get them out of a hole and over the end-line.
They know how to win tight games.
Kieran Comer has been immense for them and has shown terrific leadership at key stages. Willing support has been provided by Alan Burke, Greg Higgins, Gary Delaney, Alan O’Donovan from frees, and some of the younger crew such as Ronan Steede, Michael Farragher and the returning Tomás Costello.
The loss of team captain Gary Sice through suspension is a major negative as his ability to win breaks and drive onto ball would be ideally suited to this weekend’s joust.
Corofin have a lot of respect for Barna and they know they face a really tough 60 plus minutes of football if they are to get back to another final.
They have some genuine injury concerns over Tony Goggins, Cathal Silke and Damien Burke and will not select until late in the week.
The bookies have no faith in Barna’s chances whatsoever, but I think it will be a lot closer than they do.
After all, they had Tuam and Annaghdown clear favourites too and we know how those games ended. At 4/1 they represent a good value bet as I don’t think Corofin have been going that well.
In the final analysis it is hard to predict a defeat for the 2008 and 2009 champions.
Mountbellew/Moylough v Killererin
Sunday, Tuam Stadium, 5.45pm
Ref: Gerry Kinneavy
Odds: M/M 11/10 Draw 13/2 Killerin 10/11
Almost four months ago on May 16 these sides met in the first round of the county championship. Mountbellew/Molough won. Cathal Kenny was their scoring ace that evening.
That is not something that will have rested easily around Killererin over the past few months and they will be looking for revenge next Sunday.
Mountbellew/Moylough’s manager Cyril Ryan believes that victory could come back to bite his side this weekend.
“Over the last 10 years we have always found it extremely difficult to beat Killererin in championship. They are a tremendous club and they have won three senior county titles (1999, 2004, 2007 ) since we last won one. They have some brilliant forwards and we know we will have to keep them well marshalled if we are to get past them. The likes of Padraic and Nicky Joyce get most of their scores and all the headlines, but the likes of Tommie Wilson, Ger Butler, Jonathan Keane and James Hughes are all fine footballers too. We are facing a top-class side but we are happy with our progress this year too.
“We were disappointed to lose last year’s final, but we have bounced back well and we want to get another crack at trying to win the county cup. We have a fine panel of players and they have done all that has been asked of them. The mood is good in our camp and we know what we have to try to do to win. If we play well, we have a good chance, but if we let them in for a goal or two, we will be in big trouble. We believe we can win and we are looking forward to the game. It won’t be easy, but we know since 1986, winning the Frank Fox cup never is.”
If his team want to avoid what happened to the other famous outfit that wear black and amber last weekend, they will need to get their full-forward line of Joe Meehan, Cathal Kenny and Sean Sweeney plenty of ball.
All those three can score and, if Joe Bergin and Colm Colleran can dominate midfield and get them early ball, Mountbellew will be hard to stop.
The Killererin full-back line of Damian Flaherty, Colin Forde and team captain Declan Kelly are no slouches either and that battle-line is one to savour.
At the other end of the park, Patrick Gardiner and Mark Geraghty will know they must keep their goal and Brian Donnellan well protected from the Joyce marksmen.
Moycullen, in the quarter-final, and many sides before them could not do it, but if you want to beat the men from the Red Gap you have to nullify the green flag threat of Padraic and Nicky Joyce. If those two men are kept on a tight rein, An Creagan/Maigh Locha will advance.Of course that’s easier said then done.
Not much between them and a draw is not beyond the bounds of possibility, but I have a small fancy for Mountbellew/Moylough.
Intermediate championship semi-finals
The Intermediate football championship semi-finals are on this Sunday in a double header at Pearse Stadium.
At 1.30pm Oranmore/Maree face An Spidéal and that is followed by St James against Carna/Caiseal at 3.15pm.