It’s the new kids on the block against the experienced old heads as Roscommon Gaels make their first senior county final appearance since 2004 this Sunday when they face champions St. Brigid’s, who have won six of the last seven titles. It looks set to be a tight and competitive final and while Brigid’s will be favourites, the Gaels go into Sunday’s game with a great chance of taking home the Fahey Cup.
In this instance the formbook isn’t that helpful a guide. In the early rounds of the championship, Roscommon Gaels were impressive, qualifying for the semi-finals with a round to spare. Brigid’s stuttered early on, but in fairness they were without several of their more established players. Once those players returned, the champions got their mojo back.
Maybe the most significant ‘unknown’ is how the game between the clubs at the group stage will affect Sunday’s proceedings, if at all. On that occasion, Brigid’s needed to win to guarantee them a play-off place. Roscommon Gaels had already qualified and were without some of their main players. The Gaels were clearly not that motivated and a Brigid’s win was not hard to predict. However, no-one expected Brigid’s to hand out a 25-point beating.
The biggest obstacle to Roscommon Gaels making meaningful progress in the championship over the last decade has been their inability to perform in a knockout game when the chips are down. Too often they came up short when it was put up to them. This year they got that monkey off their backs with an impressive semi-final display against Boyle. The big question now is – can they make the step up to do it once more against St. Brigid’s on Sunday?
Brigid’s’ management, players and supporters will be the first to admit that this has not been a vintage championship for them. However, they have definitely improved as the year has gone on. Multiple champions this decade, they are laden down with players who know what’s required to get over the line in a county senior final.
That Roscommon Gaels have the players to win a county senior title is not in doubt. In fact this is a very big and physical Gaels team. James Fetherstone is a superb young goalkeeper, who is constantly improving. The Gaels full-back line of Ronan Gleeson, John McManus and Liam McNeela has been very solid all year and it is likely that McManus will be handed the task of marking Senan Kilbride.
Paul Gleeson, Cathal Dineen and James O’Gara is the likely combination at half-back. Dineen has been a big addition to the Gaels this year. James O’Gara will probably be charged with shadowing Brian Stack after impressing when marking Enda Smith in the semi-final.
James McDermott and David O’Gara have arguably been the two most important players for Roscommon Gaels this year. The midfield clash on Sunday will be so important – if the Gaels can edge it in this department then they have a great chance of winning.
Up front, the town team have been hit and miss in this championship. They rely a little too much for scores on county star Cian Connolly. Others must step up if they are to win this final. Ciaran Kilcline, Mark Healy, Mark Nally, Richard Hughes and the industrious Scottie Oates are all fine players but they must get on the scoreboard more.
Brigid’s have so many familiar faces. Shane Mannion is another excellent young goalkeeper. Darragh Sheehy and the outstanding Niall McInerney should be flankers with Peter Domican at full-back. McInerney will probably mark Cian Connolly.
Ronan Stack and Ian Kilbride are likely to be in the half-back line alongside George O’Hara or Conor McNiece. In the engine room the vastly experienced Garvan Dolan will probably team up with Eddie Nolan.
In attack, Brian Stack is going from strength to strength and is now one of the best players in the county. Senan Kilbride will once again be the key Brigid’s attacker at full-forward and Cathal McHugh and Padraig Kelly are top class operators. Jack McDonnell and Eoin Sheehy are also likely to start for the champions.
The match-ups for Sunday will be absolutely crucial. If the Gaels do not get to grips with Brian Stack and Senan Kilbride then they are sure to be beaten. They will have to win the midfield battle and also share some of the scoring burden for Cian Connolly. Brigid’s have the cuteness and know-how and those are qualities that you just cannot teach players.
As long as they have put that 25-point drubbing by Brigid’s out of their minds and play with real championship intensity, then the Gaels will be in with a shout. Brian Stack and Senan Kilbride are of course potential match-winners for Brigid’s.
I am certainly not expecting a classic – county finals seldom are because there is too much at stake – but it will be ultra-competitive and hard-fought and a fascinating contest.
I know that I will be accused of letting my heart rule my head but I genuinely think that this Gaels team has a great chance. If they play as well as they are capable of playing then they can edge it by a point or two. Brigid’s have been wonderful champions but thirteen years without a title is a long time and maybe the hunger will tip the balance in the Gaels’ favour.
Match odds: St. Brigid’s 4/6 v Roscommon Gaels 6/4; Draw 15/2;
Prediction: Roscommon Gaels.