Hodson Bay Group SFC Final
Pádraig Pearses v Roscommon Gaels on Sunday in Dr. Hyde Park at 4 pm
Sometimes this job throws up fixtures that are very hard to preview and this county final is certainly one of those. Views on the new championship format this year are mixed and those arguments are for another day, but I don’t think that too many people will argue with the assertion that the two best teams in the championship are through to the final.
As to who will win, there are compelling arguments to be made for both sides. Pearses have faced far sterner opposition on their route to the final. They edged past Boyle and Western Gaels in their group before going under to Clann. It has to be said that Pearses knew they were through when they lost to Fergal’s Shine’s men, but it was a shock, and speaking to Pearses players over the past week, I was left in no doubt that it was the wake-up call they needed.
By contrast, the Gaels have reached this final with the minimum of fuss, winning all their games with a bit in hand. It could well be argued that the opposition the town team have faced has not been anywhere near as good as that played by Pearses. But the Gaels could only beat the teams that appeared in front of them, and they have done that in style.
Pearses would have been seen as an excellent defensive team but one that needed to improve in attack in order to reach the summit. They have done that in their last two games, putting up big totals and crucially, scoring goals too. The likes of Conor Payne, Hubert Darcy, Paul Carey and Emmet Kelly are chipping in on the scoreboard now.
Further back, Davy Murray, Mark Richardson, Shane Carty and Ronan Daly have been outstanding in defence and the Gaels will have to be on song up front to get any traction on Sunday.
There is no doubt that the heartbeat and leader of this Pearses team is Niall Daly. Even though he was named at number 12 for their last three games, the All-Star nominee has been everywhere, blocking and clearing in defence, catching and distributing at midfield, and prompting and scoring up front. It will be a mammoth task for the Gaels to restrict his influence on Sunday. With his brothers Conor and Ronan, and Niall Carty, you have a very strong mix of outstanding experienced performers.
Pearses play on the edge and will openly admit that. They tackle hard, and every ball is contested with vigour and massive intensity. It has meant that they have received several yellow cards (and worse), finished the semi-final with twelve men. Any repeat on Sunday will be costly. But they know that, and I would be of the opinion that far too much is made out of this anyway. Pearses have the footballers to win this final without any discipline problems getting in the way.
For the Gaels, the introduction of a couple of young players over the past year or two has given them new energy. Tim Lambe, Peter Gillooly and Richard Hughes have proven outstanding performers.
But it is the more experienced players that the Gaels will be relying on to get them over the line on Sunday. Paul Gleeson, John McManus, David O’Gara, Cian Connolly and Mark Healy will have to play out of their skins .
Scott Oates and Cian Connolly have been coming back from the Middle East for the Gaels this summer and both have made huge contributions. The Gaels’ full-forward line of Gillooly, Connolly and Mayo man Ronan Carolan will have a huge role to play on Sunday. They have scored freely so far.
The return of Brian Kelly and Kieran Kilcline from injury this year has been a huge boost to the Gaels and both players will be under the spotlight on Sunday.
I’m assuming that John McManus will be marking Hubert Darcy and that Paul Gleeson will be on Paul Carey. Those clashes will be very important. Mark Healy and Kieran Kilcline will have the job of trying to keep Niall Daly and Niall Carty in check around the central area. As always, the midfield battle will be absolutely critical. I presume we will see Davy Murray on Cian Connolly with Anthony Butler on Ronan Carolan and Mark Richardson shadowing Peter Gillooly.
In a county final, the heroes could come from anywhere. It could be Kevin O’Gara or Tim Lambe or Brian Kelly. It could be Gavin Downey or Lorcan Daly or Conor Payne. That’s the beauty of the club final – anything can happen!
Another unknown is the psychological aspect to this game. There is no doubt that Pearses have the players to win this final, but they are bidding to become the first group to ever win a senior football title for the club. Great Pearses teams of the past have failed at the final hurdle. It has to be a factor. Can they banish over a half century of hurt?
Roscommon Gaels have been at the business end of the championship for the past five years. They’ve been close, not close enough. They will need a huge performance to break that 15-year hoodoo stretching back to 2004.
There is so little between these two teams that I would not be one bit surprised if it takes a second game to sort it out – but I am paid to predict a winner! If Roscommon Gaels can get their running game going with the likes of Tim Lambe, Scott Oates, Mark Healy, David O’Gara and Kieran Kilcline, they might just have enough to shade it. Pearses feel that their long, long wait is finally over. It is beautifully balanced. A very hesitant nod to the Gaels.
Prediction: Roscommon Gaels by a point.