There may be a sense of unpredictability about this year’s Connacht Gold Senior and Glenfarne Woods Products Intermediate Championships which get underway next weekend but the smart money is on the same faces to be at the business end of the championships at the end of September.
Glencar/Manorhamilton are going for an unprecedented five-in-a-row, their position at the top of the tree in Leitrim looking virtually unassailable despite the fact that they open their campaign next weekend against last year’s Intermediate champions and their greatest rivals in Melvin Gaels.
Where the renewed interest will come from is in the new three group format which make this a very different championship, certainly adding a good deal more mystery to the mix with a semi-open draw for the quarter-finals (teams from the one group can’t meet each other again) and a full open draw for the semi-finals but it will also increase the work-load on players and clubs while gifting some teams a far better chance of success.
The County Board have issued a plea for co-operation from clubs as the new format entails a “50% increase in the number of games and consequently a 50% increase in the number of venues, match officials, gate and field stewards required to run our championships.”
The increase in games is going to have a major knock on all aspects of clubs, player resources and indeed, the media as ten games on one day is virtually impossible for any local paper to cover in any great depth. The increased level of games also removes an “off” weekend for all clubs, increasing the risk of injuries.
Depending on the luck of the draw, whether you are in one of the “Group of Deaths” or a relatively more relaxed group, you could finish third in a group and make the Quarter-Finals or be subjected to a most unusual playoff where you get the chance to play in the Quarter-Final or drop into a relegation playoff – all based on results and scoring differences achieved in three very different groups.
The new system may turn out to be a roaring success but the main argument that you could not afford to lose in the Group stages was blown out of the water by St. Mary’s and Glencar/Manor who both went on to win titles after defeats in their Groups.
If delegates who voted in this system thought it was a fairer way of giving everyone competitive, meaningful football, there may have been an ulterior motive in trying to make it harder for Glencar/Manor to continue their dominance of club football in the county.
Yet given the talent at their disposal and the raft of clubs who have lost players to emigration in the past two years, you’d have to say that stopping the champions remains as hard as it ever was and the fact remains, just as it did last year, that if you want to stop Manorhamilton, it will have to be in the knock-out stages and when they have an off-day.
They’ve had plenty of days when they haven’t played well and the likes of Bornacoola, Kiltubrid and Ballinamore have tested them to the limit over the years in knock-out games but Glencar/Manor have an inner resolve and fire that has served them well over the last four years.
If they keep that desire, it is hard to see anyone stopping them, even their famed neighbours Melvin Gaels who look like they will give them their sternest test. But the odds are very definitely in Glencar/Manor’s favour.
Below we take a brief look at the championships:
Mohill v Carrigallen: Mohill have more often flattered to deceive in the championship in recent years but will need a big win here over a struggling Carrigallen who have haemroghered players since they contested the Senior Final three years ago. Second top in Division One against second bottom, Mohill would appear to have far too much in this one for Carrigallen.
Melvin Gaels v Glencar/Manorhamilton: The clash of the champions! A match to savour and one sure to draw a crowd sees a clash of neighbours and champions. Melvin Gaels form in the Intermediate championship last year suggests they are the one team able to take on Manor, the recent League meeting seeing Glencar/Manor win by two points. Much will depend on how their County contingent recover from their exertions last Saturday, injury could yet play a vital role but you have to go with form and say that Manorhamilton could just about shade this after a terrific battle, even if they have been slow starters recently.
St Mary’s Kiltoghert v Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s: Another traditonal rivalry that has had plenty of heated outings. The absence of Wayne McKeon is a body blow for Ballinamore while the Carrick men are sweating on the fitness of Daniel Lowe. St. Mary’s would normally be hot favourites but they have lost five of their starting team from last year’s final and a few others and it will leave them vulnerable. Recent form would suggest that Ballinamore are struggling and that may be enough for Mary’s to take the win.
