Clarinbridge manager Micheal Donoghue with Alan Armstong, Tom Callanan and Michael Donoghue. ©INPHO/James Crombie
The Club

Local heroes ready for Croke Park showdown

It’s All-Ireland Club Finals day as Clarinbridge take on O’Loughlin Gaels in the hurling while Crossmaglen Rangers face St. Brigid’s Roscommon in the football.

FOR THE PLAYERS of Clarinbridge, O’Loughlin Gaels, Crossmaglen Rangers and St. Brigid’s Roscommon, today is likely to be the biggest day of their sporting lives. Months of after-work training sessions and brutal slogs on boggy winter pitches all come down to this – All-Ireland Club Finals day.

Some have been here before; for others, the trip to the GAA club centrepiece will be a completely new experience. What can we expect from the afternoon’s action at Croke Park?

O’Loughlin Gaels vs. Clarinbridge, All-Ireland Club SHC Final (2pm)

The story so far: It really was a tale of two semi-finals in this year’s Club Hurling Championship. O’Loughlin Gaels put in a dominant performance against Loughgiel Shamrocks, taking their chances in front of goal to win by 3-10 to 0-10. The Kilkenny men weren’t altogether convincing in their run to the Leinster title however, needing extra-time before seeing off Ballyboden St. Edna’s and then creeping past Wexford’s Oulart-the-Ballagh.

For their part, Clarinbridge have been involved in some absolute crackers. The Galway club’s All-Ireland semi-final against De La Salle of Waterford was one of the most exciting in recent memory, eventually finishing up 3-22 to 1-27 after extra-time. The draining consequences of such a battle is likely to have been minimized by the fact that Clarinbridge have had almost a month to recover since then.

Key men: O’Loughlin Gaels will look to centre-forward Martin Comerford to lead by example. With four All-Ireland medals with Kilkenny under his belt, he has buckets of experience and will keep a cool head if things start to go against his side.

For Clarinbridge, they will really need brothers Mark and Alan Kerins to be on form if they are to cause an upset. The pair scored 2-11 between them in the semi-final and, having been here before with the club in 2002, they will undoubtedly be anxious to make amends for defeat on that occasion.

They say:

In Kilkenny the ambition is to win the county final. Now we’re in the final and we’re going to give it a good shot.

- O’Loughlin Gaels’ Mark Bergin, speaking to the Irish Times.

We need to do the simple things right. Stick to our game plan and play to the final whistle. If we do that, we give ourselves a good chance of being successful.

- Clarinbridge captain Paul Callinan, speaking to the Galway Advertiser.

The Bookies say: 8/13 O’Loughlin Gaels; 6/4 Clarinbridge; 10/1 Draw says: Clarinbridge to pull off a narrow upset.

Crossmaglen Rangers vs. St. Brigid’s Roscommon, All-Ireland Club SFC Final (3.45pm)

The story so far: In search of a fifth All-Ireland title, Crossmaglen have been impressive so far this season, working their way through a testing run which saw them face reigning Armagh champions St. Gall’s in the first round of the county championship and their vanquishers in 2009, Kilmacud Crokes, in the semi-finals. They were six points down after the opening thirty on that occasion, pulling it out of the bag with a solid defensive performance which restricted their opponents to just four second-half points.

If Crossmaglen’s semi-final victory over Kilmacud was revenge for defeat in the 2009 final, then St. Brigid’s victory over Cork side Nemo Rangers was a triumphant blow for underdogs everywhere. Without being overly dismissive of the Roscommon men’s chances, most expected Nemo to book their place in the All-Ireland final for the twelfth time. Brigid’s proved however that they too will fight until the very last and, despite being a point behind with just three minutes to play, rallied to win a thoroughly-deserved shot at glory.

Key men: The sharp shooting of Senan Kilbride and former inter-county star Frankie Dolan have been central to St. Brigid’s journey to this point and, without being overly dependent on them, the Roscommon club will need strong performances from the pair this afternoon.

Unsurprisingly, Crossmaglen will be looking to the old hands of Oisin McConville who has been excellent to date, amassing a remarkable haul of 2-22 during his side’s run to the Armagh championship and today’s final.

They say:

We will just go out and try and play football at Croke Park. For me, it will be an unbelievable experience to be involved in a game like this

- Crossmaglen’s Danny O’Callaghan, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph.

Once we get there and get focused we’ll know that the occasion is for the supporters and the game is for us. We need to get the job done.

- St. Brigid’s Ian Kilbride, speaking to the Irish Independent.

The Bookies say: 8/15 Crossmaglen; 2/1 St. Brigid’s; 7/1 Draw says: Crossmaglen to take home a fifth club title.

Clarinbridge vs. O’Loughlin Gaels (2pm) and Crossmaglen Rangers vs. St. Brigid’s are both live on TG4.