The clash of six times defending champions Portlaoise and this year’s Division 1 League Champions Graiguecullen is a rerun of the 2011 County Final and is the pick of the games on a pivotal week in the Senior Football Championship
While both sides won their opening games, they did so in contrasting fashion. Portlaoise needed a superb late save from goalkeeper Michael Nolan to overcome The Heath while Graiguecullen put on a masterclass for 30 minutes against Portarlington on their way to a comfortable win.
Portlaoise are missing several members of the team that beat Arles-Kilcruise in last year’s final and in their opening game they looked a shadow of the side that has gone unbeaten for the last six campaigns. Graiguecullen are brimful of confidence at the minute and they will certainly fancy their chances of inflicting a rare championship defeat on Portlaoise.
That game is at 7.30pm on Saturday evening and is preceded by another mouth-watering clash between neighbours Killeshin and Arles-Kilcruise.
Intermediate champions in 2011, Killeshin win a thriller in the opening round against Timahoe and the former Celebrity Bainisteoir stars will be going all out to take another high profile scalp this time around. Despite scoring 1-7 in a 12 minute burst either side of half-time in their opener with Emo, Arles-Kilcruise failed to score in the last 23 minutes of the game and in the end were hanging on for the win. They will go into the game as favourites however the finalists in three of the last four years will need an improved performance to avoid a trip through the back door.
On Sunday Arles-Killeen and Stradbally will battle it out for an automatic place in the quarter-finals when they go head to head at 1.30pm. Stradbally eventually got past The Rock with points to spare at the second attempt but they were very lucky to have that extra bite at the cherry. Arles-Killeen meanwhile reproduced their league form when they faced Ballylinan and a return of 1-15 shows the attacking threat they pose. They are still in search of their first elusive county title but they will be favourites to go one step closer going into this game.
The final game of the Round 2 games where a place in the quarter-finals is up for grabs sees the two highest scoring teams of the first round going head to head in what has the potential to be a hugely entertaining shoot-out. Mountmellick caused the shock of the opening round scoring 2-14 as they saw off St Joseph’s. O’Dempsey’s for their part dispatched Crettyard with ease scoring 3-13 in the process. If both sides stick with their attacking game plans, this could be the most entertaining game of the weekend.
While the protagonists in the games above are battling for a spot in the quarter-finals, the teams involved in the Round 2 qualifiers are battling for their survival .
First up on Friday evening is Timahoe and Crettyard. Timahoe will still be missing a number of high quality players but if Padraig Clancy is fit to start, the side will be greatly improved. Crettyard more than held their own in the league this year but they were blitzed by O’Dempsey’s in their opening game.
Two of the sides who were candidates for relegation before the season started go head to head on Saturday afternoon with the winner knowing their senior status is assured for another year. Both The Rock and The Heath can consider themselves unlucky to be in the qualifiers as they had their chances to defeat Stradbally and Portlaoise respectively. Unfortunately neither could seal the deal. The Heath will have to nullify the scoring threat of Shane O’Connell while also trying to find the scoring touch which has been their Achilles heel so far this year.
The other two qualifiers take place on Sunday with Ballylinan and Emo going head to head while Portarlington face off against St Joseph’s. Last year’s Intermediate Champions Emo showed enough in their second-half against Arles-Kilcruise to suggest they should be able to overcome Ballylinan while the clash of Portarlington and St Joseph’s on first round form should be a close run thing and could potentially be the game that needs a replay to find a winner.