Pearses can prevail

Hodson Bay Hotel SFC Final: Padraig Pearses v St Brigid’s at Dr Hyde Park on Sunday at 3 pm

After what has been a splendid championship played in the strangest of summers, there are two familiar sides contesting this final, although it is not the pairing that everyone was expecting.

Most avid football followers would agree that St. Brigid’s have some of the finest young players in the county, and having won so many U-21 and minor titles in recent years, there was probably a consensus that they would be the team to beat at senior level over the coming years.

However, it was felt that 2020 might be a year or two too soon for these young guns to actually win a Fahey Cup. With several experienced players as back-up, these exceptionally talented lads have stepped up to the mark this summer and have lit up this championship with some scintillating football. They are certainly in this final on merit. In fact it has been a pleasure to watch them playing.

For Pearses, it has been a less spectacular journey to another decider. Having made history last year, it is no surprise to see them back in the final, but they have yet to reach top form in this campaign. That said, the experience that they have gained from last year’s campaign is standing to them, and it certainly was a major factor in their narrow win against Clann na nGael in the semi-final.

A mouth-watering final is in prospect. The Brigid’s young guns have been magnificent. Pearse Frost, Paul McGrath, Ruaidhri Fallon, Donnacha Gately, Brian Derwin, Ciaran Sugrue, Ben O’Carroll and Jack McDonnell are just some of the talented players who have been brilliant at this level and on the evidence of what we have seen so far it would take a brave person to suggest that their time has not come yet.

All the talk about the young Brigid’s players has ignored the fact that there are several top class experienced performers on Benny O’Brien’s team who provide the composure and championship know-how that is so important at this level.

James Martin, Peter Domican, Eoin and Darragh Sheehy, Ronan Stack, Brian Stack, Eddie Nolan and Gearoid Cunniffe have all been there, seen that and bought loads of t-shirts! This is certainly not a Brigid’s team full of rookies.

Pearses will be the first to admit that they are in the final without ever reaching the heights that we saw in 2019. They stuttered out of their group with a draw against Boyle, a win against Michael Glavey’s and a loss against Tulsk. But in the quarter-final they picked up considerably and scored 0-19 against Roscommon Gaels. It was in the semi-final against Clann that Pearses really showed their mettle. It was a fierce battle against their neighbours but Pearses held their nerve and showed their composure to come out on top by a point. It was a game that Pearses teams in the past would almost certainly have lost. There is a new steel about them since winning the title last year and that could prove vital on Sunday.

While Pearses have yet to reach their best form in this championship, manager Pat Flanagan and his selectors will be delighted at the form of some of the so-called ‘lesser lights’ this year. The likes of Shane Mulvey, Gavin Downey, Shane Carty, Emmett Kelly and Conor Payne have been outstanding this year and that is a big plus for the champions.

Ronan Daly is having a fantastic championship at centre half-back and it almost goes without saying that the other Daly brothers, Niall, Conor and Lorcan – and David Murray – will all have huge roles to play on Sunday.

Hubert Darcy and Paul Carey have not been in the same lethal form as they were in 2019 and Pearses will be hoping that next Sunday is the day when they cut loose. Having said that Niall Carty has shown great leadership at centre half-forward this term too.

St. Brigid’s have been by far the most attractive team to watch this summer. The manner in which they disposed of a good Boyle team in the semi-final in particular is a warning to Pearses that they are a top class side.

I would pay good money to see the likes of Ruaidhri Fallon, Ben O’Carroll, Ciaran Sugrue and Brian Derwin in action. They are brilliant young players who we will see for many years in the St. Brigid’s and Roscommon shirts.

However, Pearses have something that is so important in championship football and that’s experience. Looking at their route to the final, Pearses have had tougher games and they are improving all the time. The manner of their win against Clann in the semi-final will have given them a huge boost for this final.

They do not want to be looked upon as the team that eventually won their county senior title and then faded away again. St. Brigid’s will be around for many years to come but this might just be a bridge too far on Sunday. I am tipping the scales towards Pearses. But only just.

Prediction: Padraig Pearses.