Weekend's club championship preview
Saturday 26 November
Ulster club SFC semi-final
Enniskillen Gaels (Fermanagh) v Kilcoo (Down), Athletic Grounds, 6pm
This match is a contest between an established king and a young pretender.
Reigning All-Ireland champions Kilcoo look as formidable as ever, but a talented Enniskillen Gaels team will take them head on aided by the fearlessness of youth.
Many of the players who won a 2017 Ulster Minor Club Championship with the Fermanagh club have now emerged as senior players of real ability, with the likes of Eoin Beacom, Brandon Horan, and Conor Love particularly promising.
Their penalty shoot-out win over Cavan champions Gowna in the quarter-final will have given them an extra shot of self-belief, and if they can get a good supply of ball into the likes of Love, John Reihill and Callum Jones they have the firepower to test Kilcoo’s defence.
It’s still hard to look beyond a win for the reigning champions though, who have been as ruthless as ever en route to this semi-final.
After Ballybay’s impressive win over Crossmaglen you thought the Monaghan champions could seriously trouble Kilcoo in the quarter-finals, but instead the Down champions steam-rolled their way to a 10-point victory.
They’re very much a machine that both attacks and defends in numbers in a system where every player knows exactly where they’re meant to be at any given time.
Their impressive level of organisation, defensive obduracy, and clinical finishing should be enough to subdue the youthful exuberance of their Fermanagh opponents.
Sunday 27 November
Munster club SFC semi-finals
Kerins O'Rahilly's (Kerry) v Éire Óg Ennis (Clare), Austin Stack Park, 1pm
Convention would dictate that the Kerry representatives would be hot favourites to beat the best of Clare in provincial club football action, but this match will be no formality.
Éire Óg Ennis have won back to back Clare titles and their 15-point hammering of Waterford champions The Nire two weeks ago also underlined the quality in their ranks.
Kerins O’Rahilly’s won the Kerry Senior Club Championship as opposed to the blue riband Kerry County Championship which also includes divisional teams.
In fact, O’Rahilly’s didn’t win a single group game in the County Championship, losing heavily to East Kerry, Dingle, and Spa.
Five weeks have passed since they defeated Templenoe in the senior club final, so they might be a little bit rustier than their Clare opponents.
They do have plenty of both experience and quality in their ranks with players like David Moran, Barry John Keane and Tommy Walsh to call upon, and you can be sure that trio will have rallied the troops for a serious assault on the Munster title.
Moran and Tom Hoare have ability to give the Kerry side a decisive foothold in the middle third. But if Éire Óg can at least break even in that sector and get a good supply of ball into deadly attackers Gavin Cooney and Mark McInerney, they’ll make a real game of this.
Clonmel Commercials (Tipperary) v Newcastle West (Limerick), FBD Semple Stadium, 1pm
Clonmel Commercials have been installed a favourites to win the Munster title in the wake of their win over Cork champions Nemo Rangers, which is hardly surprisingly considering just how well they played that they.
Provincial champions in 2015, Commercials are arguably a better team now than they were then with key players like Michael Quinlivan, Seamus Kennedy, Kevin Fahey, Jack kennedy, and Jason Lonergan at the peak of their powers.
They’re supplemented now by exciting young players like Sean O’Connor, Tadhg Condon, James Morris, Peter McGarry, and Cian Smith. Commercials don’t just have a strong starting XV, they have subs who can make a real impact too.
If they play to their full potential they should win this match, but if they’re not at the best then Newcastle West are in with a great chance.
They’re a fine team in their own right having won back to back Limerick titles and boast two recent All-Star nominees in their ranks in Iain Corbett and Cian Sheehan.
Mike McMahon gives them a great cutting edge at full-forward, and his showdown with Seamus Kennedy is likely to be pivotal.
Ulster club SFC semi-final
Cargin (Antrim) v Glen (Derry), O'Neill's Healy Park, 1.30pm TG4
Glen go into this match as warm favourites but Cargin will be full of confidence after their win over Donegal champions Naomh Conaill.
They showed a lot of character in that match to force extra-time with an injury-time goal and then penalties with a last-gasp point, and then held their nerve in the shoot-out.
Derry champions Glen were severely tested by a talented Errigal Ciaran team in the quarter-finals, but the manner in which they overcame adversity to win that game said a lot about their quality as a team.
Conor Glass and Emmett Bradley give them great ball-winning ability and athleticism in the middle third, and this is likely to be an area where they’ll try to turn the screw on Cargin.
The Antrim champions have talented forwards in Pat Shivers and Michael and Tomas McCann, but Glen attack better as a team and look to have a greater wherewithal to post a a winning total.
Leinster club SHC semi-finals
Naas (Kildare) v Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny), Croke Park, 1.15pm
Kilkenny champions Ballyhale Shamrocks are hoping to make it four Leinster titles in a row this year whereas Kildare champions Naas are playing in the competition for the very first time.
That should make this game a mismatch, but Naas were hugely impressive when beating Offaly champions Shinrone by 15 points in the quarter-final and will relish this challenge.
Many of their players played juvenile hurling in the Kilkenny championship and actually defeated some of the same faces they’ll play against on Sunday in the 2015 Kilkenny U-16 Final.
Also in their favour is the fact they’ve developed such a winning habit from stringing together four Kildare titles in a row and winning the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship earlier this year.
Kildare county players like Jack Sheridan, James Burke, and Brian Byrne give them formidable firepower, so if Ross Kelly and Rian Boran can lock down their defence then they can be competitive.
Such is the quality that Ballyhale Shamrocks possess though, you’d imagine they’ll pull away eventually.
St Mullin's (Carlow) v Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin), Croke Park, 3.15pm
This is a real David versus Goliath contest in so far as St. Mullin’s are a small club from Carlow and Dublin champions Kilmacud are the biggest club in the country.
But it’s unlikely to be a mismatch on the field because St. Mullin’s have proven quality as they showed when reaching the 2019 Leinster Final and defeating Wexford champions Ferns in the Leinster Quarter-Final two weeks ago.
They’re a very well drilled team who are organised in defence, athletic in the middle third, and also have a productive attack where county star Marty Kavanagh is the star turn.
This is a big test for them, though, because Kilmacud Crokes are hurling with a lot of confidence this year as evidenced by their comfortable quarter-final win over Clough-Ballacolla.
Usual suspects like Oisin O’Rorke, Fergal Whitely and Ronan Hayes are still among their main men, but the emergence of Brian Hayes has given them a different sort of energy in the middle third that other teams are struggling to cope with.
Crokes have a strong bench too, which could ultimately make a vital difference.
Galway SHC final replay
Loughrea v St Thomas', Pearse Stadium, 1pm
St Thomas’ proud record of never being beaten in a Galway SHC Final was sorely tested last Sunday after an enthralling drawn encounter with Loughrea.
The reigning champions, who are going for a fifth title in a row, struggled to contain a youthful Loughrea for much of the contest, though it was the challengers who needed to find a late equaliser through Tiernan Killeen.
That they managed to do so despite being reduced to 14 men for the last 10 minutes will surely be a source of encouragement going into this replay, and the experience of playing in their first final for most of their team should also stand to them.
On the flip side, St Thomas’ will feel like they’ve plenty of room for improvement and will surely put the lessons of the drawn match to good use. Top of that list will be to keep tighter taps on Martin McManus who hit four classy points from play for Loughrea last weekend.
Such is the experience and proven quality that St. Thomas’ possess you’d expect them to find a way to win this rematch, but the exuberance and quality of this coming young Loughrea can’t be discounted.