Fierce rivals should serve up another exciting and close final

RHODE and Clara have been the dominant forces in Offaly football over the last ten years and it is no great surprise that they will go head to head in another final this Sunday.

RHODE and Clara have been the dominant forces in Offaly football over the last ten years and it is no great surprise that they will go head to head in another final this Sunday.

Between them they have won seven of the last nine finals with only Tullamore (2007) and Edenderry (2011) managing to crash the party. Rhode and Clara have gone head to head in four of those finals since 2003 with the score in those games currently standing at 2-2.

They also met in last year’s semi-final where Clara got the better of Rhode on an impressive scoreline of 0-14 to 1-5.

This year however Rhode have been the far more dominant side and they have sliced through all comers in the championship scoring a total of 14-82 in their six games. The only game where they didn’t find the net was in the semi-final against Tullamore but they made up for that by kicking 17 points on their way to an 11th final since 1998.

Tullamore came within four points of Rhode in that game but that’s as close as any side has managed to get over the course of the campaign.

At full strength Rhode would be the favourites to claim a 25th county title to get within one of Tullamore at the top of the role of honour however Gerry Hickey’s men have some serious injury concerns to three of their key players.

Anton Sullivan has been hampered with a shoulder injury but he made a surprise return to action as a sub against Tullamore. How much he can contribute, whether from the start or as a sub, will have a major bearing on the game.

Experienced campaigners Shane Sullivan and Alan McNamee are also struggling to be fit and if one or both miss the game or are slowed by injury, it will hurt Rhode’s chances.

However the production line churning out talented footballers in Rhode shows no sign of slowing down and they have a host of young players ready and willing to take over the mantle.

Eoin Rigney, Stephen Hannon, Conor McNamee and the McPadden twins are just some of the next generation who Rhode hope will be able to carry the club to even greater success and all will be called upon to play their part this Sunday.

Rhode also have plenty of experience none more so than Niall McNamee who will captain the side this Sunday. On his day he is close to unplayable however Clara have managed to shut him down before and there will be a lot of pressure on McNamee to get the scores for Rhode, particularly if Anton Sullivan is sidelined.

Clara for their part have great experience in their ranks and with two wins over Rhode in the last three years, they will fancy their chances of taking a commanding lead in terms of wins in recent years in this rivalry.

The vast majority of their team has represented Offaly with with potentially eight of the starting 15 having featured at senior level. Scott Brady captains the side again this year and he is the focal point of the team leading by example in the middle of the field.

Neither Graham Guilfoyle nor John Reynolds started the semi-final win over defending champions Edenderry and to have those players to call on should strengthen Clara’s hand.

Thomas Deehan has been scoring consistently throughout the campaign while John O’Hara has also put in some important scoring performances.

They have been impressive at the back allowing just four goals in seven games and two of those came in the semi-final. The only blemish on their record was a draw with Erin Rovers in Round 2 but that didn’t stop them topping the group and they remain unbeaten coming into the final.

As the record between the sides clearly shows, there is never much to chose between them and it will all come down to how they perform on the day. Both sides know how to win finals while also being on the other end of results.

One moment of inspiration or one mistake could ultimately decide a game that should go all the way down to the wire.

On form this year, Rhode are the slightest of favourites however the potential loss of three key players to injury balances the scales.

It could well end up needing a replay to separate the sides but when push comes to shove (with the push being off the fence that we were trying to sit on) the most tentative of nods goes to rod based on their greater scoring rate and the very scientific fact that it seems to be a good year to be wearing green and yellow.