AIB All-Ireland Club SFC final:
St Brigid’s v Glen (Derry) at Croke Park on Sunday at 3.30 pm
It seems strange previewing an All-Ireland final at the end of January, but the players on both sides and the supporters will pass no heed on the timing of the game if they can win the Andy Merrigan Cup on Sunday.
Glen – or Watty Graham’s Gaelic Athletic Club, which is their official name – will go into Sunday’s game as the warm favourites, but it may not be as straightforward as some people think. This St Brigid’s team are young and talented and if they can play to their full potential then we are in for a cracking game.
The sporting Gods may well be on the side of the Derry men. They were narrowly beaten by Kilcoo in the Ulster final two years ago, and last year they were pipped by Kilmacud Crokes in an All-Ireland final that was mired in controversy. On that basis many will think that Glen’s time has come. But sport doesn’t work that way. If they are to win this All-Ireland they will have to go out and earn it on the day.
Make no mistake, this is the biggest test that St Brigid’s have faced in the championship so far. The fact that it is so hard to win the Roscommon championship has stood to Jerome Stack’s men since they won the Fahey Cup by a single point against Boyle.
Mohill gave Brigid’s as many headaches as they have faced so far in this championship, but it has to be said that the Roscommon champions were very impressive against Corofin in the Connacht final and indeed for most of the recent All-Ireland semi-final against Castlehaven.
Looking at both sides ahead of Sunday’s encounter, the clash that is sticking out for me is the battle at midfield between Emmett Bradley and Conor Glass and Shane Cunnane and Eddie Nolan. Both Derry players are outstanding and Glass is arguably the best midfielder in the country (alongside Brian Fenton). St Brigid’s will have to formulate a plan for that sector.
The brilliant Brian Stack will probably be detailed to mark the Glen top scorer Danny Tallon, but he may also have to shadow the very talented Ethan Doherty, who is another Glen dangerman.
While Conor Glass may get most of headlines for Glen, Ciaran McFaul has had a sensational year for them at centre half-back and his inspirational, driving play will have to be curtailed by Brigid’s on Sunday. He is a real leader on the Glen side.
Brigid’s will need to be firing on all cylinders on Sunday. They went out of the game for about 20 minutes against Castlehaven, and if that happens on Sunday they will be in bother. However, I have been really impressed with their young players up front who have stepped up to the mark in the last couple of games.
In the semi-final against Castlehaven Ben O’Carroll was not having his usual scintillating impact, and others like Conor Hand, Brian Derwin, Ciaran Sugrue, Robbie Dolan and Bobby Nugent all stepped up to the mark. They will all be needed again on Sunday.
Glen are a really good side but they are certainly not unbeatable. If Corofin were there on Sunday everyone would be giving them a favourite’s chance – and yet St Brigid’s beat them relatively comfortably in the Connacht final.
St Brigid’s have a very young team but every one of those lads are talented footballers. They will have to produce their best performance of the season if they are to win this game on Sunday. But they are well coached and have handled the big occasions well so far this year. I think the wide, open spaces in Croke Park will suit them if they can get their running game going.
It’s hard to predict anything other than a win for the Derry men, but sport by its nature is unpredictable, and if St Brigid’s really turn up on the day I am giving them a great chance of repeating the heroics of 2013 and taking the cup back to Kiltoom.
Prediction: St Brigid’s.