Preview: This weekend's AIB Club Championship matches
Saturday 18 November
AIB Connacht Club SFC semi-final
Corofin (Galway) v Ballina Stephenites (Mayo), Pearse Stadium, 2pm
This should be a fascinating encounter between two teams who play different brands of football. Corofin can hurt you with angled kicked deliveries, whereas Ballina prefer to break you down by holding onto possession and picking their way through the lines with slick hand-passing.
Having dominated Galway football in the nineties, the noughties, and the tens, winning 18 county titles along the way, the perceived wisdom was that Corofin’s star had waned in this decade as they went three years without a title.
It’s been somewhat against expectations then that they’ve had a perfect season so far, going unbeaten to win both the League and the championship.
Household names like Gary Sice, Dylan McHugh, and Liam Silke are still hugely influential players for Corofin, but what must be very encouraging for the club’s supporters is that younger players like Patrick Egan, Gavin Burke, and Tony Gill have really blossomed this year.
All-Ireland winners in 2015, 2018, 2019, and 2020, Corofin’s pedigree and experience has seen them installed as favourites to win this match, but it wouldn’t be a huge shock if the Stephenites came out on top.
They’ve shown an ability all year to come out on top in tight contests, and though their 0-6 to 0-4 county final win over Breaffy was criticised for being a dour-fest, they showed they don’t lack for attacking prowess when beating Fulham Irish by 3-11 to 0-5 in the Connacht quarter-final.
There won’t be much in this one.
Sunday 19 November
AIB Munster Club SHC semi-finals
Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) v Ballygunner (Waterford), TUS Gaelic Grounds, 4pm (TG4)
When these two teams met in last year’s Munster Championship they produced a cracking game of hurling that eventually saw the Waterford champions win after a second-half power-surge.
Both teams don’t just have great ability in their ranks, they’ve also develped a healthy arrogance from being top-dogs in their county for a sustained period of time.
Ballygunner won a record 10th Waterford title in a row this year, but Na Piarsaigh are no slouches either with eight titles from 10 county final appearances in the last 14 years.
The Waterford champions come into the game as favourites after their hugely impressive 17-point destruction of Cork champions Sarsfields in the Munster quarter-final.
It’s hard to find a weakness in their team. Stephen O’Keeffe remains a goalkeeper supreme, Philip Mahony anchors a teak-tough defence, Paddy Leavy supplies great energy in midfield, and forwards like Dessie Hutchinson, Patrick Fitzgerald, and Pauric Mahony are lethal finishers.
That all said, Na Piarsaigh look like a team who can go toe to toe with them. Mike Casey and Will O’Donoghue form a formidable defensive spine, Ronan Lynch and Conor Boylan are a nice mixture of strength and guile in midfield, and the inside trio of Peter Casey, Adrian Breen, and David Dempsey are hugely dangerous.
Another thriller seems inevitable.
Kiladangan (Tipperary) v Clonlara (Clare), FBD Semple Stadium, 2pm (TG4)
This should be a fascinating tie between two teams who both play a nice brand of attacking hurling.
A Clonlara club that have been tagged as serial underachievers in recent years certainly got the mix right in Clare this year with veterans like John Conlon, Colm Galvin, Micheál O’Loughlin and Ian Galvin finding a rich seam of form, and younger stars like Dylan McMahon and Aidan Moriarty also stepping up to the mark.
The Clare champions can hurt you from all areas of the pitch as evidenced by the fact that nine players scored from play in their impressive County Final win over Crusheen.
Kiladangan too, have a range of threats. They had eight players on the scoresheet in their Tipperary final replay win over Thurles Sarsfields, and players like Billy Seymour, Sean Hayes, and Tadgh Gallagher are in great form.
The return to fitness of the talismanic Willie Connors after a long-term injury in recent weeks also gives them an added dimension.
This is a difficult game to call, but perhaps the two games it took Kiladangan to get the better of Thurles Sarsfields might have them a tad more battle-hardened.
AIB Ulster Club SHC semi-final
Cushendall (Antrim) v Portaferry (Down), Box-it Athletic Ground, 4pm
After making it back to back county titles in Down, Portaferry will be determined to fare better in Ulster this year than they did in 2022 when Slaughteneil handed them a 2-24 to 0-11 defeat.
