# the toughest
Big name exits and new champions - why the All-Ireland club title race looks wide open
The 2021-22 All-Ireland club championship is a novel looking one.

IT FEELS LIKE we are approaching moving weekend in the All-Ireland club football championship title race.

pjimage (2) Glen, Kilmacud, Loughmore and Mountbellew all won county senior titles.

With the last county football decider of the year pencilled in for Sunday afternoon as Kerry’s competition boils down to a Tralee derby, along with action spread across the four provinces, it is a weekend of some significance.

Right now there are 27 clubs still in the frame to reach the All-Ireland final on the weekend of 12-13 February 2022.

By the close of Sunday that number of contenders will be cut down to 15. There may still be 16 if the Kerry final produces no champion and requires a replay, but with winner on the day rulings applying to the provincial ties encompassing a Connacht semi-final, two Munster quarter-finals, four Leinster quarter-finals and four Ulster quarter-finals, there is guaranteed to be a large chunk of teams removed from the equation.

With Covid preventing the running of the provincial and All-Ireland club series last season, the stakes are higher, but what is striking is how different the club football landscape now looks.

Consider the last running of this championship across the winter of 2019 and January 2020.

Kilcoo are the only team knocking around this time that featured in that All-Ireland series. Of the four beaten provincial finalists at the end of 2019, only Padraig Pearses from Roscommon retain an interest.

And when you examine the identity of the clubs still involved, it is clear how huge an opportunity exists for so many to achieve something major and how novel a championship is in store.

Only three clubs have previously lifted the All-Ireland title. St Finbarr’s last won it in 1987, Austin Stacks must go back further to 1977 and Kilmacud Crokes are the only modern victors with their triumph in 2009.

michael-shields-and-ian-maguire-lift-the-trophy James Crombie / INPHO Michael Shields and Ian Maguire lift the Andy Scannell Cup in Cork last Sunday. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

That trio have lifted provincial crowns but Down’s Kilcoo, Mayo’s Knockmore and Monaghan’s Scotstown are the only others to have achieved that feat. Again modern success is relevant with Kilcoo, Austin Stacks and Kilmacud able to draw on the experience of provincial final wins since 2010.

Seven other clubs have reached a provincial final but it’s just four of those (Padraig Pearses, The Nire, Kerins O’Rahillys and St Loman’s) with fresh memories of such occasions since 2009.

That calibre of clubs defeated in 2021 county finals (Corofin, Crossmaglen, Slaughtneil, Naomh Conaill, Rhode, Portlaoise, Garrycastle, Éire Óg Carlow, Kilmurry-Ibrickane and Clonmel Commericals) means seasoned and traditionally strong outfits on the provincial stage, have already bowed out.

And that leaves us with a bunch of teams entering unchartered territory, eager to build on breakthroughs in their local arenas.

In Connacht the defeat of Corofin in the Galway final felt like a seismic moment. Not just for Mountbellew-Moylough, who had been scarred by a succession of losses in deciders, but for the wider province, given the incomparable brilliance and dominance Corofin had produced.

The last 12 Connacht senior club championships have been divvied up by Corofin, Castlebar Mitchels and St Brigid’s. Now the semi-finalists will deliver new champions with Mountbellew, Padraig Pearses and Tourlestrane all seeking a maiden crown.

knockmore-celebrate-with-the-cup Evan Logan / INPHO Mayo senior kingpins Knockmore. Evan Logan / INPHO / INPHO

Knockmore have tradition to draw upon with their wins in 1972, 1992 and 1996 but next Sunday will be their first time appearing in a Connacht game in 25 years, after they ended a barren spell to win the Moclair Cup in Mayo last year, but had no province to subsequently progress onto.

In Munster there is a similar tale of dominance with Nemo Rangers and Dr Crokes having carved up 14 of the last 20 titles between them. But Nemo exited after the group stages in Cork this year and Dr Crokes lost the Kerry county semi-final last Sunday week.

In addition Clonmel Commercials and Kilmurry-Ibrickane, winners of three recent Munster championships between them, along with being serial contestants on this  platform, were defeated in their respective Tipperary and Clare finals last month.

It leaves us with St Finbarr’s and Austin Stacks, both traditional forces, as the clubs already on the Munster roll of honour, that can still succeed in this campaign. But Stacks are the only recent victor, while their county final opponents next Sunday, Kerins O’Rahilly’s, and Waterford’s The Nire, have reached Munster finals in recent times.

Limerick’s Newcastlewest, Tipperary dual kingpins Loughmore-Castleiney and Clare’s Éire Óg Ennis are all attempting to add a joyous new chapter to their club’s histories.

In Leinster it is only Kilmacud Crokes that have lifted the cup, four times between 1994 and 2010, along with a final showing in 2018, when they were stunned by Longford’s Mullinalaghta St Columba’s.

A year previous St Loman’s Mullingar were also shocked in what was their solitary final appearance, but that was rooted in the manner in which their six-point lead late on against Kildare’s Moorefield, morphed into a sickening one-point loss.

cian-ward-celebrates-with-teammates Bryan Keane / INPHO Meath champions Wolfe Tones. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

For the other six contenders in Leinster – Wolfe Tones, Portarlington, Naomh Mairtín, Shelmaliers, Naas and Blessington – this is a largely new experience. Wexford’s Shelmaliers did have a recent Leinster adventure but it ended at the first hurdle in 2018.

Dublin clubs have dominated this championhip, claiming nine of the last 13 final wins, but the quartet of Portlaoise, Rhode, Garrycastle and Éire Óg, have been familiar faces with nine Leinster final losses between them since 2008. All four fell short on county final day this year and that has sparked much change on the Leinster scene.

Finally in Ulster, Kilcoo are the reigning champions after at last banishing previous disappointments in 2019. There is no sign of Crossmaglen, Slaughtneil and St Gall’s, a trio responsible for 13 of the last 16 titles.

And that means only Monaghan’s Scotstown have tasted a final win, albeit their most recent was in 1989, or qualified for a final, of more relevance by reaching that juncture in 2015 and 2019.

dromore-celebrate-their-victory Lorcan Doherty / INPHO Tyrone senior winners Dromore. Lorcan Doherty / INPHO / INPHO

Derry’s Watty Grahams are brand new champions, while Armagh’s Clann Éireann and Antrim’s Kickhams Creggan ended long droughts in their counties this year. Cavan’s Ramor United, Tyrone’s Dromore and Fermanagh’s Derrygonnelly Harps have competed in Ulster over the last decade, but only Derrygonnelly have come desperately close to a final outing, losing narrowly in the semi-finals of 2017 and 2019.

Factor all that in and it adds up to a rapidly evolving national club scene.

So many powerhouses and modern super clubs have been knocked out of the race to lift the Andy Merrigan Cup in 2022.

In their place is a collection of teams who when they look around their provinces will realise that there has rarely been a better opportunity to achieve something great.

And after this weekend that group will be reduced even further.


Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment

    Leave a commentcancel