BY TOM LYONS
BEFORE a ball was ever kicked in the Rowa/Rowex Pharma JAFC this season, last year’s beaten finalists Kilmacabea were installed as favourites as champions Bandon had departed the grade.
Some experts were looking further west, however, and were keeping a sharp eye on Gabriel Rangers, talented but unpredictable since their only title win in 2010. The sides now meet in a glamour semi-final clash in Aughaville on Sunday, at 6.30pm, many predicting the winners will go on to win the final.
Gabriels caught the eye early in the year, jumping to the top of the league, while Kilmac struggled with injuries. When the sides met in the league in April, Gabriels won by 0-12 to 0-8 but not Kilmac top the table with six wins from nine games, while Gabriels have won five from seven.
In the opening round of the championship Gabriels met Dohenys’ second string with goals from Eddie Goggin and Mark Cronin helping them to push on to a 2-14 to 0-7 win. Meanwhile, Kilmacabea, faced a really tough game against St Colum’s, minus the injured Ger O’Donovan, and had to go to extra time to secure a draw, 1-11 to 0-14, Sam O’Driscoll with a vital goal. The replay was even tougher as Kilmac led by three at half-time and five with ten minutes remaining. Again, however, extra time was needed but veteran Karl McCarthy kicked a superb free to give his side a 0-13 to 0-12 win.
Third-round opponents for Gabriels were Castlehaven’s second string, with Goggin getting two goals in a 2-14 to 0-9 win. Kilmacabea faced Kilmeen, last year’s county B champions, and had to field without ace forwards, Richie O’Sullivan and Ger O’Donovan. Ultimately, a Liam Thompson goal gave them a 1-10 to 0-9 victory.
In the quarter-final, Gabriels came up against a depleted Clann na nGael side in Bantry but struggled for 40 minutes as Clann cut off the supply of ball to the forwards. It was 0-6 to 0-4 at the break but a much improved second half saw Goggin and Chris Moynihan raise green flags in a 2-15 to 1-6 victory. Kilmacabea were up by Plunkett’s and trailed trailed 0-4 to 0-1 early on but levelled by half-time and 1-5 from Ger O’Donovan helped them to a 1-10 to 0-6 win.
Kilmac will again hope for a strong defensive display on Sunday from Carbery player Niall Hayes and outstanding wing-backs Clive Sweetnam and Sam O’Driscoll, with the Jennings, Thomas and Mark, manning the two corners in front of reliable goalie Matthew O’Neill. Niall McCarthy has been very consistent at centre back.
Young, lively Martin Collins will partner veteran Tom Sheahan at midfield and in attack, Richie O’Sullivan, Ger O’Donovan, Donal O’Donovan and Liam Thompson will lead the search for scores.
Gabriel’s are noted as an attacking team but in Liam Hegarty, Kieran O’Callaghan, Cathal Newman, Ger O’Callaghan and Richard Moynihan they have a solid defence in front of goalie Darren O’Mahony. The big Stephen O’Mahony provides the power at midfield, along with Donal O’Sullivan, and their talented attack contains outstanding forwards Eddie Goggin, Mark Cronin, Chris Moynihan and Seán Kelleher.
Verdict: Both teams contain some of the best forwards in the division and whichever attack gets the better supply of ball could swing this game. Both defences are solid and hard-working, with the Kilmacs’ half back line vital to their chances.
But this game could hinge on the battle at midfield, O’Mahony and O’Sullivan against Collins and Sheahan. Much will depend on the form of O’Mahony and if he can get enough ball into Goggin, Cronin and Moynihan, then one has to fancy Gabriels. On the other hand, if Collins can supply O’Sullivan and O’Donovan with plenty ball, the Kilmacs could be singing.
Forced to choose, we would opt for Gabriels by a couple of points.