This weekend, the top four club football teams of 2018 battle it out to reach the All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final on St. Patrick’s Day.
This is the pinnacle of any club footballer’s career, to make it to Croke Park with the lads you grew up with.
Both Corofin v Gaoth Dobhair and Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s v Dr. Crokes will be shown live on TG4 this Staurday.
Corofin v Gaoth Dobhair (Throw-in @ 1:30pm. Live on TG4, on 16/02):
For me, this is the standout fixture of the entire GAA weekend. I think that the reigning All-Ireland Champions Corofin face a huge test against this exciting Gaoth Dobhair side.
The battle I am most looking forward to, is that between Corofin full-back Kieran Fitzgerald and Gaoth Dobhair full-forward Kevin Cassidy. Both of these men are 38 years of age, and both have had glittering inter-county careers. Fitzgerald was a key figure at the heart of the Corofin defence when they triumphed on St Patrick’s Day in 2015 and 2018, but Cassidy has shown this year on the club stage that he poses a huge threat on the edge of the square.
Cassidy played predominantly in the half-back line during his Donegal days, but in 2018 he has been re-born in this new role. In the Ulster Final, Scotstown really struggled to handle him as he won almost every ball kicked into him and weighed in with two points from play.
Of course neither of these teams are dependent on their evergreen 38 year olds, as they both have top quality players all over the field. Odhran Mac Niallais and Dara O’Baoill have been outstanding at midfield for the Donegal outfit, while the McGee brothers, Neil and Eamonn, add experience and steel to their defence.
Corofin probably have the more balanced team of the two.
They have quality players on every line. The standout ones for me being Kieran Molloy at wing half back, Gary Sice at wing half forward, and All Star winner Ian Burke at corner forward. Burke turned the Connacht final on its head when he come on early in the second half against Ballintubber. The fleet-footed attacker goaled with his first touch and also fisted a smart point, but it’s general play which makes him an exceptional player as he is brilliant at bringing other players into play.
Corofin are the deserved favourites for this game because in recent history they have proven that they can deliver on this stage. However, I have been very impressed with Gaoth Dobhair throughout 2018 and I think they will give this a good go. They are 11/4 to win the game which I think is great value, but taking them with a few points head start may be the safer bet.
Verdict: Gaoth Dobhair +4 (Handicap) @ 8/11
Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s v Dr. Crokes (Throw-in @ 3:30pm. Live on TG4, on 16/02):
Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s have been the fairytale story of 2018.
Against all odds they became the first ever Longford team to win the Leinster Senior Club Championship. In the Leinster Final, the half-parish who have a mere 155 members upset the odds, as they defeated Dublin kingpins Kilmacud Crokes who have around 4,800 members in comparison. Gary Rogers’ late penalty was the vital score on the day.
Gary Rogers with a penalty for Mullinalaghta St. Columba's! pic.twitter.com/UiObG8SSLE
— The GAA (@officialgaa) December 9, 2018
This was quite a remarkable achievement by Mickey Graham’s charges. Since then, Graham has been juggling managing both Mullinalaghta and his native Cavan. This has to be a huge workload for him and I can’t help but think it is not ideal for either team. Cavan have lost their first three games in Division 1 and I reckon St. Columba’s would rather that their manager would be putting all his attention on their All-Ireland Club Title bid.
They are meeting a fantastic outfit in Dr. Crokes on Saturday.
The Kerry team have strolled through Munster and have been racking up some big scores. They have so many top quality footballers, so much so that one of the best players of all time Colm “The Gooch” Cooper, has had to make do with limited game time from the bench.
They have two powerful and talented midfielders in the shape of Johnny Buckley and Daithi Casey, along with serious firepower up front with the likes of Tony Brosnan, Brian Looney and Kieran O’Leary keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
Mullinalaghta will be hoping for huge performances again from the likes James and David McGivney, and Rian Brady, if they are to have any chance of causing another mammoth upset. While you can expect Patrick Fox to be tasked with a man marking job on one of Dr. Crokes’ star forwards, after the excellent job he did in keeping Dublin star Paul Mannion quiet in the Leinster Final.
After heroic efforts so far, I think this will a bridge too far for the Longford side. I expect them to give a spirited and committed showing but Dr. Crokes should have too much for them, and when “Gooch” and co are introduced from the bench in the final quarter, they should pull away.
Verdict: Dr. Crokes -6 (Handicap) @ 8/11