Brigids bid to block Ballina

AIB Connacht Club SFC Final: Ballina Stephenites (Mayo) v St. Brigids (Roscommon) at James Stephens Park, Ballina (next Sunday at 2 pm) The Form: Ballina regained their Mayo SFC title with a comfortable win over Charlestown, having beaten favourites Ballaghaderreen by two points is a high-quality semi-final. The Ballina men then overcame a dogged Tourlestrane side by four points, 1-8 to 1-4, in the Connacht semi-final two weeks ago.   St. Brigids also were comfortable winners of the Roscommon SFC title (their third in a row) when they beat St.  Faithleachs. Brigids scored a very impressive 4-10, dismissing the challenge of Galway champions Killererin in the semi-final in Tuam two weeks ago to reach their third Connacht club final in a row. The Managers: Anthony Cunningham (St. Brigids); Liam Higgins (Ballina Stephenites).  The Odds: Ballina 4/5 v St. Brigids 5/4; Draw 13/2. Key Players – Ballina: Kenny Golden, Enda Devanney, David Brady, Ger Brady, Ronan McGarrity, Patrick Harte. St Brigids: Ger Aherne, Mark O’Carroll, Karol Mannion, Frankie Dolan, David O’Connor, Cathal McHugh.  The Call: This promises to be a very intriguing game between the two best club teams in Connacht right now. Brigids have copperfastened their place as the kingpins of Roscommon club football with a third Fahy Cup in a row and their growing reputation as a team to be reckoned with was further enhanced by an excellent performance against Killererin in a high-scoring semi-final two weeks ago in Tuam. That was a game in which they played some excellent football.   However the challenge they will face from Ballina will be an entirely different one than that faced against Killererin. Firstly it is right to point out that Ballina certainly do not have a player of the ability of Padraig Joyce, who terrorised Brigids in Tuam, but overall Ballina will be much stronger opposition.   The Mayo champions will start with at least 11 players who have All-Ireland Club medals already in their back pockets (won in 2005) and, at club level in particular, there is no substitute for experience.   I have been most impressed with the excellent form of Brigids’ midfielders Karol Mannion and Mark O’Carroll this year. They are improving with every game but on Sunday they will face their biggest test yet when they encounter the brilliant Ronan McGarrity and Mayo senior inter-county veteran David Brady.   McGarrity has recovered from a major health scare earlier this year and is now playing some of the best football of his career while Brady is a battle-hardened ‘old-stager.’    Ger Brady and Patrick Harte are also excelllent players up front for Ballina so Brigids will have to be ready for a mighty -and very physical – battle on Sunday.   I have also been very impressed with flying Ballina half-back Enda Devanney over the years and his frequent sallies  forward are an integral part of the Ballina gameplan.   Brigids this year have a much stronger panel than last year. Ger Aherne and Darragh Donnelly will have their hands full down the centre of the defence and Brigids will be hoping that the youthful   zest and skill of Niall Grehan and Peter Domican can be a positive factor in the  Brigids defence.    It’s up front that Brigids have all the aces. David ‘Jimmy Nail’ O’Connor was sensational in the semi-final and he remains Brigids’ chief dangerman.    Cathal McHugh has now established himself as a quality, high-scoring corner-forward and Senan Kilbride is a growing influence at full-forward.    I would like to see Frankie Dolan, Garvan Dolan and John Tiernan contributing more on the scoreboard as they will be needed in what looks like a low-scoring battle.   If the game was played on a dry pitch like the semi-final I would have no hesitation in going for a comfortable Brigids win, however the weather conditions have changed dramatically in the past few days so the game is likely to be played on a heavy pitch and in poor weather and that will suit Ballina’s more physical approach.   The key to the outcome may well depend on the big battle at midfield between four very good players – Mark O’Carroll, Karol Mannion, Ronan McGarrity and David Brady. If Brigids can gain even parity there, they could be in business.   I predict a low-scoring battle and 10 points could be good enough to win it. It may even take a replay to sort the teams out but I am convinced that Brigids have the stronger panel overall and if it is not working out they have good subs to bring in.   I hope that there is a huge Roscommon  following for Anthony Cunningham’s team  and it would be a great boost to Roscommon football if they could win another Connacht title. I think it will be desperately close but I also think that Brigids will win it. Prediction: St. Brigids.