BY DENIS HURLEY
WHEN Ballincollig and Carbery Rangers met each other in the county final two years ago, the Rosscarbery outfit were the pre-game favourites, having won all but one of the clubs’ championship ties in the five years beforehand.
While Ballincollig had been successful in 2010 – Ross won after a replay in ’09 – the games in the fourth rounds of 2011 and ’12 went the way of the West Cork side, with the tally growing wider the second year. On top of that, in 2014 the pre-season Tadhg Crowley Cup final between the teams was also won by Rangers, 0-14 to 0-7.
The general consensus appeared to be correct when they scored the first seven points in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and again, when, having been brought back to a point by Ballincollig, Seamus Hayes’s goal provided breathing space again. Instead, it was to be Ballincollig’s day.
So, the question is whether it will become a rivalry like, say, Kerry and Mayo in All-Ireland finals, where one side is dominant, or Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker in the Wimbledon men’s finals from 1988-90 – evenly poised and decided on fine margins, Edberg winning the first and third and
Becker the second?
There won’t be much in it, that’s for sure, and it would be rough justice on Ross if they were to fall just short for the second time in three years, having been semi-finalists every year since 2009 with the exception of 2013.
Ballincollig have slowly found a rhythm, riding their luck in earning a draw with CIT before then seeing off the two finalists from last year, Nemo Rangers and Castlehaven.
They were two very different victories too – against the Haven in the quarter-final, they wove together an outstanding display; then in the last year Nemo were given a headstart of 1-3 but still reeled in in a dogged fashion.
There’s no doubt that they can play if they are allowed to, and midfielders Seán Kiely and Ciarán O’Sullivan give them a powerful platform, but Ross are a serious unit too.
In the past, there might have been question marks about their defence but they have tightened considerably and haven’t let in a goal since the first round. It’s easy to say that they won the semi-final against Avondhu comfortably but they didn’t let Avondhu play, with the swift running game, which had put O’Donovan Rossa, Ilen Rovers, Newcestown and Duhallow to the sword, unable to cope with the Ross pressure.
James Fitzpatrick and Kevin MacMahon should break even at worst with Kiely and O’Sullivan; after that, the question is about the quality of ball into John and Seamus Hayes. John O’Rourke and Chris O’Donovan, among others, will do their best to ensure that the supply is plentiful and, crucially, Ross have the versatility and the depth to operate in a number of different configurations, depending on the situation and if Ballincollig throw a tactical sidewinder.
Finals are for winning and so high-scoring classics are rare; in the past, that might have mitigated against Ross but they have enough about them to grind this one out.
Verdict: Carbery Rangers