Senior Football Championship Final

BIG MATCH PREVIEW | Gaels primed to land Joe Ward

Senior Football Championship Final

Caoimhín Reilly


Caoimhín Reilly


BIG MATCH PREVIEW | Gaels primed to land Joe Ward

HANDING OVER THE CROWN? Dundalk Gaels' Derek Crilly and Shane Brennan of Sean O'Mahony's. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)

Having backed the Newtown Blues to win Joe Ward while they languished pointless at the foot of the Division One league table, one takes quite a bit of satisfaction from their run to the senior final.

In fact, stemming from their opening-day defeat of Kilkerley Emmets, there were ominous signs that the aristocratic heavyweight of Louth club football were once again forerunning the pack chasing Joe Ward.

And their tradition in finals, along with their impressiveness in winning each of their matches to date in an abundance of style, has them installed as favourites approaching Sunday’s date with Dundalk Gaels.

The outcome of the game could prove not too dissimilar to their last final – 2013 - where Cooley Kickhams threatened to end their long wait on Joe Ward before their charge tailed off as the Blues displayed their superior nous.

Like then, the Blues are the more outstanding prospect on paper. Their offensive department is prolific, while defenders Kevin Carr, Cormac Reynolds and Niall Costello have enjoyed very strong championship campaigns.

Similarly, the Gaels’ defensive unit has been very strong with Jamie Faulkner commanding at full-back, however, the question persists over whether their forwards can outgun the Blues’. Will the Gaels score enough, while simultaneously keeping tabs on Ross Nally at the opposite end?

Therein could lie the problem, however. If all the Gaels’ defensive laurels are placed on preventing Nally from doing damage, the likes of Robert Carr or Conor Moore could be the difference, as could the creative genius of Ciarán Downey around the fringes or Colm Judge’s penetrative runs from deep.

Offensively, the Blues pose a variety of problems, perhaps too great for even the most well-oiled of defensive contraptions such as that of the Gaels.

Gaels manager Malachy O’Rourke has stressed the need for them to concentrate on “maximising” their game plan, and this is true. But how they deal with the occasion is the crucial variable.

It’s all well and good performing to this stage and, while they have plenty of experience sprinkled throughout the team, there has long been mental deficiencies with the Gaels at the do-or-die stage.

Granted they have achieved credibility for reaching three semi-finals in four seasons, but the elephant in the room is why it took them until the fourth attempt – if you count the replay with the Dreadnots in 2014 – to finally take that extra step.

Should the pressure get to them in the final, perhaps if they fall a few points in arrears, their ability to break out at speed and hit teams with decisive scoring bursts could fall flat. And that is where the Blues will thrive. Ronan Phillips’ troops are masters at smelling, and then punishing, their opposition’s self doubt.

But one gets the sense that the Gaels are ripe and primed to end their long wait. As many as eight of the Blues’ starters have Minor Championship medals from recent seasons, but, like the Gaels’ XV, they are yet to taste, or learn about what it takes to claim, senior success.

In many ways, the teams are novices at this stage. As stressed, whoever settles into their groove the better will probably prevail.

Personally, it’s more a case of ‘I can’t see how the Gaels will be beaten’ rather than 'why the Blues will win’. So, for that reason, I reckon Joe Ward will be making the significantly shorter trip from the Point Road to the Ramparts as opposed to residing in Newfoundwell for a record 21st time.

Verdict: Gaels