PIFC preview: Mallow and St Michael's can serve up a thriller

PIFC preview: Mallow and St Michael's can serve up a thriller
St Michael's Niall Cashman is held by Newmarket's Michael Cottrell. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

SUNDAY Premier Intermediate Football Championship final: St Michael's v Mallow, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 2pm.

TWO fancied teams at the outset of a most hazardous competition to predict have made it through to the last day and what a fascinating game awaits in the first county final at the splendid new stadium.

St Michael's are back in a third final in six seasons while Mallow were also here in 2007, when they defeated Killavullen by 1-7 to 0-7 in the decider.

The Mahon club suffered the heartbreak of losing two goal-less finals by the minimum margin in games, which produced identical score lines, 0-12 to 0-11.

In 2012, St Vincent's pipped them by a point and it was the same again in the 2015 decider against Carrigaline.

Twice, St Michael's overcame Mallow en route to those finals. They squared up in the 2012 semi-final with Michael's prevailing by 3-8 to 0-12 and then in round 4, three years later, they squeezed through by a point, 1-11 to 1-10.

St Michael's played five games to reach this stage and yet only faced three opponents.

Back in mid-April, they began with a routine 0-14 to 1-7 win over Na Piarsaigh in a city derby which they controlled for the most part.

Little did they know then that their next three games would be against the same side, Éire Óg.

The Mahon-Ovens trilogy began on June 11 with St Michael's outpointing their rivals by 0-12 to 0-9 and as luck would have it the pair were drawn against each other in the quarter-finals, as well.

Typically, that ended level after Shane O'Keeffe and Eric Hegarty chipped in with 1-1 apiece and Liam O'Sullivan 0-3 only for Daniel Goulding to rescue Éire Óg with a late equaliser to ensure a replay.

St Michael's dominated the third meeting, storming six points clear after 20 minutes, a period in which they kept their opponents scoreless.

O'Sullivan's goal helped them sweep 1-8 to 0-3 in front at the break and a second goal from Eoghan Buckley, 10 minutes from the end, put the gloss on their 2-15 to 0-8 triumph.

They encountered Duhallow opposition in the form of Newmarket in the semi-final and while Michael's victory wasn't unexpected their seven-point margin, 2-16 to 1-12, certainly raised eyebrows.

What ever was said at the break certainly had the desired effect because the city club blitzed their opponents with 2-3 in a powerful 10-minute burst.

The goals came from Paul Cronin and substitute Donal Cremin with captain Hegarty chipping in with a 0-8 total, including six from frees.

A feature of the St Michael's set-up is the intense competition for places in attack, where there are plenty of quality replacements available to the team's management, who've shown themselves to be no slouches in making the hard calls.

Naturally, there is a strong hurling connection to Blackrock's qualification for the senior decider.

Midfielders Niall Cashman and O'Keeffe are just two of the contingent bidding to bag county medals along with the likes of O'Sullivan, Daniel Meaney and Tadhg Deasy.

Mallow have been unrelenting all season, playing four times and producing the goods every time regardless of opponent and conditions.

They signalled their intentions from the off with a 2-18 to 0-12 win over Nemo Rangers' second string before engaging Ballingeary, always difficult opponents, in back-to-back rounds.

Mallow triumphed 1-12 to 0-11 in ideal weather in Blarney on the first occasion, when a Pa Herlihy goal proved decisive.

But, the second meeting in Coachford was ruined by incessant rain, though, again, Mallow overcame all obstacles to reach the semi-finals on a 2-12 to 0-9 score line.

Mallow's James Loughrey. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Mallow's James Loughrey. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Cork player, Jim Loughrey, came up with the critical opening goal in the first-half and while the second came late on from substitute David Breen, Mallow always looked in control.

That set-up a semi-final with promoted Bandon, who did what the other sides couldn't achieve and that was breach the Mallow defence for the first time in the campaign.

Yet, Mallow shrugged off the concession of that first-half goal to lead by 0-10 to 1-5 at the break before gaining a stranglehold on proceedings in the second period, when they restricted Bandon to a solitary point.

In the end, Mallow had seven points to spare, 0-16 to 1-6, and nobody could dispute their appearance in the final.

They were missing a number of key players the last day. Full-back and captain, Andrew Cashman, was injured and influential centre-forward, Killian O'Connor, was suspended.

It meant a different role for Loughrey, who normally slots in to the half-forward line, but found himself in the full-back line on that occasion.

Mallow have a finely balanced team, featuring Mattie Taylor in a roaming centre-back role and a pair of very capable midfielders in Denis Hayes and Eoin Stanton while Ryan Harkin's creativity on the right flank up front is another important weapon in their armour.

Herlihy and Cian O'Riordan are proven finishers, given the right kind of service, and like their opponents, Mallow's management aren't slow in looking to their bench to replenish the side. 

Mallow have only a handful of dual players, but can they rebound from the hurling loss and return to senior?

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