Weekend's club championship preview
Saturday, November 19
AIB Connacht club SFC semi-final
Tourlestrane (Sligo) v St Mary's Kiltoghert (Leitrim), Avant Money Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, 1.30pm
If experience at this level counts for much, then seven-in-a-row Sligo champions Tourlestrane will have an edge on Leitrim champions St. Mary’s.
They’ve played in Connacht for five of the last six seasons, apart from 2020 when Covid-19 forced the cancellation of all provincial championships.
In that time they’ve played the cream of Connacht club football, and, while they haven’t yet managed to reach a final, they’ve always given a good account of themselves.
This is St. Mary’s Kiltoghert’s first Connacht campaign since 2013, and their quarter-final win over London champions St. Kieran’s was actually the first by a Leitrim team in Connacht since 2014.
The Leitrim champions should get a bounce from that victory, especially the manner in which they won it with two late goals.
They’re a very young team with lots of ability, but this Tourletrane side are very experienced and that counts for a lot at this level.
AIB Leinster club SFC semi-finals
The Downs (Westmeath) v Ratoath (Meath), Croke Park, 5.15pm (RTE2)
Both of these teams have shown a lot of quality on the way to this match.
The Downs enjoyed a very convincing eight point win over Louth champions St. Mary’s Ardee, while Ratoath dug deep to edge out Offaly champions Rhode by two points.
Ratoath have greater experience of provincial competition than The Downs, and are a very well-oiled machine under manager David Brady.
Defensively solid and physically powerful around the middle third, they make good use of their pace to hit teams on the counter-attack.
The Downs play a more expansive game so this will be something of a clash of styles. The Westmeath champions arguably have more firepower in their ranks with Luke Loughlin in a particularly rich vein of form.
But Ratoath won’t give them anything like the same space they enjoyed against St. Mary’s and this game is likely to come down to very fine margins.
Portarlington (Laois) v Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin), Croke Park, 7pm (RTE2)
When these two teams met at the same stage of the Leinster Championship last year it was a very keenly contested match with Kilmacud eventually persevering by two points having come back from five points down.
This match is also shaping up to be a high-quality game of football based on what we saw from both teams so far in the competition.
Crokes beat a strong Naas team by nine points, while Portarlington defeated Wexford champions Castletown by four and then hammered Carlow champions Palatine by 19 points.
Both teams play a similar brand of football in so far as they both attack and defend in numbers and have an array of players comfortable taking a shot on rather than depending on one or two forwards to do the bulk of the scoring.
Paul Mannion’s injury-absence is a blow for Kilmacud, but the recruitment of Shane Walsh compensates for it, with the Galway star in fine form in recent weeks.
Kilmacud’s ability to dominate possession in the middle third eventually made the difference when the teams met last year, and could well be decisive again this time around.
Sunday, November 20
AIB Connacht club SFC semi-final
Moycullen (Galway) v Strokestown (Roscommon), Tuam Stadium, 1.30pm
Moycullen come into this match as favourites after a very impressive win last weekend over Mayo champions Westport.
What stood out about their performance that day was just how well-balanced a team they are. The Kelly brothers, Sean, Eoin, and Paul give them a great presence in the middle third along with Owen Gallagher.
Dessie Conneely, who hit 10 points from 10 shots against Westport, gives them a lethal focal point in attack where he’s ably assisted by players like Niall Walsh and Daniel Cox.
It’s going to be a tough task for Strokestown to contain the Moycullen forwards, but they’ve been defensively solid all year with players like Colm Neary, Sean Mullooly, Dave Neray, Keith Murphy, and Timmy Gibbons all in fine form.
If the Roscommon champions are to pull off a shock they’ll need that rearguard to have the game of their lives and then hope Colin Compton can produce another big performance in attack.
AIB Munster SHC semi-finals
Ballyea (Clare) v St Finbarr's (Cork), Cusack Park, 1.15pm (TG4)
A Cork club hasn’t won a Munster title since 2009, but St. Finbarr’s bring a lot of momentum into this provincial championship after winning their county title in some style.
They play a nice brand of hurling, mixing up a hardrunning/short-passing style of play with occasional long deliveries to Brian Hayes with good effect.
Young players like Hayes, Ethan Twomey, Ben Cunningham, and Ben O’Connor bring great energy and dash to the side, and they’re the sort of team that are very hard to stop if they get on a roll.
The experienced Damien Cahalane gives them a great anchor in defence at centre-back, but overall St. Finbarr’s are a much less seasoned team than a Ballyea team who won the provincial title in 2016 and are now competing in their four Munster campaign in seven years.
As well as possessing huge quality with players like Tony Kelly, Paul Flanagan, Jack Browne, Niall Deasy, and Gary Brennan, they’re also a very dogged team who don’t know the meaning of quit as evidenced by their come from behind win against Éire Óg in the Clare Final.
That combination of experience and grit might give them an edge if this match is still in the melting pot in the closing minutes.
Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) v Ballygunner (Waterford), TUS Gaelic Grounds, 3.15pm (TG4)
This match has all the ingredients to be a stone-cold classic.
In one corner you have the reigning All-Ireland champions Ballygunner with a team stacked with Waterford senior county hurlers, in the other is 2016 champions, Na Piarsaigh, who look like a revitalised force and can call on a host of Limerick senior hurlers.
These two teams have plenty of history too. Na Piarsaigh beat Ballygunner in the 2015 and 2017 Munster Finals, with Ballygunner then turning the tables in the 2018 Final.
Both teams won their county championships in some style this year, though Ballygunner would have had concerns about the fact they were lying idle for eight weeks before the start of the provincial campaign.
They showed little signs of ring-rusts though when hammering Tipperary champions Kilruane MacDonaghs, and that match will surely have brough them on a lot.
Both teams have serious firepower and very tight defences, so this match could come down to who wins what will surely be a ferocious physical battle in the middle third.
Na Piarsaigh will have the outstanding hurler in this sector in Will O’Donoghue, but Ballygunner’s ability to hunt in packs could give them the edge.
AIB Ulster club SHC semi-final
Portaferry (Down) v Slaughtneil (Derry), Corrigan Park, 1.30pm
After completing a 10-in-a-row of Derry SHC titles, Slaughtneil now begin their campaign to make it three Ulster championships in a row.
Much of this team played in the Derry SFC Final on October 23, so a four-week block of hurling only training should have sharpened them for the challenge.
There are usually very few secrets in the Ulster championship with the same teams often playing each other on a fairly consistent basis, but these two sides have no recent history.
Portaferry were Ulster champions in 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic meant there was no provincial championship that year.
Slaughtneil will be hot favourites to win this match, but the fact they lost to Ballycran in the 2018 championship means they won't take their Down opponents lightly.
Brooks Galway SHC final
Loughrea v St Thomas', Pearse Stadium, 1.30pm
St Thomas’ go for a fifth Galway SHC title in a row and sixth in seven years when they play neighbours Loughrea in Sunday’s Final.
Remarkably, since winning their first title in 2012 the reigning champions have won all six Finals they’ve contested.
They’ve won their last five titles with pretty much the same group of players, and are a hugely experienced outfit with a great knack for grinding out victories regardless of the circumstances.
This is Loughrea’s first Final appearance since they lost the 2013 decider against Portumna and they might struggle to match the reigning champions for big-game nous.