AS Sunday’s U-21A county football final nears, Kilmurry Ibrickane and Lissycasey are approaching with a common agenda, yet a vastly contrasting record at this level. While Lissycasey are seeking their first U-21A title, Kilmurry have already put 13 on their sideboard, although none since they completed five in-a-row in 2007. They were beaten in the 2008 replay by St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield.
This weekend’s final in Corofin will represent Lissycasey’s third at this level, having won successive minor A championships in 2013 and 2014. They lost their previous U-21 finals to Kilmurry Ibrickane and Ennistymon.
En route to the final, Lissycasey have beaten Cooraclare, reigning champions Éire Óg and Kilmihil/Shannon Gaels in last Friday’s semi-final.
Kilmurry will field for the fifth successive weekend, having defeated Kilrush-Killimer, St Breckan’s (replay) and Ennistymon in the semi-final. Interestingly, in the three games that Kilmurry have won, the club they defeated scored 1-7.
Most of these players participated in the 2013 minor A final, when Lissycasey emerged with a one-point win. Three years later, they will meet on the first weekend in December with a potentially intriguing final to be played out.
Already this year, Kilmurry have won their 14th senior championship, reached the junior A and minor B finals, while they will play Doonbeg in the Cusack Cup final next weekend, where they will be going for six in-a-row.
Given that the age profile of their senior team is quite high, the fact that their minors and U-21s have reached county finals indicates that they have plenty of young footballers coming through.
As for Lissycasey, their U-21s are their only team to reach a county final and this group of players are central to the future of their senior team.
They have a number of quality players, including goalkeeper Killian Normoyle, whose kick-outs generally find a team-mate at chest height. This was especially evident in the semi-final against Kilmihil/Shannon Gaels, when his restarts were excellent. With Keelan Sexton, Darren Callinan and possibly Keith Sexton providing Kilmurry with presence and ball-winning ability in that sector, kick-outs could be crucial, with both teams trying to retain their own.
Some of the possibly match-winning clashes will involve Lissycasey centre-back Oisín Hanrahan and Kilmurry centre-forward Dermot Coughlan. Hanrahan is particularly effective and pacey when attacking from the half-back line, while Coughlan has played some great football in the last couple of games, setting up and kicking some nice scores.
Possibly the biggest decision Lissycasey have to make is where to play their captain Ryan Griffin. A very talented full-back, Griffin has been playing midfield in recent games, with Niall McCarthy at full-back.
The one area that Lissycasey struggled in against Kilmihil/Shannon Gaels was when high diagonal balls were driven in towards their full-back line. If that trend continues on Sunday, Kilmurry full-forward Keith Sexton will be a huge threat. Lissycasey may opt to start McCarthy at midfield, with Griffin re-located to full-back.
While Keelan Sexton is Kilmurry’s stand-out player from play and frees, others playing central roles include full-back Ciarán Morrissey, wing-back Daire Pender and Kieran Killeen at centre-back.
Kieran Conway also looks dangerous at corner-forward, although he seems to be somewhat restricted by injury, while Darren Callinan is a superb kicker from play and frees. Kevin Tubridy has been an impressive substitute for Kilmurry in the last two games and if Conway is not fit enough to start, Tubridy could slot in.
Kieran Killeen or Daire Pender are likely to pick up Lissycasey half-forward Oisín Hanrahan, who is their most potent attacking threat, while Pádraig McNamara and Kilmurry full-back Ciarán Morrissey could be key to their respective teams’ chances of winning. McNamara excelled in the semi-final, until he had to go off injured and Lissycasey need him fit and firing if they are to deliver. Morrissey is an excellent man-marker. He shadowed Seán Collins very effectively in the drawn and replayed county finals, while he can also attack from deep.
Mikey O’Malley, who played in Lissycasey’s first two games, may feature this weekend, as he seeks to return from a knee injury, while Ciarán Doohan is also injured.
Ironically, Lissycasey play a Kilmurry-type support game. The speed of their off-the-shoulder support and the movement of their forwards is impressive. If they can impose that game on Kilmurry, they will be on their way.
Kilmurry are capable of playing that support game too but with Keith Sexton an effective target man at full-forward, they are mixing up their game to good effect.
If the weather holds up and the pitch in Corofin is reasonably firm, this final has the makings of an epic. There is serious potential in both teams, who have built up a rivalry since their 2013 minor final meeting. Kilmurry and Lissycasey will be equally driven to get their hands on U-21 medals.
Calling a winner is not a simple task but Lissycasey may edge it, based on the fact that their age profile is marginally older than Kilmurry. If the game is level after 60 minutes, there will be a replay.
By Peter O’Connell