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Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cup Final Previews


Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cup Final Previews

If the GAA were to adopt a theme for today's final perhaps the tagline 'Redemption Day' might be appropriate as all three of this year's deciders feature the beaten finalists from 12 months ago.

Saturday, June 4Lory Meagher CupTyrone V Donegal, Croke Park, 12pm

First up then at their shot at redemption are Donegal who were heavily favoured to overcome Longford last season, but an early dismissal undermined their cause and the Leinster outfit eventually triumphed with something to spare.

The burden of favouritism will not necessarily be borne by Andrew Wallace's charges this afternoon for little separated Donegal and Tyrone on their routes to the final. Indeed, both counties amassed a total of 70 points in three matches while last year's beaten finalists conceded just a point fewer, 45 to 46. Tyrone had slightly the easier time of it qualifying for today's meeting at Croke Park, not alone defeating the reigning champions first time out, but always having at least a handful of points to spare at the final whistle.

Donegal, on the other hand, had to endure a period of extra-time before seeing off the stubborn challenge of South Down in the penultimate round at Newry. And although Donegal were operating in a higher division of the 2011 Allianz Hurling League (3B), narrow wins over Monaghan and Sligo compare slightly unfavourably to Tyrone's march through Division IV where the only dropped point was against Fermanagh before the title was secured with an impressive 1-15 to 0-11 victory over South Down in the final at the Athletic Grounds.

Rory O'Neill hit 1-4 in that win on Armagh turf and the Naomh Colum Cille ace also grabbed a couple of goals in Tyrone's march to the final, although Conor Grogan with three is the team's most potent green-flag raiser to date. Donegal are not without their goal-poachers either and in Enda McDermott they have an expert who has hit five in Donegal's third successive visit to Croke Park.

It sets up an intriguing final which is a replica of the inaugural 2009 decider when Tyrone won a terrific clash by 5-11 to 3-16. Perhaps it will be third time lucky for Donegal.

Christy Ring CupKerry V Wicklow, Croke Park, 2pm

A hurling final at Croke Park featuring Kerry and Wicklow! Even the most knowledgeable GA A supporter would probably assume that this is a first, but they would be mistaken for the counties' paths have crossed previously at Headquarters. Just under 44 years ago, in September 1967, the sides contested the All-Ireland Junior 'Home' final which the Garden County won easily by 3-7 to 1-2 before going on to defeat London after a replay in the decider.

And it's not as if the current squads will be unfamiliar with each other for they clashed in the penultimate round of last year's competition at Nenagh. There was an explosive start to the encounter with the Munster side reduced to 14 men within three minutes of the throw-in.

However, the Kingdom overcame the handicap thanks to sterling work from Darragh O'Connell, Gary O'Brien and Mikey Boyle to forge ahead before being hauled back to parity (0-10 to 1-7) by the change of ends. In the third quarter the Garden County made effective use of the extra man and a second goal from Andy O'Brien helped them into a 2-11 to 0-12 lead and apparently on course for victory.

At that point Kerry moved Mike Conway to centre back and this transformed the side with the result they stormed back to pull level (2-14 apiece) with five minutes remaining, before a late hat-trick of unanswered points secured victory.

Can Wicklow reverse that verdict this afternoon?

Their Allianz League form was impressive as they took Division 3A honours with victory over Derry, and the only loss of that campaign came in a meaningless fixture against Armagh in the final round. Kerry operated in Division II and did record victories over Down and Westmeath, but also found themselves on the end of some heavy reverses against the division's big boys.

It suggests that as with last year's encounter there probably won't be more than a few points in it at the final whistle and in common with the other two deciders today, as beaten finalists 12 months ago Kerry will have an added incentive, which could be enough.

Nicky Rackard Cup FinalLondon V Louth, Croke Park, 4pm

In a remarkably similar scenario to the one Donegal face, London head into today's Nicky Rackard Cup final seeking to avoid a third successive loss at this juncture. And opponents Louth can also lay claim to the 'three theme' for today's final as having lost the 2005 and '08 finals, the Wee County will be hoping to avoid a third loss at GAA Headquarters.

However, the prospects of a Louth victory are tempered by two factors. Their first final loss six years ago was against London when early goals eased the Exiles to a comfortable victory, and more pertinently the sides have already met earlier in this year's competition, at Dundalk, where the visitors romped to a 25-point victory.

Louth recovered from that mauling to post fine wins over Roscommon and Monaghan, but London looked imperious when dishing out another 20 plus points hammering to Fingal in the semi-final at Ruislip. Martin Finn and Patrick Sloane were to the fore in that win on home turf, as they were when the Exiles ran riot in Dundalk against the hosts at the end of April. The Louth rearguard will have to shut down the supply to that duo if a first title is to be secured.

Although Louth enjoyed the better campaign in the 2011 Allianz Hurling League - four wins and two losses as against London's two wins and three losses - the Exiles were operating in Division 3A compared to the Wee County's Division 3B outings. London defeated last year's Nicky Rackard champions Armagh in that campaign and also ran this year's Christy Ring finalists Wicklow to a point. Louth's success in this season's league (Sligo, Monaghan, Fingal and Donegal) would not be of quite the same caste as the opposition London faced.

Gerard Smyth, Diarmuid Murphy and Brian Corcoran have accounted for more than half of Louth's total score en route to today's final and its likely that all three will need to be at their most accurate if the Wee County are to be successful. However, the form book suggests that London will not be runners-up in a third successive final.

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