BY TOM LYONS
WILL it be Gabriel Rangers or St Colum’s for their second South West junior A football title on Sunday?
Gabriels won their only title in 2010, while Colum’s won theirs in 2013. This battle of the western giants, both sides among the favourites from the start of the season, should draw a large crowd to Aughaville on Sunday, at 2pm.
This is one of those games that is very difficult to call, so closely matched are the teams. Earlier in the season, Gabriels would have been installed as favourites as they topped section 1 of the league and ploughed a direct route through the championship, whereas Colum’s struggled early on in the league and had to take the backdoor route in the championship, losing a replayed first round game to Kilmacabea.
That meant Colum’s had to play six championship games, as opposed to four for Gabriels, as well as preparing for the hurling final.
However, it’s now four weeks since Gabriels played their semi-final against Kilmacabea and in those weeks Colum’s have played the hurling final and two games in the football championship. Those extra games seemed to have really sharpened Colums’ game, while Gabriels have lost their place at the top of the league table, losing to St James’. Colum’s have recovered in the league to lie fourth. Advantage Colum’s who seem to be peaking right now while Gabriels may be losing their early-season edge.
Looking at the scoring averages, there is little between the sides.
Colum’s in their six games have scored 5-81 and conceded 1-51, that’s an average of 1-13 to 0-9. In their four games, Gabriels have scored 8-50 and conceded 1-33, an average per game of 2-12 to 0-9. That gives Gabriels a very slight advantage.
Deeper study shows that Gabriels have scored two goals in each of their games while Colum’s have kicked only five in six games. They say goals win games but very much worth noting is that Colum’s have conceded only one single goal in six games.
Colum’s defence has been outstanding in all encounters, especially since their first round games against Kilmacabea. They have employed a very defensive set-up in the early parts of their games with the wing forwards, Denis McSweeney and Tony Harrington, doing a huge amount of covering back in defence. Full forward Gene McCarthy is another who is likely to pop up all over the pitch. When the game opens up in the second half, they push forward a lot more and usually win their games in that second half. The half-back line of Michael Casey, Shane McSweeney and, especially, Ben Murphy, are well capable of pushing forward to kick scores.
While Gabriels are not quite as defence-minded as Colum’s their defence has conceded only nine points in every game, an amazing record of consistency.
Their strong line is the also the half-back line of Ger O’Callaghan, Richard Moynihan and Liam Hegarty and they will be very hard to break down on Sunday.
How both attacks perform will depend greatly on the supply of ball from midfield and here we should have a great battle between two real giants, Alan O’Connor and Stephen O’Mahony. Whoever wins this battle could well decide the game but we must not forget their partners as well. In the semi-final Gabriels opted for the experienced Pat Nolan, over the hard-working Donal O’Sullivan, while Martin Hurley is turning into a fine player for Colum’s.
Without doubt, Gabriels possess the most lethal attack in the championship, with Eddie Goggin, Mark Cronin and Chris Moynihan all great score-getters.
For Colum’s, Sean O’Shea, Eoghan O’Sullivan, Gene McCarthy, Denis McSweeney and Dermot Cronin are all capable of raising flags but not as prolific as Goggin and Cronin. If there is a worry about the Colums’ attack, it is their failure to convert some fine goal-chances into scores.
It will be intriguing to see how the classy Gabriels’ attack comes to grips with the massed Colums’ defence. This is where this game could really be decided.
Verdict: St Colum’s phenomenal work rate and greater physical strength should just shade the issue.