Kilcormac will become the centre of the Offaly Ladies football world today as the Senior and Intermediate finals take place.
The high noon showdown features Naomh Molaoise and Tullamore in the Intermediate Final, while at 2.30pm, Edenderry
attempt to thwart Naomh Ciaran’s three-in-a row bid in the senior decider.
The Senior Showdown - Naomh Ciaran v Edenderry - 2.30pm
Naomh Ciaran’s success at both senior and junior levels last year led to a restructuring of the championships at adult level in the county. The outcome was a smaller premier championship consisting of just four teams – Edenderry, Naomh Ciaran, Rhode and St Rynaghs – but it resulted in one of the most closely fought championships in living memory.
Each team, playing to their best, proved capable of beating the other and while Naomh Ciaran have progressed through championship and league unbeaten to date, they are far from unscathed.
Deserving favourites, as reigning Leinster Intermediate Champions, for this year’s title, the west Offaly side has shown only glimpses of their undoubted ability. Rhode came very close to knocking them off their league perch in the 2017 decider and only a few late scores and some rear-guard heroics ensured retention of that title.
Just a week later, at home, they put in their best performance to date by putting the same opposition to the sword in a convincing championship victory. That game, which took place over a month ago now, is the last competitive action Naomh Ciarán have seen and their form in recent challenge games suggests that they’ve gone a little off the boil.
Ready to make the most of any hint of Naomh Ciarán complacency or loss of form is Edenderry. The north Offaly side’s recent derby victory – unexpected in most quarters – over Rhode in a hard-fought semi-final leaves ‘the Reds’ in an ideal position for the final.
Underdogs due to their opposition’s pedigree rather than any glaring weakness, the game plan employed in the semi-final is once again likely to be engaged. Edenderry are unlikely to win a shootout, so, as against Rhode, they will attempt a lockout of Naomh Ciarán’s usually lethal front six.
A final scoreline of 1-5 to 0-7 is unusual in modern Ladies Gaelic Football but no one in Edenderry will be too concerned if the final follows the same pattern. Last weekend’s deserved victory over the same opposition in the under 16 decider – a game that featured senior players on both sides – gave further notice that Edenderry is regaining its swagger in Ladies Football and if the formbook is upturned on Saturday an Edenderry victory would register a surprise rather than a shock in what promises to be an intriguing contest.
The upset would be Edenderry's first championship title since 2010 when they memorably went on to win the Leinster crown. Interesting, the manager on that occasion, former Edenderry player Greg Farrelly is back at the helm to lead the girls into this final once again.
The team that win this encounter will be in action again one week later in the Leinster Intermediate Club Championship against Westmeath’s Intermediate champions.
The Intermediate Decider – Naomh Molaoise v Tullamore - 12pm
The introduction of an Intermediate Championship this year was a godsend to clubs finding the challenge of senior football a bridge to far and a barrier to team development. Both of these sides had fallen into that category – too good for Junior and not yet ready for top honours.
Both Tullamore and Naomh Molaoise have grasped the opportunity with both hands and whoever emerges victorious on
Saturday will relish the prospect of senior football. Tullamore have worn the favourites tag with aplomb through the league and championship in 2017.
Most observers would have deemed Clara their greatest threat for honours and so it proved in the league but the capital town side captured the Division 2 title. That league victory – 2-21 to 5-04 – over Clara was one of three titanic battles between these neighbours with Tullamore winning twice.
The other – at the group stage of the championship – was a draw but crucially Tullamore had the measure of Clara when it came to the semi-final of the Intermediate Championship.
Standing in the way of Tullamore’s expected return to senior ranks is Naomh Molaoise – a side that has progressed steadily through this year’s championship. Their latest contests have both seen Naomh Ciarán provide the opposition and Noamh Molaoise demolished the west Offaly club’s second team twice – winning the semi-final 5-09 to 0-01.
However, they will have noted that this Naomh Ciaran side has been short of four of the forwards that won last year’s Junior title and simply don’t possess the physical presence that Tullamore presents.
Naomh Molaoise looked the finished article in that semi-final performance with good ball players on every line of the team, tremendous ball winning capacity down the centre of the team, and players with equal measure of flair and guile.
So with Naomh Ciaran, Clara, Shamrocks, St Broughan's and St Manchan's all having fallen by the wayside Offaly’s two top Intermediate sides come face to face. It’s literally a game that could go either way. Naomh Molaoise have enhanced their credentials as the year progressed and they are entitled to enter the final with confidence.
However, this Tullamore side has done all that has been asked of it this year and looks slightly the more likely to succeed on Saturday. Offaly’s Intermediate champions won’t have much time to devote to celebrations as they head off to
Kilkenny on September 9 with the winners of Kildare vs Laois awaiting the outcome of that contest.
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