Kiltubrid v Annaduff: Neither of these teams are going well in Division One and are only separated by scoring difference and it would take a brave man to predict this one. Both teams have lost players through emigration, injury and retirement but if Annaduff can rediscover their famed spirit, they probably have the better resources to take victory here.
Bornacoola v Aughawillan: A couple of recent wins in the League seem to have rejuvenated Aughawillan after they struggled in the League earlier in the year. They face a Bornacoola team who have lost just one game in Division Two this year, to Gortletteragh, and who are staying under the radar this year. The Bors have lost players too and this is a hard one to call but the Bors may just edge this one.
Drumreilly v Allen Gaels: Another desperately hard game to predict with Drumreilly disovering some form in recent weeks and Allen Gaels showing mixed form in Division 2, the only team to beat Gortletteragh. Drumreilly have lost an incredible amount of players and that could prove vital with Allen Gaels strength in depth to tell.
Fenagh St. Caillin’s v St. Patrick’s Dromahair: An improving Fenagh come up against Dromahair team comfortably mid-table in Division One, making it an intriguing game. Fenagh’s young team are starting to make an impact at adult level but you still get the feeling that dromahair will have far too much strength in this one.
Glencar/Manorhamilton v Aughavas: A difficult one to call, Aughavas would normally start as favourites but with the strength in depth Manor possess, you have to favour the north Leitrim men against a team decimated by emigration in the last year.
Melvin Gaels v Cloone: Cloone come up against a strong Kinlough second string side but if they can rediscover the fire that made them Intermediate champions three years ago and their League form is reasonably good in a very competitive Division 2, Cloone should have far too much strength here.
Aughnasheelin v Ballinaglera: A derby across the mountains that is desperately hard to call between two teams who have lost so many players in the last year or two. Neither have great recent League form so it will depend on who gets the breaks on the day. One has a feeling Ballinaglera might just shade it but it is only a feeling.
Drumkeerin v Gortletteragh: A coaching change in Gortletteragh mightn’t be the best way for last year’s Intermediate finalists to prepare but it might reinvigorate their challenge. Dealing with the pressure won’t be easy and Drumkeerin will be no walkovers but Gortletteragh should take the win here.
Glenfarne/Kiltyclogher v Eslin: Both of these teams are in bottom place in their Leagues but the north Leitrim men are in Division One and that should be a big advantage. Eslin remain the biggest enigma in Leitrim football, possessing players of incredible talent but they are in a run of terrible form. If the Beirnes find form, they’ll be hard stopped but you have to go with Glenfarne/Kilty in this one.
The full list of championship fixtures next weekend is as follows:
Saturday, July 28
Connacht Gold senior Championship
Bornacoola v Aughawillan in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada at 6.00. Ref: F. Keaney; Melvin Gaels v Glencar/Manorhamilton in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada at 7.30. Ref: R. McBrien; Drumreilly v Allen Gaels in Cloone at 6.00. Ref: B. Sammon; St. Mary’s Kiltoghert v Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s in Cloone at 7.30. Ref: F. Niblock; Kiltubrid v Annaduff in Ballinamore at 6.00. Ref: S. Mulhern; Mohill v Carrigallen in Ballinamore at 7.30. Ref: D. Moran
GWP Intermediate Championship
Fenagh St. Caillin’s v St Patrick’s Dromahair in Drumshanbo at 6.00. Ref: J. McCaffrey; Glenfarne/Kiltyclogher v Eslin in Drumshanbo at 7.30. Ref: M. Kelly; Aughnasheelin v Ballinaglera in Drumkeerin at 6.00. Ref: J. Stenson; Drumkeerin v Gortletteragh in Kiltubrid at 7.30. Ref: G. Foley
Sunday, July 29
GWP Intermediate Championship
Melvin Gaels v Cloone in Drumkeerin at 12.00. Ref: E. O’Grady; Glencar/Manorhamilton v Aughavas at 12.00. Ref: F. Flynn.