The AIB GAA Club Football and Hurling Finals are earlier than we are used to but standing taller in the GAA calendar as a result of having moved to before the start of the Allianz National Leagues.
The local heroes of Kilcoo, Corofin, Ballyhale Shamrocks and Borris-Ileigh will go head to head at Croke Park this Sunday with the hurlers throwing at 2 pm and the footballers following on at 4 pm.
The AIB GAA All-Ireland Intermediate and Junior Hurling Club Championship Finals also take place in the same venue on Saturday and will feature Tullaroan and Russell Rovers among a host of other stars.
Having been there with my own club Cuala twice in recent years there is nothing like reaching the pinnacle of the sport with the friends and colleagues that you have shared the pitch or the sideline through generations.
We are a big club, with more members than might play in some counties. That gives us strength but can also dilute the impact of what you are about as a club within the community.
Throughout the runs to Dublin, Leinster and then AIB All Ireland Club titles we turned from a collection of 120 teams wearing the same jersey to one club, dominating our thoughts and actions in support of a common goal that brought together eight-year-olds and eighty-year-olds on the one road.
The traditional date in recent years for the finals has been St Patrick’s Day and there are some who bemoan that changing but that was always an incredibly busy time in society as a whole, in sport and even within the GAA with inter-county conversation dominating the airwaves and the column inches.
January is likely a transition towards completing the Championships within the calendar year and making the autumn and winter unequivocally the club period in Gaelic Games.
This Sunday will see Tipperary Champions Borris-Ileigh take on Kilkenny powerhouses Ballyhale Shamrocks, who are vying for their second title in as many years. The current holders and record seven-time champions, represented by talisman TJ Reid, have been in imperious form on their march back to Croke Park. Borris-Ileigh, meanwhile, bridged a 33-year gap when they captured the Tipperary SHC title, before claiming provincial success over Ballygunner of Waterford, with Tipperary stalwart Dan McCormack central to his club’s success this season.
The football final will see first-time finalists Kilcoo of Down take on current champions Corofin. The Galway men, represented by Liam Silke, are vying for their third All-Ireland title in as many years, and are tipped by many to be the first club team to achieve such a feat. In their way stand the men from the Mourne Mountains, represented by club captain Conor Laverty, who have won the admiration of fans across the country with their hardworking style, seen prominently in their surprise win over Leinster champions Ballyboden St. Endas in the semi-final.
“All of us in AIB are so proud of our long-standing involvement with the AIB GAA All Ireland Club Championship,” said AIB GAA Champion Denis O’Callaghan.
“This is our 29th year sponsoring these incredible Championships that represent all that is great about GAA in particular, the opportunity for players to represent their communities on the biggest stage of all and claim one of #TheToughest trophies to win in sport.”
“A title that means so much not just to the players but to the community that they represent. We commend and are grateful not just to the players but to the clubs, the coaches, the volunteers and the fans for the steadfast and passionate support they have shown all season.”
It will as ever be a masterclass watching how AIB promote on social media, streaming and on television and radio over the weekend.
I only wish that we were back there in person…
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