RATHKEALE will become only the third Limerick Desmond League team to contest a junior Munster final when they play Killarney Celtic in the Munster League Champions Trophy final in Mounthawk Park, Tralee on today, Sunday at 2 pm.
They will be hoping to emulate Abbeyfeale United who won this competition by beating St. Michael’s in extra-time in Newcastle West in December 2016.
Askeaton are the other team to reach a provincial decider, beaten by Johnville in the Munster Junior Cup Final in 1993.
Rathkeale began their Munster voyage in impressive style on the 1st of December when they won 6-0 at home to West Cork Champions,
Dunmanway Town, in the quarter-finals. It was only 1-0 at half-time but a five-goal blitz in the second-half ensured an easy passage.
Rathkeale were at home again in the semi-final, hosting Doolan’s Cow from the Cork Business and Shipping League.
This game was much tighter, Rathkeale coming from behind to win 2-1 in extra-time, with Shane Doherty equalising in the 71st minute and Pa Ahern scoring the winner two minutes from the end.
With Alan O’Shea out of action with a long-term leg injury, Ahern now captains the side. As well as leading the team onto the pitch, he will also lead the frontline, where his pace and penetration could trouble Killarney.
It is expected that Gary Enright will be the driving force in midfield, alongside Keith Harnett, who passing range is capable of unlocking the opposition defence.
Jack Hennessy has claimed the left side of midfield position as his own over the last few seasons and he can be an electric player on his day, a description that certainly applies also to Danny Neville.
The defensive lynchpin is Sean O’Shea, consistently one of the best central defenders in the Limerick Desmond League for several seasons now.
He has a reliable partner beside him in Cathal Commane. Manning the goals will be the tall figure of Brendan Carmody.
Rathkeale were unbeaten in the League when it came to a sudden Covid halt in March. That was also the case with Killarney Celtic in Kerry Premier A, which has resumed after the long break.
With six wins and one draw, Killarney are one point behind leaders Castleisland with two games in hand. Their path to this Final came with victories over Everton from Cork (4-0 at home), Hibernians from Waterford (3-2 at home) and, most notably, holders St. Michael’s (1-0 away).
Killarney won the inaugural staging of this trophy in the 2011-12 season, beating Carrick United in the Final. Brian Spillane was a player that day and he is the manager now.
Killarney have quality players throughout the team, including Steven O’Mahony at centre-half, Gary Keane in the middle of the park, wide midfielder Wayne Sparling and strikers Steven McCarthy and Adam O’Rourke.
A number of their players come from Tralee clubs, including the Lowth brothers, Shane and Dara.
Recognised as the top team in Kerry, Celtic came agonisingly close to reaching the semi-finals of the FAI Junior Cup at the weekend, beaten on penalties by Fairview Rangers after a scoreless draw.
They did reach the semi-finals in 2017, beaten on penalties by Sheriff YC, who went on to win the trophy for the second season in a row.
The final will be played on the immaculate all-weather pitch in Mounthawk Park. The fast and smooth surface should suit the two finalists, who are both renowned as footballing sides.
Killarney have an all-weather pitch of their own and the familiarity with the surface could prove beneficial to them.
Rathkeale, under successful manager, Alan Doyle, have prepared well for the Final, playing useful friendlies against top Limerick District sides, Aisling Annacotty and Ballynanty Rovers.
Killarney will be favourites but, like Abbeyfeale against St Michael’s three seasons ago, Abbeyfeale are capable of causing an upset.
However, with pitch familiarity and the tough encounter against Fairview under their belt, I feel that the vote, however reluctantly, has to go to Celtic.
Forecast: Killarney Celtic
Because of Covid rules, the Munster League Champions Trophy Final on Sunday is an all-ticket event. Tickets are available from the two participating clubs.
LIVE ON FACEBOOK
For those unable to get to Tralee on Sunday, the game will be broadcast live on Facebook, with coverage beginning at 2pm for the pre-match buildup. Go to the Full Time Productions facebook page.