Galbally and Rathmore set for a top level tussle in Intermediate decider
AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Club Football Final: Rathmore (Kerry) v Galbally Pearse's (Tyrone) (Croke Park, 3.30pm Sunday)
RACKING up scores and defending stoutly to win by handsome margins, Galbally and Rathmore look like sides well equipped to challenge at senior level in their counties next year.
Tomorrow, though, they say farewell to the Intermediate scene on the biggest stage as the second part of a classic Kerry-Tyrone club clash double-header. With the remarkable David Clifford leading Fossa into battle against Stewartstown in the Junior decider, the atmosphere is sure to be electric at throw-in time for this second showdown.
Tomorrow looks like being a different sort of challenge for both finalists, at least since they won their county titles.
Both Galbally and Rathmore have had their toughest tests so far within their own counties. Rathmore needed a goal to edge past An Ghaeltacht by 1-13 to 0-14 in the Kerry IFC decider, collecting the Fenian Cup, while the Pearse's pipped Edendork by a point in the Tyrone final after Killeeshil had taken them to extra time in the semi-final.
Outside the O'Neill County, former Derry manager Paddy Crozier's team caught the eye with a goal-fest demolition of his native county's Glenullin up in Celtic Park, thrashing them by 19 points, 7-12 to 1-11. The rest of their Ulster campaign was tighter, but they still saw off Dungloe of Donegal by five points, and then a dogged Corduff outfit from Monaghan by seven, 1-9 to 0-5.
Galbally's goal-grabbing returned in the All-Ireland semi-final, with a hat-trick from Ronan Nugent helping them to a 4-4 to 1-9 victory over Galway's Dunmore McHale's.
Yet Rathmore have made arguably even more impressive progress, with an average winning margin of nine points in their three games beyond the Kerry set-up.
They saw off Kanturk of Cork by eight, 1-17 to 2-6, then registered the same tally in beating Na Piarsaigh of Limerick by 10 in the Munster decider (1-17 to 0-10). Last time out they comfortably beat Fethard of Wexford, by 2-16 to 1-10.
Galbally have bounced back into senior at the first attempt, after finishing 16th in an 18-team League Division One in 2021. Rathmore took a little longer, having been relegated from the eight-club/eight-divisional mix of the Kerry SFC after the 2019 season.
Kerry's competitive structures certainly contribute to their success at this level: sending their ninth best club has brought eight final appearances up to now, and six triumphs.
Tyrone teams are second on that roll of honour, though, having won three titles: Cookstown Fr Rock's twice, beating Kingdom opposition on both occasions, Spa in 2010 and Finuge in a stormy encounter in 2013. Moy also won in 2018, against Michael Glavey's of Roscommon.
Of course, the plentiful supply of fine footballers in Kerry is a factor too, with All-Ireland winning Paul Murphy helming their defence and goalkeeper Shane Ryan playing at the forefront of their attack.
The trophy might yet remain in Derry hands, though, after Steelstown's emphatic success last year against Trim of Meath.
Magherafelt native Chrissy Spiers is hugely influential in attack for Rathmore and very much one to watch for the Pearse's defence.
The influence of former Tyrone star, now Red Hands coach, Joe McMahon is evident on Galbally, the team moulded almost in his image. The Pearse's defend in numbers but counter-attack at pace, as evidenced by those three All-Ireland semi-final goals from Nugent.
There's more quality up front for Galbally too, notably in Daniel Kerr, Conor Donaghy, and Liam Rafferty – the last-named, like McMahon, a player equally comfortable in defence and attack, but revelling in a more advanced role with his club compared to his inter-county appearances.
Rathmore have scored slightly more in their last four matches, but Galbally have conceded less, including fewer goals.
The big stage could be set for a shoot-out, but the outcome may depend as much on which side can spike the others' guns more effectively as on the accuracy of their score-taking.