The Down champions simply didn’t hurl to anything like their potential that day, and you can be sure that experience will be used as a source of motivation ahead of this clash with Cushendall.
They’ll go into the game as underdogs, but if lethal forwards like Eoghan Sands, Daithi Sands, and Tom McGrattan are given a decent supply of ball, then Portaferry will be very much in the contest.
As for Cushendall, they won’t want to rest on the laurels of their first county championship for five years.
The fact that Dunloy went all the way to last year’s All-Ireland Final underlines the quality of Antrim club championship hurling at the moment, and Cushendall will be keen to put their best foot forward too.
Defender Paddy Burke is in the form of his life, midfielder Ryan McCambridge gives them great energy in the middle third, and forwards like veteran Neil McManus, Christy McNaughton, and Niall McCormick offer a keen cutting edge.
Portaferry will make a good game of it, but if Cushendall play to their full potential they should come out on top.
AIB Leinster Club SFC semi-finals
St Loman's (Westmeath) v Naas (Kildare), TEG Cusack Park, 1.30pm
This should be a highly competitive match between two teams coming to the boil at the right time of the season.
Naas were dominant in their quarter-final win over Summerhill, coming out on top in the end by 2-12 to 0-8.
And St. Loman’s were no less impressive when beating Killoe by 1-20 to 1-10 in a match that was pretty much decided by half-time.
Naas weren’t quite at their best for stages of the Kildare championship but are very much into their stride now with the usual faces giving them forward momentum.
Brian Byrne and Eoin Doyle anchor a well-organised defence, while Darragh Kirwan, Alex Beirne, and James Burke and Sean Hanafin offer a range of threats in attack.
As for St. Loman’s, they look full of confidence right now. John Heslin is running the show in midfield, while Ronan O’Toole, Sam McCartan, and Shane Dempsey are shooting the lights out in attack.
Naas’ greater physicality might give them an edge, but this will be a game of very fine margins.
St Mary's Ardee (Louth) v Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin), Ardee, 1.30pm
Reigning All-Ireland champions Kilmacud Crokes, who are also gunning for a third provincial title on the trot, will go into this game as raging hot favourites.
They won their three matches in last year’s Leinster championship by an average of nine points each, which underlines the scale of the challenge faced by St. Mary’s.
If anything, they look even more dangerous this year. Paul Mannion is fully fit and firing, and Shane Walsh is in a rich vein of form too.
St. Mary’s, Ardee might be rank underdogs, but they’ve produced an impressive body of work on the way to this game.
Back to back titles in Louth underlines their quality, and they played some really impressive football in their seven-point quarter-final win over Wicklow champions Blessington.
Forwards like Ciaran Keenan, Liam Jackson, Tom Jackson, Dáire McConnon, and Jonathan Commins are all accurate finishers, so if they can keep things tight at the back they’ll have a fighting chance.
Ultimately, though, it’s hard to look beyond yet another victory for the reigning All-Ireland champions.
Connacht Club SFC semi-final
St Brigid's (Roscommon) v Mohill (Leitrim), Dr Hyde Park, 1.30pm
St Brigid’s hope to have Ruaidhri Fallon fit again for this match but there are bigger doubts over Brian Stack who seemed to injure his knee in their impressive quarter-final win over Sligo champions Coolera Strandhill.
The star of that six-point victory was county star Ben O’Carroll who hit six points from play, and he was ably assisted in attack by Conor Hand and Bobby Nugent.
What stood out most about that victory was the work-rate of St. Brigid’s, and if they can replicate that they’ll justify their status as hot favourites to get the better of Mohill.
It would be unwise to write off the Leitrim champions, though. They’re an experienced team who have contested the last four Leitrim finals, winning two, and in Keith Beirne have one of the oustanding forwards in the country.
Brian Stack would most likely have been given the task to man-mark Beirne so if he’s ruled out then that could definitely level the playing-field, but the greater all-round quality and athleticism of St. Brigid’s should still see them carry the day.