Ghosts of 2006 give Gall's wit and will to win
AIB ALL-IRELAND CLUB SFC FINAL
ST GALL'S (Antrim) v KILMURRY-IBRICKANE (Clare)
(Croke Park, Tomorrow 3.45, live TG4)
THE contrast between the football and hurling club finals at HQ could not be more stark. The curtain-raiser is the ultimate collision of hurling heavyweights whereas the 'main event' features two counties who, between them, have never lifted the Andy Merrigan Cup.
That statistic will have changed after five o'clock tomorrow, when Antrim or Clare will be celebrating a first All-Ireland club football title. That's presuming it doesn't all end in stalemate -- St Gall's, after all, have been pushed to extra-time twice while Kilmurry-Ibrickane are more likely to grind out a narrow win than to repeat their runaway semi-final win over Portlaoise.
The bookies are leaning quite heavily towards St Gall's, and you can understand the logic at play. The old maxim that "you need to lose one to win one" doesn't always apply, but the experience of playing in an All-Ireland final as recently as 2006 certainly confers an advantage on them.
"In a way, that day passed us by and we are desperate to make sure that never happens again," says CJ McGourty, who came off the bench during the closing stages of that 0-7 to 0-6 defeat by Salthill-Knocknacarra.
McGourty, still only 21, is now a pivotal player in this drive for history. He has scored 2-25 (19f) in their five-game provincial and All-Ireland campaign, his influence climaxing in last month's semi-final when he tallied 1-9 against Corofin.
That compelling game served up an odd mixture of the good and not-so-brilliant from Belfast's finest. They looked to be cruising until Kieran Comer's goal provided the Galway champions with a lifeline just before half-time; then Gall's had to hang tough when reduced to 14 men and even though they led going into injury-time, they could conceivably have lost it. In extra-time, though, once Corofin lost a man and Gall's were restored to a full complement, they made their supremacy count.
McGourty has been struggling with an ongoing hip problem but says there's "not a hope in the world" of him missing the final. Fellow star forward Rory Gallagher also looks to have shaken off the hamstring injury that forced his half-time substitution against Corofin.
Presuming these two men are motoring freely, aided by McGourty's influential brothers Kevin and Kieran, then Gall's look to have enough firepower to post a match-winning total. Mind you, similar things were expected of Portlaoise before they ran into the voracious and supremely well-drilled men from west Clare.
In their five matches since retaining the Clare title, Kilmurry have yet to leak a solitary goal and their average concession is just 0-6. Ergo, Michael McDermott's men are a team built on solid defence but as they showed against Portlaoise, they attack with considerable menace too, epitomised by the sharp movement and finishing of Michael O'Dwyer and Noel Downes.
We'll never know if Kilmurry would have enjoyed such easy passage if they had faced 15 Portlaoise men for the hour -- as it transpired, the latter's loss of discipline and shape played into the Claremen's counter-attacking game plan.
Tomorrow, however, barring another first- minute dismissal or some other unforeseen twist of fate, the feeling is that Gall's should be standing tall after an intriguing struggle.
ODDS: St Gall's 1/3, Draw 15/2, Kilmurry 3/1
VERDICT: St Gall's