The finalists for the 2011 county senior hurling final are expected to be known by 5pm this Sunday afternoon, barring any draws.
The two semi-finals between Gort and St Thomas, and Clarinbridge and Craughwell, are down for decision in an attractive double-header at Kenny Park which should attract a good crowd.
First up at 2pm are Gort and St Thomas. Gort, under the guidance of Mattie Murphy, are aiming to get back into their first county final since 1983, when they defeated Castlegar in the final.
Then at 3.30pm the reigning county and All-Ireland champions Clarinbridge will put their titles on the line when they face an improving and well balanced Craughwell outfit.
Gort v St Thomas
Kenny Park at 2pm
St Thomas will start this semi-final as outsiders in most people’s eyes. However they will have been buoyed by their recent 1-10 to 0-12 win over Portumna in the county quarter-final. They also have five ambitious and highly talented All-Ireland u-21s in their ranks and they will be heading to Athenry with a county final spot in their sights.
Full-forward James Regan was their scoring star the last day out and he hit 0-5 from play. Gort will be well aware of his scoring potential and they will have a plan in place to try to curtail his influence. Galway senior star David Burke is another potential match winner at midfield and it was his crucial goal just before half time that put them on their road to victory over Portumna.
Others who must be closely watched by the Gort defence are free-scoring forwards Conor Cooney, Gerald Murray and Bernard Burke. Murray has a good eye for goals and has hit 3-5 in the championship from play.
Gort manager Mattie Murphy will be eager to try to follow up his All-Ireland minor success with Galway in September with a first county title for Gort in almost 30 years.
His side are 4/6 favourites on Sunday with Mulhollands and, based on their gritty 2-10 to 1-8 win over Loughrea, they probably justify the favourites’ tag.
They have been strengthened up front by the return of Richie Cummins from injury. He has scored 4-4 from play in the championship and his eye for goals could be crucial this weekend.
The side’s two goals against Loughrea were scored by Ollie Fahy and substitute Keith Killilea.
Free-taker Gerry Quinn was also in good form, hitting 0-7, with five coming from frees. His accuracy from the placed ball has been a key component to Gort reaching the last four and, with the weather conditions predicted to continue on their wet and windy way, his contribution will be vital.
Murphy will also look to the likes of Aidan Harte at midfield and Sylvie Óg Linnane in the half-back line to show the leadership needed.
It promises to be a ding-dong battle and, at 11/8 outsiders, St Thomas will have plenty of support in the betting ring. Interestingly, St Thomas were the same price, 11/8, to defeat Portuma in the quarter-final. And we know how that turned out.
Clarinbridge v Craughwell
Kenny Park at 3.30pm
Craughwell have real momentum as they head to Kenny Park this Sunday. They showed great guts and self-belief to get over Sarsfields in the preliminary quarter-final. They were four points down in that clash going into the final minutes and still won by three.
They backed that up with a comprehensive 0-19 to 0-11 win over Carnmore the last day out. In Niall Healy at full-forward and Alan Callanan and Keelan Cullinane in the corners they have a very potent full-forward line.
Healy scored 0-9 (0-5fs ) against Carnmore, Callanan scored 0-4, and Cullinane chipped in with 0-3. If they hit a combined 16 points from the full-forward line this Sunday, one would fancy them to advance, despite being 5/2 outsiders.
Alan Callanan is also the top scoring forward from play left in the championship with 2-14 to his credit.
It is very lively unit and one that should keep the Clarinbridge full-back line of Conor Forde, Brian Burke and Paul Callanan on their toes.
Manager Mike Clarke and coach David Forde will be pleased with the manner of their last two victories, but they will know that taking on the All-Ireland champions will be a big step-up in class.
They will look for big performances from their midfield partnership of Mark Horan and Niall Callanan and extra-scoring input from Fergal Healy at number 11 and Mike Coughlan at wing-forward.
At the back, key players Ian Daniels, Shane Dolan, John Ryan and county u-21 star Ger O’Halloran will have to be in top form to get their to their first county final in almost 80 years. They were beaten in the 1932 final by Mullagh, having won the 1930 title, defeating Leitrim in the final.
It took Clarinbridge two attempts to see off Mullagh, but now, after two games on the trot, they will be well up to championship pace this weekend.
They are unsurprisingly still lining out with the vast bulk of the side that won the All-Ireland title last March.
However they have not been firing on all cylinders up front and are dependent on the accuracy of Mark Kerins from frees to hit match-winning tallies.
Craughwell need to be disciplined with their tackling to keep his opportunities from placed balls to a minimum.
To advance to a second consecutive final, Clarinbridge will need big displays from Eoin Forde, Paul Coen, and Alan Kerins up front. And they will look to Galway u-21 captain Barry Daly to provide a high energy performance around the middle of the park to drive them on.
Mullhollands have Johnny Lee’s men as 1/3 favourites, with Craughwell available at a tempting price of 5/2 or 6/1 for the county cup if you are a real believer.
Ps – A quick query for the genuine hurling historians out there. In last year’s county final programme it states there was no county final played in 1931.
Yet on the impressive and informative Craughwell GAA website, it says they won the 1931 county title. Which is it? Answer please to [email protected].