AIB All-Ireland Junior A club final
Saturday 1pm in Kinnegad: Granemore (Armagh) v Athleague (Roscommon)
THE Phil McBride Cup was initially presented 20 years ago when the All-Ireland club championship was divided into A and B grades.
It became a good hunting ground for Ulster clubs with the winners from here reaching six of the seven finals played in that format; Liatroim Fontenoys (two), Crossmaglen and Lavey all brought the title home.
Then a new Intermediate grade was introduced in 2010 and the McBride Cup became the prize for the Junior championship – and no Ulster side got past the semi-final stage for the first 11 seasons. However when Granemore take on Athleague in Saturday’s final they will be hoping to complete a third successive win for Ulster teams.
Eoghan Rua Coleraine beat Clanmaurice from Kerry by a single point in the 2021 final and Brídíní Óga Glenravel equalled that achievement with a 2-7 to 1-5 win over Knockananna last January.
The Antrim side beat Granemore in the Ulster final last year, but the Armagh girls have come back stronger from that defeat and beaten Loughgiel, Newbridge and Crosserlough on successive Saturdays around Halloween to win the provincial title for the first time.
A fortnight ago Granemore started well against Knockananna, had a little blip during the third quarter, but finished strongly to record a 3-12 to 3-6 win.
At the same time, Athleague fought their way to a surprise 2-6 to 0-9 victory over St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield; the two goals their only scores during the second half.
Granemore are a much stronger team than last year, both in terms of the type of camogie they are playing and their winning mentality. They looked on the rack coming to the end of the Ulster quarter-final in Loughgiel, but survived and dictated the pace of the games they have played since then.
Last year Rachel Merry was their main scoring threat. This year Corrina Doyle has really stepped up to the mark and the return from injury of Ciara Hill has strengthened the forward power while the emergence of teenager Fiadhna Loughran has provided a lot more options.
Throw in a resolute defence with Ciarraí Devlin an experienced head on the goal line and Gráinne McWilliams so dependable at centre-half back.
Athleague are an unknown quantity in so much as their only appearance in a final was a losing experience in 2015. Their main rivals in their own county, Four Roads, won the first All-Ireland final in 2010, but have lost three since then.
Two or three of their names are familiar (Méabh Tiernan, Rachel Fitzmaurice and Kelley Hopkins) but the Roscommon inter-county team has seen so much chopping and changing over the past few years that it is difficult to work out the strengths or weaknesses of players from the county.
A win over the Munster champions is a feather in their cap though, but Granemore have come through challenges that were just as tough within their own province and grown in confidence with each game.
They will feel that they should be able to complete a three-in-row for Ulster particularly as they have already beaten last year’s finalists. If they manage it, the Cup will be coming back to Phil McBride’s home county.