St Loman’s and Moorefield present a novel conclusion to the AIB Leinster Club Championships for 2017.
The first ever competitive meeting between these clubs from Westmeath and Kildare, and a first ever Senior final between clubs from these two counties.
Regardless of the outcome, it will be the first time since 2011 that the cup won’t be awarded to the captain of a Dublin club. Ballymun Kickhams, Ballyboden St Enda’s and St Vincent’s (three times) have triumphed over the past five years, but that trend was dramatically ended by Rathnew this season.
St Loman’s of Mullingar will aspire to emulate Garrycastle, who became the first Westmeath winners in ’11 and took Crossmaglen Rangers to a replay in the All-Ireland final the following March.
Moorefield are bidding to capture the crown for a second time, with their 2006 success over Rhode the last time a Kildare side came out on top.
Current St Loman’s boss, Luke Dempsey previously managed Moorefield and, indeed, guided them to two Kildare titles in a row.
Now he has gone one step better, with St Loman’s dominating the Lake County SFC with three titles in succession.
The time had come for them to make a mark in Leinster, but in both the quarter-final (versus St Columba’s, Mullinalaghta) and semi-final (versus Simonstown Gaels) they were forced to recover from terrible starts to edge through.
Six points down after 48 minutes at Glennon Bros Pearse Park, St Loman’s hit 1-4 without reply to gain revenge for their defeat to Mullinalaghta in 2016.
An equally impressive comeback saw St Loman’s turn a seven point deficit into a two point winning margin (0-13 to 1-8) against the Meath champions at TEG Cusack Park.
As is to be expected in a competitive championship, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for Moorefield either.
Extra-time looked on the cards in their quarter-final at O’Moore Park until Niall Hurley-Lynch fired over the match winner against Portlaoise in the fourth minute of additional time. That game ended 1-9 to 0-11, and they followed-up with a 2-13 to 2-7 defeat of giant-killers Rathnew last time out.
Both teams are built on sturdy defences with some eye-catching forwards. Paddy Dowdall has been driving St Loman’s forward from centre back all season, while Paul Sharry, Ken Casey and Shane Dempsey are all match-winners on their day. But the focus, of course, will be on John Heslin, playing some of the best football of his career and capable of contributing crucial scores from play and frees.
The only downside from Moorefield’s campaign was the dismissal of Cian O’Connor in the semi-final. His brother Eanna has been in top-form this season, hitting the only goal of the game against Portlaoise and rarely missing from dead balls. Niall Hurley-Lynch and former Kildare stars Daryl Flynn Ronan Sweeney are also among their leaders.
It’s a final with no clear-cut favourites and that adds to the intrigue – the word from Mullingar and Newbridge is that huge numbers of fans from both clubs are planning to descend on O’Moore Park for what will be the last GAA game of 2017 for most. All the evidence points to those fans being on the edge of their seats until the final whistle.