TWO saintly sides will be hoping for divine intervention this Saturday as they go head to head in the Tullamore Court Hotel U-21 Football Championship Final although both sides have very different pedigree in the competition.
St Michaels (Rhode, St Brigid’s and Clonmore Harps) are going in search of an incredible eighth title since 1999 while St Manchans (Ballycumber and Tubber) are looking to become the 18th different team to lift the trophy since the championship started in Offaly in 1965.
Both sides had relatively comfortable victories in their respective semi-finals last weekend although there was plenty for the management teams to work on ahead of the final.
St Manchans qualified for the decider with a 14 point win over Durrow that was the very least their performance on the day deserved. Granted Durrow were a shadow of the side who dumped Tullamore out at the quarter-final stage but St Manchans did not stand on ceremony and they stuck to their task from start to finish.
While they did score 3-11, they could have had half that total again. Against St Michaels they are unlikely to get as many scoring chances as they did last Saturday and they will have to be far more clinical with their finishing.
However in Bernard Allen they have one of the real up and coming stars of Offaly football and if he is allowed the space and time he was last weekend, he will pull the strings all day. After the fine man marking job he did on Niall Wynne last weekend, James McPadden is likely to be assigned the task of keeping tabs on Allen. This will be a key battle and could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the game.
In the first-half last weekend, St Michaels put 11 points on the board and restricted Shannon Gaels to just one in reply. They didn’t keep up the pace in the second-half and allowed their opponents back into the game. In the end they managed to keep a healthy enough lead to register the win but they will need an hour long performance if they are to move further ahead on the U-21 Football Roll of Honour.
Their half-forward line was their most dangerous trio with Robbie Leavey pulling the strings in the number 11 shirt. They will still likely be without the services of Anton Sullivan as he recovers from a shoulder injury and his continued absence will not help their chances.
Neither side was pushed to hard last weekend and it remains to be seen which team will handle the pressure when it comes to the final.
Both sides carry a very potent attacking threat and this game could well be a high scoring encounter if both sets of forwards find their form.
Experience is often key in finals and the fact that St Michaels have such a prolific record at U-21 and as Rod Og at minor level could swing the balance in their favour.
St Michaels won minor titles in 2009 and last year giving this team a core of players with at least one county medal.
The amalgamation of Ballycumber/Tubber has yet to win a A title at minor or U-21 and it is a big ask to expect them to break their duck this weekend.
It will be close but St Michaels are the favourites to win title number eight.