Band of Brothers Takes Centre Stage for Club Finals
A CROKE PARK double-header on St Patrick’s Day for the AIB GAA All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Finals should make for one of the most exciting evenings in the 2017 GAA calendar.
With later throw-in times than usual at HQ, the atmosphere around Jones' Road next Friday is bound to be even livelier as four clubs come to the hallowed ground in search of the ultimate honour in club GAA.
For the first time a Dublin club will feature in the hurling final as Cuala taking on Clare champions Ballyea – also first-time finalists – at 3pm. This novel pairing features two clubs who have ploughed massive resources into their underage development and now get to showcase their efforts on the biggest stage.
Cuala, from the south Dublin suburb of Dalkey, have formed a hurling oasis in a huge rugby hotbed and, in Con O'Callaghan, they boast one of the most thrilling attackers in modern-day hurling.
To see O'Callaghan try to outsmart and outscore former Hurler of the Year, Ballyea's Tony Kelly, will be worth the admission fee alone in what should be a wide open and free-flowing game.
And though the two clubs are almost 270km apart, the prospect of two brothers playing against each other makes this All-Ireland final even more special. Former Ballyea player Niall Keane switched to Cuala last season but togging out for his former club is Niall's brother, Aonghus. If the two make it on the field together it will truly be an extraordinary feat.
At 5pm, the football final sees Slaughtneil tackle Kerry kings Dr Crokes. After losing to Cuala in the hurling semi-final a fortnight ago, Slaughtneil, who have 12 dual players in their ranks, will be desperate to leave Croke Park with silverware following the great success of their Championship winning camogie team last weekend. This is their second All-Ireland Football Final appearance after their heartbreaking 2015 defeat to Corofin.
On the other side of the fence it will be Dr Crokes' third time featuring in an All-Ireland. 'Crokes beat Thomas Davis in the 1992 final and lost to Crossmaglen Rangers in the 2007 replayed final, so they have plenty of motivation as they seek to land a second title.
An intriguing tussle to look out for will be the expected duel between the Gooch, Colm Cooper, one of the greatest forwards of all time, up against Derry and Slaughtneil talisman, Chrissy McKeigue, who completely nullified the threat of St Vincent's Diarmuid Connolly in their recent semi-final meeting.
In both finals something will have to give and it all makes for a fascinating evening at HQ. The new throw-in times at Croke Park give people the opportunity to really make the Club Finals an integral part of the national holiday and allow them to soak up the atmosphere in the Capital and marry the St Patrick's festivities with a feast of GAA action.