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Stan Lineen, Eoghan Donnellan and Paul Flanagan will be hoping to be in similar form after thier encounter with Cork champions St Finbarr's this Sunday. Photograph by John Kelly

Ballyea look to vault the Barr on way to Munster Final

Eoin Brennan previews the Munster Senior, Intermediate and Junior Club Championship matches with Ballyea, Doora-Barefield and The Banner respectively flying the flag for Clare

Ballyea v St Finbarr’s (Cork) at Cusack Park Ennis, Sunday 1.15pm
Referee: Michael Kennedy, Tipperary.
Extra-time if necessary, result on the day

WHILE the bulk of the attention has been understandably centred on the Ennis Road in Limerick rather than Ennis itself, the fact remains that this is a glorious opportunity for either Ballyea or St Finbarr’s to return to a Munster Senior Club decider.

I say understandably because perennial Waterford winners Ballygunner and the Limerick champions have clashed in the last four provincial campaigns, three of which have been finals, with Na Piarsaigh edging matters in the 2017 and ’18 deciders whereas Ballygunner finally got over the line against Kilmallock in 2021 on their way to dramatic All-Ireland glory.

Only Borris-leigh have interrupted the Limerick v Waterford Munster club final sequence since 2017 and incidentally Ballyea brushed aside the challenge of Cork champions Glen Rovers in what was their unforgettable breakthrough season of 2016.

The resurgence of the city clubs has been an interesting feature of the championship scene in the Rebel County in recent seasons as Glen Rovers, Blackrock (2020) and now St Finbarr’s have all bridged major gaps in getting back to the summit.

The thing is that while this will be Ballyea’s fourth provincial campaign in seven seasons, with their only defeats coming at the hands of Ballygunner, it’s 29 years since the Barrs were representing Cork.

That said they are the most decorated dual club in the country and still the only side to win both All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling and Football crowns.

Of course, the Togher-based side did play in the Munster Senior Club Football Championship last year, actually taking out Éire Óg at the penultimate stage.

However, while half of the Townies side are dual players, there is only a crossover of three players in St Finbarr’s ranks which only further emphasises the large pick at their disposal.

St Finbarr’s great tradition is still represented by the likes of manager Ger Cunningham whose son Ben has been one of the major reasons why St Finbarr’s are back at the top in Cork.

The Barrs freetaker and major ball winner on the wing is joined by the Cahalane brothers Damien, Conor and Jack, who like their father Niall play football with Castlehaven.

Niall was a Blackrock hurler but Cork seniors Damien (Centre-back), Conor (Centre-forward) and the roaming Jack (corner-forward) form a strong spine for the Barrs that will be essential to their progress on Sunday.

The thing is that Ballyea are well equipped to deal with anything that St Finbarr’s have in their armoury, with Paul Flanagan, Jack Browne, Peter Casey, Brandon O’Connell and James Murphy all utilised in shadowing roles throughout their back-to-back Canon Hamilton winning season.

Pearse Lillis should occupy Damien Cahalane so it will be interesting to see if the Barrs have similar man-markers to be able to curb the likes of Tony Kelly and Niall Deasy who tend to be fluid in their positioning whereas Aaron Griffin and Mossy Gavin have the ability to exploit the space if the Barrs chose to employ specific markers.

It’s largely a step into the unknown but with Ballyea playing six of their seven championship matches in Cusack Park this year, that should present a major advantage to the hosts. On the flip side, Cork’s representatives haven’t won a single Munster Senior Club matches since Glen Rovers in 2016, a six year hiatus that realistically doesn’t look like altering this Sunday.

Intermediate Championship hurling semi-final (Extra Time if Necessary – Result on the Day)
Monaleen (Limerick) v St. Joseph’s Doora/Barefield at Fitzgerald Park Kilmallock, Saturday 1.15pm (Kevin Jordan, Tipperary)

Having already clashed on their last returns to senior level in 2016, there was almost a sense of inevitability when St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield and Monaleen were pitted together once more, this time for a coveted place in a Munster decider.

That quarter-final encounter six years previous appeared to be in St Joseph’s hands only to tire coming down the final straight, allowing an Andrew La Touche Cosgrave-led Monaleen to hit the last five points to force extra-time. W

ith the pendulum of momentum behind them and St Joseph’s accumulating injuries, the Limerick champions, who had Clonlara’s Jimmy Browne as manager, eventually prevailed in commanding fashion by 2-21 to 3-13, only to fall to Kilmoyley at the semi-final stage.

While Monaleen admirably remained in the top tier until 2021, St Joseph’s fell through the senior trapdoor much sooner in 2018 and despite holding the favourites tag and contesting two intermediate deciders since, only finally inched over the line this year.

The thing is that it’s now the Parish that have the greater experience as more than half of their side still remains from 2016 whereas Monaleen are expected to only start with less than a handful of the side that faced Doora/Barefield that day.

Captain and centre-back Lorcan Lyons is a former Limerick senior as is La Touche Cosgrave who only made his long-awaited return for a final quarter cameo in the county final against Bruff three weeks ago.

Donnacha Ó Dálaigh (corner-forward) and Lochlann McHale (midfield) were part of the Limerick Under 20 squad that won Munster and contested the All-Ireland decider against Kilkenny while in the absence of chief marksmen Andrew La Touche Cosgrave, spinal forwards Mark O’Dwyer and Ed Doyle have certainly stepped up to the mark.

St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield meanwhile have a game under their belts which should stand to them and having edged their county semi-final and final outings after extra-time, they are battle-hardened and have developed a never-say-die attitude that is pivotal for any winning side.

Add in their superior strength-in-depth which has been a major aspect of their last three championship wins and the Parish possess all the ingredients to exact revenge.
The only stumbling block is the field as depending on the weather, Kilmallock is prone to being muddy which would be a real leveller and make the outcome almost akin to a toss of a coin.

Munster Junior Club Championship Semi-Final (Extra Time if Necessary – Result on the Day)
Banner v St Kieran’s (Limerick) at Cusack Park Ennis, Saturday 1.15pm (Alan Tierney, Tipperary)

Let’s get the inevitable contrasts out of the way. It’s well documented by now that the Banner exited the Clare Junior A Championship at the quarter-final stage ten weeks ago.

However, major credit is due to them as not everyone would have viewed a potential Munster Junior Championship as another stepping stone in their development.

As the last flagship team standing in the county, they welcomed a historic trip to Kerry and edged a worthy battle with Kilgarvan to tee up another showdown against a county champion, this time Limerick winners St Kieran’s.

A West Limerick club that is senior at football level, St Kieran’s, following their county final defeat in 2021, hold a perfect eight match championship record so far this year which makes them arguably the most difficult challenge that Banner have faced thus far.

What does augur well for the Banner is the acquisition of Cusack Park for Saturday’s tie as while they have limited experience of playing there themselves, their age profile is more conducive to the expanses of Clare’s county grounds.

St Kieran’s are a more seasoned outfit who will inevitably bring the battle but following his 2-11 haul against Kilgarvan, this tie appears ideal to showcase the immense talents of Clare senior Shane Meehan that could well be the tipping point for the Ennis side to extend their remarkable journey into a first ever Munster Final.

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