Oisin Kiernan. Photo: Adrian Donohoe.

No moral victories on offer in IFC decider

Throw in at Kingspan Breffni, at 4pm on Sunday, October 9.

Both clubs, Ballyhaise and Castlerahan come into this year’s Intermediate final with huge credit over the last 10 years. Granted, it was in different competitions but they have been constant contenders in their respective championships in that period.

Ballyhaise in preparing for their fifth intermediate final in nine years will be used to the build-up and it being the second year in a row to make the big day should only serve as an advantage. Memories of a defeat in the decider in 2014 at the hands of Cootehill will be over shadowed by the fact that they returned the following year to the final and beat Arva to lift the Tommy Gilroy cup.

Ballyhaise, in the last 10 years, have played in the Intermediate Championship nine times and have failed to make the knock-out stages only twice, in 2018 and 2019. Remarkably, in six of the remaining seven championships they have been knocked out by the eventual winners at either the semi-final or final stage.

With that level of consistency, the reality for Ballyhaise is that anything other than lifting the cup will be seen as a failure which is harsh but a credit to the club. For the majority of teams, making the intermediate final would be seen as an achievement and while no club wants to lose a final, on reflection they can find the positives in progress. Loosing last year’s final by the narrowest of margins means for Damien Keaney’s side, anything less than a victory over Castlerahan will be seen as a disappointment.

Reaching the final is not unusual for this Castlerahan side but it being in the intermediate decider is. In the last ten years this group have played in six Senior Championship finals including a replay in 2016. They have lifted the Oliver Plunkett Cup on two of those occasions, in 2018 and 2019, and while some of that successful team has moved on, there still remains a massive bank of experience within the group.

If at the beginning of 2021 after Castlerahan lost out in the Senior Championship semi-final to eventual winners Crosserlough after extra time, I told you they would be playing intermediate football in 2022, you’d have laughed at me. As a result they are perceived as a very strong intermediate team but that has yet to be realised as they have done just enough to make this year’s final.

Interestingly, Castlerahan may have a good omen behind them going into the game. They have beaten Bailieborough in the quarter-final and Cuchulainns in the semi-final and will face Ballyhaise in the final, which is identical to the path Butlersbridge had to winning last years championship.

No team ever wins a championship without a slice of luck and both sides can say that they’ve had theirs in the semi-finals so they can’t be waiting on another slice in the final.

When looking at the scoring stats, Ballyhaise have been scoring almost four points more per game with an average of 18.3 over their six championship matches this year. Castlerahan are averaging 14.7 points per game but this may be skewed by the fact that they faced a defensive Cuchulainns side on three of their seven outings to date. In the goalscoring stakes, Ballyhaise have amassed 13 goals to date while Castlerahan, playing a game more, have only raised five green flags.

Defensivel,y Castlerahan hold the advantage conceding 76 points or an average of 10.8 per game while Ballyhaise are a little more open at the back with the same total conceded in six game resulting in a 12.6 average.

In goals conceded, the sides are fairly even as neither can be described as watertight with Castlerahan letting in six in seven games while Ballyhaise leaked five past them in six games.

With question marks over key players on both sides as Fergal Reilly went off injured in Castlerahan’s semi-final win and Kevin Tierney was only introduced to this years championship off the bench in the Ballyhaise’s semi-final all eyes will be on the team sheets ahead of throw-in.

So where are the match winners?

In attack the styles are different as Castlerahan patiently build up while Ballyhaise prefer to break at speed. Both sides have six players averaging a point a game or more. For Ballyhaise it’s David Brady, Michael Brady, Martin Conaty, Pauric Moore, Eoin Clarke and Brían O’Rourke while Cian McCabe, Oisin Kiernan, Karl Cosgrove, Enda Flanagan, Oisin O’Connell and Stephen Cooney account for the bulk of Brian Donohoe’s sides scores.

For Ballyhaise Michael Brady is their top scorer with 1-20 to his name but their most prolific scorer is Padraig Moore with 3-11 in the four games he’s played. Ballyhaise’s second top scorer is a player in a serious vein of form at mid-field. David Brady is at the top of his game this year, scoring five goals and six points in the five games he’s played. The only game Ballyhaise lost in this year’s championship was against Castlerahan and it’s not only the only game he didn’t score a goal in but it’s the only game he didn’t play in.

For Castlerahan, Oisin O’Connell is their top scorer with 3-13 so far while freetaker Cian McCabe is a close second with 0-21. Also, the defenders are showing their shooting ability with Oisin Kiernan hitting ten points and Stephen Cooney landing1-5 from the back. Wing forward Karl Cosgrove has made a consistent impact from the bench as he’s totalled seven points once introduced.

The style of the sides vary as Ballyhaise tent to bring back a sweeper or two to shore up the defence while Castlerahan for the most part have trusted their backs to go man-for-man with a player dropping from the middle third on occasion when needed.

The battle in the middle of the field is mouthwatering. David Wright and Cormac Daly have been winning their battles at senior level for years but now come up against the in-form David Brady and Eoin Clarke, who has hit 1-4 so far. Ballyhaise also have the additional option for Gary O’Rourke’s kick-outs of Cavan U20 midfielder Brían O’Rourke who has notched up 1-6 beside his name already.

If styles make fights I think these sides have perfectly contrasting styles which should make for a brilliant spectacle. For Castlerahan, if they stop the Brad’s they’re in with a super chance while if Ballyhaise can hold Oisin O’Connell and not give Cian McCabe easy frees, they’ll be right there for the win.

Making a final is always a great occasion for a club as it spikes the interest of the entire community but because of their experiences in the last 10 years, neither side will take comfort in defeat this time out. It’s set up to be a final to remember where the winner takes it all and there’s definitely no moral victories.