All Ireland Club & Hurling Finals previews

Lonesharkoy previews the two All Ireland Club Finals on St Patricks Day and Likes Castlebar Mitchells to beat Ballyboden and both teams to score a goal in Na Piarsaigh's likely win over Cushendall.

It’s hard to oppose any Dublin football team in recent seasons and certainly the senior club football championships have been very happy hunting grounds for metropolitan sides in recent years. On paper, Ballyboden St Endas looked like below par representatives from the capital. However their place in tomorrow’s All Ireland final would suggest otherwise – until we examine the sides that they’ve beaten to get this far.

By far their biggest scalp was St Vincents in the Dublin SFC final, but that was a strange game where the winning team failed to score for the last 20+ minutes. Since then they’ve done just about enough to win every game they’ve played, while both Portlaoise and Clonmel Commercials will have more than a few regrets regarding their inability to overcome the Southside team.

In contrast, Castlebar Mitchels’ form is far more robust. They were solid in their domestic campaign, but since then have deservedly taken out two heavy hitters in the shape of Corofin and Crossmaglen Rangers, while their close run contest with Clann na nGael of Roscommon was somewhat deceptive – early goals meant that the game was over as a contest before it began, and they only went through the motions from then on.

One could argue that match odds of 4/9 are more than short enough to account for the slight edge that the Connacht club might enjoy in terms of overall ability, but on a high scoring field in top of the ground conditions, that’s debatable – this writer would probably have chalked up 4/11 instead. Simply put, Castlebar’s average standard is higher.

And that was before the news came through that Declan O’Mahony’s suspension was upheld – which should be worth another couple of ticks. It’s all very well to say that Ballyboden have great strength in depth, and they do – that much is certain. However a midfielder like O’Mahony, who complements Michael Darragh MacAuley perfectly, would be a huge asset to their cause tomorrow and in the modern climate, there must have been some presumptions regarding his likely availability.

The general handicap is two points here and Castlebar minus two at even money with Stan James represents a very solid play. Despite what the odds suggest, this could easily be the more lopsided of the two finals.

4/11 is on offer in spots about Na Piarsaigh while some bookies are as short as 2/7, but that doesn’t make anything like the same appeal at all. Their win over Oulart-the Ballagh was historic in that it was the first win for a Munster club over Leinster or Galway opposition for 12 years, yet there is something of a sense that they didn’t advance so much as they stood still while Leinster went backwards.

Clara might have come out on top in Kilkenny, but it’s notable that there are six clubs in the county that are single figure prices to win the Kilkenny SHC in 2016 and that’s in an environment where Ballyhale Shamrocks still have to be factored into the calculations. The standard Noreside is good overall, but there aren’t any exceptional teams – while the best of the rest, Offaly’s Kilcormac-Killoughey, picked the worst possible time to have a bad season. On their 2012/2013/2014 form, they’d have advanced to this All Ireland final.

That’s not to say that Cushendall are world beaters either, but the manner of their All Ireland semi-final win over Sarsfields has to be respected. Sarsfields were very much in bonus country and a one or two point win for the Ulster side wouldn’t have shocked too many people, but a comprehensive beating like we saw in that fixture was never expected.

The psychology of this contest will be critical – Cushendall are in a good place mentally, having won in a fashion that will give them confidence, while Na Piarsaigh are expected to win this with plenty to spare – despite the fact that historically, Limerick have arguably the worst record of any serious hurling county in Munster and All Ireland club competition.

In order to eliminate nerves, Na Piarsaigh need this game to turn into a shootout, and it would be no surprise if they set up as such. Cushendall will relish a tense battle and while there are some hurlers of real character in the Na Piarsaigh side, there is also just one team that’s capable of scoring 2-20 or similar here. The Munster club will look to open this up and consequently 6/5 about a Na Piarsaigh win and both teams scoring a goal (Powers) is our selection here.