IF the semi-final performances of Emo and Ballyroan Abbey are anything to go by, this Sunday’s Intermediate Football Final should be awash with goals.
Between them they netted ten times in their semi-finals when seeing off the challenge of Annanough and Ballyfin respectively. Those results set up a mouth watering final and while Emo are the favourites to return to the senior ranks, it’s a brave pundit who would right off a Ballyroan Abbey side who have the potential and the ability to upset the odds.
After suffering a shock relegation from the top flight last year, Emo march into the final with a 100% record with their only close call coming against their opponents this Sunday Ballyroan Abbey in their final game in Group A.
Apart from that game which they won by a single point, Emo have cut a swath through the championship winning their other three games by a combined total of 40 points.
In county senior Billy Sheehan and rising star Evan Costello, they have a lethal two man inside line who will spearhead their clinical attacking play. In the semi-final, Annanough chose to try man mark both players without the assistance of a third defender and that backfired badly as time and again Emo cut through for scores. Ballyroan Abbey however are unlikely to be as accommodating with their defensive system in the final.
Against Ballyfin, Gerry Scully was used to good effect as an extra defender by Ballyroan Abbey and it would be a great surprise if he isn’t utilised in a similar role on Sunday.
One area where Annanough did have the upper hand on Emo in the semi-final was in midfield where Donal Miller held sway. That sector could again hold the key on Sunday where the Ballyroan Abbey duo of Padraig McMahon and John Murphy will be hoping to give their side an attacking platform by getting the upper hand on Darren Strong and Jonny Booth.
If Ballyroan Abbey do get the ball going forward, they showed against Ballyfin that they have the dynamism and creativity to carve out goals.
While they were less than prolific in terms of scoring throughout the group stages, they upped their game in the semi-final and were clinical in front of goals with the hugely impressive Scott Conroy helping himself to a hat-trick. Some of their passing and movement was a joy to behold and the manner in which they were able to open up a previously watertight Ballyfin defence will certainly have caught Emo’s attention.
Intermediate champions as recently as 2008, Ballyroan Abbey were subsequently relegated. In 2011 they were hot favourites going into the final against Killeshin and were fully expected to return to the top flight however they came out on the wrong end of the result. With that defeat still fresh in the minds, they are sure to be doubly focussed going into this year’s decider.
However they came perilously close to exiting the championship at the group stage this year. Going into the final round of games, they lead Portlaoise by two points and also had a twelve point advantage in terms of score difference. With the games being played at the same time, at half-time they trailed by a point against Emo while Portlaoise were nine points ahead of Courtwood. At that point their season hung by a thread and while they did eventually lose to Emo after a close game, Courtwood managed to stem the tide against Portlaoise losing by just four points which meant Ballyroan Abbey progressed to the last four on score difference.
While they did lose by a point to Emo in the final group game, they showed they were more than capable of living with their opponents.
Both sides will be stronger this Sunday than they were that evening in Vicarstown with Ballyroan Abbey now having semi-final hat trick hero Scott Conroy in their ranks while key playmaker Billy Sheehan did not line out for Emo in the first encounter.
In real terms however very little can be read into that first encounter as Ballyroan Abbey were fighting for their survival in the championship while Emo had already secured a semi-final place.
If Ballyroan Abbey are to cause an upset, they will need to repeat their goal scoring heroics of the semi-final if they are to stay with an Emo side who have hit double figure in terms of points in each of their games. The scores have not come as freely for Ballyroan Abbey who only hit double figures once in terms of points and that was in their first game against Courtwood.
Man for man Emo would have to be considered the stronger team and it is not too much of a leap to suggest that if they had been in senior this year, they could easily have reached the knock-out stages and perhaps gone even further.
Ballyroan Abbey themselves would have more than held their own in the top flight but they will need to be right on top of their game if they are to deny Emo this Sunday.
Both sides are relatively evenly matched when it comes to the scores they give up in games.
Defensively they are both superbly organised and neither set of forwards will be granted the freedom they thrived on in their respective semi-finals. However Emo have proven so far that they have the greater score getting ability
They have conceded on average less than ten points per game and if they can restrict Ballyroan Abbey to a score in or around that this Sunday, they have the firepower at the other end to go on and win the game and secure an instant return to the Senior Championship next year.