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Preview: 2023 Carlow Football Championship Finals

Kevin Regan
September 28, 2023

It's beyond belief that we're here at County Football Final weekend. The Championships have absolutely flown by. And as the saying goes "time flies when you're having fun".

What isn't fun however is trying to decide upon a verdict for any of these finals.

But we may as well give it a pop I guess.

We start with Saturday and the Junior A Football Championship Final at 4.30pm in Netwatch Cullen Park between St Mullins and Fighting Cocks.

St Mullins' progress over the past few years has been nothing short of sensational. Back in 2021 the split season lend itself to a return for the O'Neills size 5 in Bahana and even they themselves couldn't possibly have imagined that in two short years they would be 60 minutes away from promotion to the Intermediate ranks - their third successive shot at promotion having been successful in the previous two starting at Junior C level.

Fighting Cocks have gone about their business very impressively this year. They had a tough group but they showed a real steeliness in those games to progress to the semis and that mental toughness was evident again last time out against Ballon when they responded positively to every setback they encountered. They will be tested massively in that regard again on Saturday.

St Mullins are improving in every game and while their shooting hasn't been a strong point to date, they have still scored enough to get them over the line and into the decider.

St Mullins have also shored things up at the back and in their last three games they've only conceded a total of 24 points and no goals in that tally.

And this is where it gets interesting. Fighting Cocks scored five goals the last day and have that constant threat with fantastic creators and scorers.

Fighting Cocks will attempt to force St Mullins into their habit of shooting outside the scoring zone and whether or not they fall into that trap will have a big outcome on the game. Another big here thing is free taking. Quigley and Dowling don't miss too many. Seamus Murphy, James Doyle and Chris Kavanagh will have to be as sharp consistently down the far side.

Strong runners are there on both sides but nobody is going to be let waltz through easily. With nine months of prep and most of the squad fully focused on football you would imagine Fighting Cocks will be hard stopped. But if St Mullins sharpen up on their shooting and continue to not concede goals they could well snatch it.

Verdict: St Mullins

Following on from this you have the Intermediate Football Championship Final at 6.30pm between Clonmore and St Patricks.

These two sides have been the most impressive in the Championship all year and are here because they have delivered consistently good performances.

Even in the group game between the sides you could see elements of St Patrick's play which were enough to indicate that they could trouble Clonmore if the sides met again, despite Clonmore winning by six points.

Both sides have only come up in the past few years from Junior A, St Patrick's in 2021 as 2020 Champions (played in 2021 due to covid), with Clonmore looking to make it back to back promotions.

So this really is crucial for both sides to strike while the iron is hot.

There was a time where Tullow were overly reliant on Jack Kennedy and while no doubt he's still the main man, they have plenty of guys who can get scores now.

The same could be said for Clonmore with Shane 'Shock' McGrath, but we've seen plenty other names popping up with scores throughout this campaign too.

In terms of Management teams, neither would look out of place with top Senior sides and not just in Carlow. Alan Costello and his backroom team are very much clued in, as is Ciaran Walshe and his trusty comrades.

So two really well coached sides with pace, power, strength and quality. It really is so difficult to choose a winner. It won't be one way traffic regardless.

Verdict: St Patrick's

On to Sunday then and the Junior B Football Championship Final between Asca and Eire Og at 2pm in Netwatch Cullen Park.

This writer did not see either of these two teams throughout the year in the flesh so it's very difficult to make a call on this apart from studying the results form of course and personnel involved.

Asca appear to have added an influx of youth to their side. John Phiri is one that has been spoken of quite highly. Conor O'Brien provides great experience and is a leader within the squad. Eire Og have the likes of James Ryan and Gary Powell involved with several other experienced heads to steer the youth in the right direction.

Eire Og are difficult to beat in any final. This will be no different. But Asca have been the standout team and should have enough here.

Verdict: Asca

Then we have the eagerly anticipated Senior Football Championship Final between Eire Og and Tinryland at 4pm.

Possibly the most eagerly anticipated Senior final for years.

This whets the appetite for a variety of reasons.

They have a strong rivalry at both underage and adult level. They've both produced some of the best footballers the county has ever seen.

And of course, there's the backstory of this years Senior League Football Final which hasn't yet taken place and has gone through a few different variations of judiciary, which at the time of writing still appears to be ongoing.

In many ways it couldn't have been scripted any better. The off the field stuff started before a ball was pucked, let alone a ball kicked and there was that underlying thought that "jaysus wouldn't it be worth anything if they met in the county final?"

So here they are. It's happening!

Now lets focus on the football element. Eire Og have looked far from vintage in their performances to date, but yet they've done enough in every game to get here. Even in the group defeat to Rathvilly there was only a kick of a ball in it at the end. To be fair they have shown moments of excellence, but they have lacked that all round assuredness that we are accustomed to seeing with them.

And a quick word on Rathvilly. They lost no game in Championship football during open play. Imagine to not lose to Eire Og twice during open play in the same Championship and still not be in a final? I hate that term open play by the way, because I feel that's how all GAA games should ever be decided on no matter what. The men in green and yellow were excellent in this years Championship and it would be remiss of us to talk about county final day and not pay tribute to how good they were and how close they came to being there.

Now to Tinryland. Controlled. Measured. Consistent.

The three words to describe them above are pretty much apt I would feel. They were tested in all of their games and still didn't lose one.

It's a much quieter build up to this years final in comparison to last year for Tinryland. It's something that Manager Stephen O'Meara has wanted and it's happening so far.

Injuries are going to be massive in this game. Can Sean Gannon make a herculian like return to play a part? Mark Furey likewise. How close is Shane Buggy or does he have a chance at all? For Tinryland, Mark Mullen has been one of their best players this year, operating like a seasoned veteran. He would be a massive loss. They all would be.

Both sides might sense potential weaknesses with diagonal high balls in around the house. It's not to suggest that every ball will be like this of course. But Tinryland got two goals in last year's final from them. If Furey is out, do Eire Og have a ready made replacement to cover that?

And on the other side of the field could a Murtough Ware or a Kyle O'Byrne provide a different proposition on the edge of the square? It might lead to Shane Redmond or John Murphy dropping back which of course provides solidity but does it hinder them at the far side?

Both sides will not be put off by the occasion that's a certainty. Most of them on both sides have played in big games at different stages and have won. A sprinkle of players on either side have tasted success together in an All Ireland Schools Final in Croke Park. They love playing on big days and they live for them. As fans, we love watching them.

Goals will be massive scores in a game like this. Expect it to be low scoring at half time. Possibly very low scoring. In fact, I'm of the belief that Sunday might not be the day that decides this one.

There's no extra time in any of the finals this weekend, so replays will be in order. And this one may well need to be ordered.

Verdict: Draw