Friday, November 28, 2014
Sunday, November 30
AIB Munster Senior Football Club Championship Final
Austin Stacks (Kerry) v The Nire (Waterford), Páirc Ui Chaoimh, 2pm* (Note change of venue)
Sunday’s Munster senior football club final brings together two clubs in desperate want of a provincial crown.
Tralee side Austin Stacks, one of the most iconic GAA clubs in Kerry, have won 12 Kerry Senior Football Championships but only won Munster Senior crown. That solitary victory was way back in 1976, the same season they went on to win their sole All-Ireland title.
Until this year, their last victory in the Kerry Senior Championship was back in 1994, so it’s been one of the most welcome winters at Austin Stack Park in two decades or perhaps more as they celebrate a new era of success. It’s no use only getting to a final though, and Sunday’s game is a huge one for the Stacks and their colourful supporters.
For Waterford champions The Nire, it’s an arguably even more significant occasion. Having lost five Waterford SFC finals to Stradbally over the last 12 years, this year’s 0-11 to 0-6 victory over the same opposition in the county final was a sweet release.
Munster Club Championship
2013: Dr Crokes (Kerry)
2012: Dr Crokes (Kerry)
2011: Dr Crokes (Kerry)
2010: Nemo Rangers (Cork)
2009: Kilmurry-Ibrickane (Clare)
When it was followed by a win over Limerick champions Ballylanders and then by a gutsy extra-time victory over fancied Clare champions Cratloe in the Munster semi-final two weeks ago, a dream dawned. No Waterford club side has ever won the Munster football club championship before and The Nire now have a chance to make history this Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
The Nire themselves came close in 2006, losing a tight provincial final by three points to Dr Crokes, and manager Benji Whelan said this week that part of the reason for that defeat was that reaching the final was seen as an achievement in itself, something he is eager to avoid this weekend.
“We have been eager to dampen that down and ensure that the players are focused on the ultimate goal which is to be the number one club in Munster,” he said. “I think we have it within our remit to do that job. It will be very difficult but certainly it is one of the motivating factors that there is unfinished business in that department.”
The 1-13 to 2-8 win over Cratloe highlighted the qualities of The Nire. Coming from the Nire valley on the border with Co. Tipperary, the club is bound up tightly with its hurling equivalent, Fourmilewater, and the two share many players.
Conor Gleeson, a gifted hurler, struck 1-2 from play in the win over Cratloe while Jamie Barron and Shane Walsh, known for their hurling exploits with the Waterford senior hurling team, contributed 0-6 between them in the victory. Liam Lawlor, full-forward for the Nire, has been a key defender for the Waterford hurlers as well over the years and the Nire can also call upon the O’Gorman brothers, Maurice and Thomas, who have played football for Munster at Railway Cup level.
(The Nire’s Conor Gleeson)
Their credentials are obvious, but Austin Stacks are still warm favourites with the bookmakers for Sunday’s game. They were impressive winners of the Kerry Championship, dismantling a strong Mid Kerry representation in the county final replay with a 2-13 to 1-7 win.
An even more telling indication of their strength was their 0-15 to 1-9 victory over Ballincollig (Cork) in the Munster semi-final a fortnight ago. Although the game went to extra-time after John Miskella’s injury-time leveller for Ballincollig, Stacks were by a distance the better side and should have won more comfortably.
Their ease and comfort in retaining possession was evident throughout but what was most impressive was the clinical manner in which they successfully switched emphasis in the first half. With the Ballincollig defence keeping Kieran Donaghy under control at full-forward, Stacks brought him out into the middle and changed the gameplan.
It worked brilliantly. Donaghy gave a fine display of clever ball-winning and link play, while players such as Greg Horan, David Mannix and Pat McCarthy came to the fore and popped up with decisive scores at key moments.
Whether in the middle third or at full-forward, Donaghy – who missed out on the All Stars trip this week to remain with his club – is vital for Stacks and his manager Stephen Stack gave an insight into his importance this week.
“People have probably only seen him since he came back in with Kerry, for the Mayo game,” said Stack. “But he had been working phenomenally hard, since the start of the year, to try and get himself right and I’m really glad things came right for him in the finish.
“As ever for us he has had a very strong influence all year. Because even when he couldn’t train with us, which he couldn’t, most of the time, because of his commitment with Kerry, he very often came down to our sessions anyway. I often got him involved, like taking the B team, when we were playing an A v B game, and if we were doing tactical pieces, I’d also involve him. I actually think he has great potential, as a coach, ultimately.”
Sunday’s match was originally scheduled to take place in Páirc Uí Rinn, but due to remedial work being carried out at the ground, it has since been switched to Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The winners will face the winners of this weekend’s Ulster final between Slaughtneil and Omagh in the All-Ireland semi-final next February.
Preview: Arthur Sullivan