ALL four SFC quarter-finals are down for decision on what should be a brilliant day of local GAA action this Saturday. GER MCNALLY gives his thoughts on how the games might go.
Joe Mallon Renault Senior Football Championship Quarter-Finals
Venue: St Conleths Park, Clane V Johnstownbridge, 1.45pm, Ref: Brendan Hickey
A pairing that feels like a throwback to a different era of Kildare GAA. The teams met in the 1989 final and between 1987 and 1998 competed in a combined 13 finals, Clane (8) and Johnstownbridge (5).
Both teams have endured significant troughs since those heady days but have recovered well, even if Johnstownbridge are further down the road to returning to those heights.
Remarkably Johnstownbridge will start with a survivor from their 1994 and 1996 finals in their team. Ken Dixon was their top scorer on the way to their last final appearance in ’96 but will line out in goal on Saturday.
Johnstownbridge are clear favourites for this game after the impressive manner in which they dismantled Naas in Round 2. As well as all their intercounty contingent, Sean Hurley looked like a man with a point to prove against Naas and he was superb in that game.
Last time Clane were at this stage they were only beaten after a replay by Moorefield in 2013. They are looking to make it back to the semi-finals for the first time since 2007 but the only way you can make a case for them to win this game is that almost five weeks will have passed since Johnstownbridge’s last game by the time they take to the field.
It is a very young Clane team and the fact their best player is 18 year old Brian McLoughlin is a testament to that. Unfortunately, the best they can hope for is to keep the score respectable.
Venue: St Conleths Park, Moorefield V Sarsfields, 3.30pm, Ref: Noel Mc Kenna
We probably should have seen this one coming. There were only three possibilities in the hat for Moorefield when the draw was made so perhaps it was inevitable that they would be paired with their rivals. Certainly, Sarsfields would have expected to have to beat Moorefield at some stage along the way if they are to complete their three in a row dream. It is the fifth successive year that teams have been paired together and the game will be the sixth meeting of the teams in that period after their draw in the 2014 final.
On the last two occasions a team in Kildare has retained their title, their hopes of a third successive title were ended in a Newbridge derby. On both occasions Moorefield were beaten by Sarsfields but even though John Crofton’s team ended their final hoodoo against their rivals last year, form states that Moorefield will start as very slight favourites on Saturday.
Sarsfields have been porous in defence, conceding eight goals in three Championship games, but it should be noted that their best defensive display came during their most severe test, against Celbridge in Round 2. They will be desperately hoping that Gary White and Sean Campbell will be able to play, both have struggled with hamstring injuries. White limped out of the Round 3 win over Castledermot while Campbell’s season has been blighted by injury. For all the attacking threat they possess through Ben McCormack, Ray Cahill, Alan Smith and Dan Nea, the fitness of that pair could be crucial.
The draw caught the eye of everybody in Kildare GAA but one man will be more pleased than most. Ronan Sweeney has already gone on record to say that the red card he received in last year’s county finalwas one of the main reasons that he delayed hanging up his boots and decided to return this year. He remains one of Moorefield’s most important players, and one of the best around. On the day after his 37th birthday, expect him to be one of the key players in this game, whether he makes the starting 15 or comes in from the bench.
His experience, along with many other well known faces in the team, remain hugely important for Moorefield but Ross Glavin, in his first year as manager of his own club, deserves great credit for introducing a number of new young players.
In 13 previous Championship meetings since 2000, their records are tied, six wins apiece and one draw. Sarsfields have won the two games, including last year’s final.
No matter what the result, the real winners will be those in St Conleths Park to witness the latest chapter of this always enthralling rivalry.
Venue: Hawkfield , Athy V Round Towers, 5.30pm, Ref: Billy O Connell
Athy have yet to be truly tested in this year’s Championship but Saturday’s game will be an interesting tie.
They didn’t really sparkle against Castledermot in Round 1 but did more than enough to win, while it was impossible to read much into their Round 2 win over a lacklustre Clane.
Like others who won in Round 2, perhaps their biggest problem could be their inactivity since their last game. But one look through their squad means they have to be big favourites here. Such is their embarrassment of riches that they could afford to leave Mick Foley on the sideline during the win over Clane but he could return to add that extra bit of steel and experience to the exciting talent around him.
Round Towers have probably already exceeded their expectations for the season but Glenn Ryan’s team won’t be slowing down because of that. They have impressively dealt with the step up in physicality in senior football and the manner of their win over Confey, after a replay, in Round 3 really caught the eye.
They are certainly capable of making this an awkward evening for Athy, especially if Neil Scanlon is back to fitness, but a shock still looks unlikely.
Venue: Hawkfield , Celbridge V Naas, 7pm, Ref: Raymond Kelly
Another really intriguing pairing.
It was a cracking game when the two teams met in the Division 1 league semi-final last month but with both teams welcoming back their county players since then, the line ups are unlikely to bear much resemblance to that day.
Looking at those who will be added to their teams, you’d have to say Celbridge have a slight edge. Fergal Conway is a powerhouse for Kildare at intercounty level but his strength at club level sometimes makes him look like an adult playing in a kids game. Even Sarsfields couldn’t handle him in Round 2. Paddy Brophy adds the X factor in the forward line and could be a huge player here but he most likely will have to free himself from man marking specialist Eoghan Bateman, who did well to keep Eoghan O’Flaherty on the fringes during Naas’ Round 3 win over Carbury.
The return of Eoin Doyle helped Naas greatly during that game but Naas have lost their way a little up front in recent games. They have become very reliant on the two Joyces, Ronan and John, for scores and they really need Conor Mellett to be at his absolute best here to have a chance.
There won’t be much in it but Celbridge’s firepower could see them into the semi-finals for the fourth successive year.