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A different Cork-Kerry decider, Kilcoo's ambitions and chasing history for Fermanagh

The Munster and Ulster football finals are in the club spotlight today.

Dylan Casey and Alan O'Connor before Sunday's final.
Dylan Casey and Alan O'Connor before Sunday's final.
Image: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

1. A chance to escape from the shadows for St Finbarr’s and Austin Stacks

A Cork-Kerry final in the Munster senior club football championship is no novelty, but one featuring neither Nemo Rangers or Dr Crokes is a striking occurrence. Consider the last 20 Munster deciders have seen those two powerhouses carve up 14 titles, while Nemo also lost another final in that time frame in 2015.

Both St Finbarr’s and Austin Stacks have been educated in the prowess of their local rivals, suffering at their hands in county finals. This is St Finbarr’s first Munster final appearance in 35 years and they endured a 33-year barren spell in Cork alone after 1985. Austin Stacks did reign supreme in Munster in 2014, but last December’s county final triumph in Tralee was only their second time lifting the Bishop Moynihan Cup since 1992.

That range of disappointment and suffering can heighten motivations. St Finbarr’s and Austin Stacks have had to watch their illustrious neighbours shine on high-profile stages, today is their chance to accomplish something.

2. Big names key in Semple Stadium showdown

The Thurles setting requires a trip to Tipp for the Cork and Kerry champions. Since they passed their semi-final tests on home soil before Christmas, it’s likely their minds will have been exercised since by the presence of big names in the opposing ranks. The presence of star quality is evident in their respective marches to this juncture, how prominent those figures are will be critical in determining this outcome.

For Austin Stacks, Kieran Donaghy stands out with his presence, position as focal point in attack and his roving role in the final quarter as a critical option from kickouts when Stacks need to relieve the pressure. He is evidence of Kerry’s golden past, the inputs of Dylan Casey in defence and Joseph O’Connor at midfield, are a hint of the Kingdom future, both making persuasive cases so far to force their way into Jack O’Connor’s 2022 plans.

Investing faith in the St Finbarr’s challenge will need their talismanic duo to again stand up, in order to secure a reward. Captain Ian Maguire at midfield has lived up to the billing of that title on a constant basis over the last few years. His presence in the Cork team has been nailed-on, the form of Steven Sherlock closer to goal made it straightforward to recently recall him. Their form will shape the direction of this game.

aib-ulster-gaa-football-senior-club-final-media-day Kilcoo's Jerome Johnston and Derrygonnelly's Conal Jones. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

3. Kilcoo’s ambitions to push on

Before Christmas, Kilcoo were presented with a severe test of their football ambitions. Derry newcomers Watty Grahams Glen had impressed greatly in their first foray into the province, taking down teams of the calibre of St Eunan’s and Scotstown. But just like they did in the Down final, when they saw off Burren by two points, Kilcoo stood tall in a grinding and attritional encounter to prevail after extra-time by three points.

With that assignment completed, they must now steady themselves and finish off the job in Ulster. Retaining the title of the championship that last concluded with their breakthrough win in 2019, would elevate Kilcoo’s standing. It would help prove they have weathered the blows of previous final losses and provincial disappointments, this is their ninth Ulster campaign and they have just one crown so far.

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And for a team that lost the last All-Ireland club football final that took place, only after extra-time at the hands of Galway’s Corofin in January 2020, a success today would drag them closer to making amends for that.

4. Chasing history for Fermanagh

Standing in Kilcoo’s way is Derrygonnelly Harps, a club hoping to break new ground for their county. No team from Fermanagh has ever lifted the Ulster senior club football trophy, an unenviable record that the county shares with Cavan. This is only the fourth time a Fermanagh outfit has contested the final and the first since Enniskillen Gaels lost to Errigal Ciarán back in 2003.

But while they were fresh-faced at this specific juncture, Derrygonnelly have stored plenty experience in the memory bank. They lost two semi-finals before this year, by a point after a replay to Cavan Gaels in 2017 and were just two shy of Kilcoo in the last four in 2019. Their route to this decider has been impressive in taking down the best from Tyrone (Dromore) and Armagh (Clann Éireann). Their challenge deserves respect.

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Fintan O'Toole

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