LAOIS SHC 'A' FINAL - Ballyfin Gaels the favourites ahead of clash with Colt Gaels

Rory Delaney

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Rory Delaney

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rory@leinsterexpress.ie

LAOIS SHC 'A' FINAL - Ballyfin Gaels the favourites ahead of clash with Colt Gaels

The SHC 'A' final has pitted two Gaels teams against each other.

A novel pairing awaits this Sunday afternoon in the final of the Laois SHC 'A', as Colt Gaels will take on Ballyfin Gaels in a bid to secure their place in the senior ranks.

Ballyfin Gaels win over The Harps in the semi-final has bucked the recent trend at this level, as the team relegated from the senior championship the year before had always managed to book an immediate return.

However, Ballyfin Gaels' win has turned that on its head. Now, one of these clubs will enjoy their first ever taste of senior hurling in their new guise.

It is a sign of the times that these clubs are contesting this final. It's not all that long ago that they were competing in the senior championship on their own, but the landscape has changed drastically since then.

The switching of the SHC to eight teams made entry to the top flight incredibly difficult, and as they struggled to get back to the top level, both have had to look to neighbouring clubs for help.

Ballyfin have linked up with Mountmellick, an arrangement which has yielded obvious rewards for them, as they now contest their second SHC 'A' final in two years.

In the semi-final win over The Harps, three of the starting team were from Mountmellick, and while that in itself is not a significant amount, it still constitutes 20% of the team.

For Colt, their arrangement with Clonad is still in its infancy, but the payback has been instantaneous. They had four Clonad men start the semi-final victory over Rosenallis, and all made a contribution.

Míchael Kerr's presence in the side has been a major boon, and his two goals in the semi-final were the key to getting over the line. He had already scored a couple of goals in the opening round, and has taken some of the scoring burden away from Chris Murray.

Colt Gaels burst onto the scene in Round 1, as they hammered Shanahoe Gaels by 6-16 to 2-7. There were questions marks hanging over them before that game, as to whether this was going to be a worthwhile venture, but they answered them emphatically with that display.

Since then, they have eked past Clonaslee St Manman's by four points, 1-8 to 1-4, and recorded a good win over Rosenallis in the semis, 2-10 to 1-10.

Chris Murray remains the heartbeat of the forward line, and his speed, both in terms of covering ground and getting shots away, is hard for teams to defend against. He has gotten help this year from Kerr, and James Keyes has shown flashes of his promise too, so they will ask questions of the Ballyfin Gaels defence.

Fintan Deegan's side have responded to the heartbreak of last year's final loss to Castletown really well. They have come back stronger, and are a young, well-balanced team. John Joe McHugh brings a lot of experience to the table as goalkeeper, with Kevin O'Rourke in front of him one of their promising younger players.

Darragh Connolly and Donnacha Hartnett at midfield are very mobile and will pop up all over the pitch, while they too have plenty of options in attack.

Gareth Dunphy was superb in the semi-final, scoring 1-10 and leading the charge over their more vaunted opponents. They have experience either side of him on the half-forward line with Sean Lowry and Michael Bermingham, and George Lanham leads the line at full-forward.

Eanna Lyons is another exciting young player, who has unfortunately struggled for full fitness this year with a string of niggly injuries. He's getting back to his best form now, and a player with his size and ability will be difficult to handle.

On the balance of things, you would say that Ballyfin Gaels probably 'deserve' the victory here. It's similar to the All-Ireland final in many ways, with one side here for the first time and the other trying to atone for missed chances in the past.

The sporting gods don't care much for sentiment, and only the team which turns up in the best shape on the day will get the win. Of the two teams, Ballyfin Gaels do look that bit more impressive, and a bit better balanced.

When you factor in that the Clonad contingent in the Colt Gaels team will have played a championship game the evening before, then it leaves them vulnerable to injury at the worst, and fatigue at least.

Ballyfin Gaels have conceded around 13 points per game on their way to this stage, and if they can hold Colt Gaels to that, then there is enough firepower in the Ballyfin attack to outscore that amount.

So, we'll tip Ballyfin Gaels for the win, but this is certainly a game that's worth heading in to O'Moore Park early for this Sunday.