Rhode’s Keith Murphy and Tullamore’s Cormac Egan in action during this year’s Offaly SFC final. Rhode take on Ratoath in the Leinster club quarter-finals this Sunday. Photo: Ger Rogers.

Rhode face Ratoath with Ballycommon hopes boosted by home comforts

By Kevin Egan

It’s fair to say that Offaly clubs have endured a downright dismal autumn season so far, with only Ballycommon picking up a win, while Shamrocks, Naomh Ciarán, Bracknagh and Ballinamere/Durrow all crashed out at the first hurdle.

Ballycommon are back in action this week, as are Rhode, with Tullamore, Shinrone and the county’s camogie representatives – St Sinchill’s and Birr – both waiting it out another while.

Neither of this weekend’s two games could be predicted with any great degree of confidence. Ballycommon have cause to be slightly more hopeful, both on the basis of having a win behind them in Leinster to reset after the celebrations of picking up a county title, and the fact that they will enjoy home advantage today (Saturday, Bord na Móna O'Connor Park, 1.30pm) against Multyfarnham.

In terms of the calibre of opposition, Ballycommon won’t have it easy. It was quite the surprise when Multy’ were relegated from Westmeath’s intermediate grade in 2021, and to say they’ve put opposition teams on lockdown in 2022 is an understatement.

In eight championship games played, they’ve conceded a farcically low 3-42, or an average of less than six points per game. Neither was it all about a handy group draw - their three knockout matches saw them concede 0-4, 0-6 and 1-5. This stems from a very solid defence, and an extremely good midfield which features former Westmeath player Anthony McGivney and current Tailteann Cup Team of the Year player Ronan Wallace.

There isn’t a lot of scoring power there relative to some teams at this level, with centre-forward Stephen Sweeney the star of the show, but they don’t need to score much, given the strength of their back nine.

It should be more free-scoring fare on Sunday, when Rhode take on Ratoath at Páirc Tailteann (2pm). This would have looked like a very tough ask initially, but very wintry weather to slow down the pitch and a long-term injury to Meath county panellist Joey Wallace levels the playing field somewhat.

Add in the possibility that Eoghan Rigney might be fit to play some part and bolster the Rhode defence, and it’s easy to see why this has been pitched as a one-point game, with Ratoath slight favourites, by the odds making community.

Like every club on this side of the draw, Ratoath – and Rhode – will feel that a Leinster final place is there for the taking.

The extra bit of depth in what is a very strong Ratoath panel could be a key factor, particularly as legs get tired on a heavy pitch in the last quarter, but there aren’t too many teams with more experience in handling conditions like that than the Village. Guarded optimism is probably the order of the day here.