Athleague slight favourites in intriguing hurling decider

Roscommon SHC Final Padraig Pearses v Athleague (in Athleague on Sunday at 3.30 pm) The Form: Athleague qualified from their group at the top of the table and had to wait five weeks for a semi-final tilt at Oran. They were lucky to get a draw the first day but they won the replay very easily. They are very dependent on midfield star and captain Mervyn Connaughton for inspiration but they are going for two in a row and will be favourites to win.    Pearses have made steady progress this summer. They started slowly and were involved in a three-way play-off for a semi-final spot and in that game they beat Roscommon Gaels after a late scare. They are injury-free so they have a strong panel to choose from. The Managers – Pearses: John Donoghue;  Athleague: David Kelly. The Odds: Athleague 4/6 v Padraig Pearses 6/4; Draw 8/1. Top Scorers – Athleague: Mervyn Connaughton, Gary Fallon. Padraig Pearses: Shane Sweeney, Dara Mulvey. Key Players – Athleague: Colm Moran, Niall Connolly, David Connell, Mervyn Connaughton, Gary Fallon, Joe Fallon, Tommy Reddington. Pearses: Shane Sweeney, David Loughnane, Aidan Sweeney, Dara Mulvey, Robbie Donoghue, Anthony Sweeney. The Call: It’s a repeat of last year’s final, which saw Athleague pull away for a fairly comprehensive win. Pearses are very determined to reverse that result and they feel that they did not do themselves justice last year.    Pearses are a much stronger team this year than last and have five senior players back in their squad. Young David Loughnane has been very impressive with club and county his year and is an excellent full-back.    David’s brother Alan and Chris Sweeney will provide attacking options for Pearses in the half-back line but this game could well hinge on the battle in midfield where Robbie Donoghue and Aidan Sweeney will simply have to keep tabs on the inspirational Mervyn Connaughton. If they could do that then they are set fair to win the title.    Up front Pearses are strong. Shane Sweeney has been prolific this year and the goal threat will come from Dara Mulvey, who is back in flying form again, so Pearses need not worry  in that department.   Athleague have been very steady this summer. They have played well in almost every game and needed their games again Oran after a long lay-off. Davy Connell is a very solid goalkeeper and in front of him Colm Moran has had a great summer at full-back. Niall Connolly is playing really well too at centre half-back.    Mervyn Connaughton’s contribution to the Athleague effort this year is simply massive and if he plays up to his usual standard on Sunday then Athleague will be more than halfway there.    Up front Gary Fallon, Tommy Reddington, Alan Cunniffe and Declan McGeeney will be hoping to get the vital match-winning scores.   I have a feeling that we could see an upset in this match on Sunday but the four-week gap between Pearses’ semi-final win and the game on Sunday is holding me back from actually tipping John Donoghue’s men to win it.    I think that Pearses will be there or thereabouts but I also think that the battle-hardened men of Athleague with Mervyn Connaughton as an inspiration will just have enough to win it very narrowly. Prediction: Athleague.