The pairing of St. Patrick’s Dromahair and Gortletteragh in the Glenfarne Wood Products Intermediate Championship final sees arguably the two best teams in the competition going head to head in what promises to be an absorbing final next Saturday in Ballinamore.
Straight after last year’s final, in which they were beaten by Melvin Gaels after a titanic struggle, Gortletteragh were regarded as the team to beat in this year’s championship but Dromahair have been improving steadily in recent years and the mixture of youth and experience in their ranks means it is little surprise they have made their way to the final.
A year’s hard work for both sides will culminate in either agony or ecstasy on Saturday and both teams have displayed their championship credentials on numerous occasions already this year but whichever side is to emerge victorious will be looking to find another gear if they are to reach the promised land of senior championship football in 2013.
This year has seen both sides being led by new managerial teams with Gortletteragh being guided by the trio of Tom Ward, Sean Hynes and Longford great Dessie Barry (who was also involved last year). The knowledge and experience of Barry can not be underestimated as during his inter-county career which spanned from 1982-2000 he was regarded as one of the best forwards in the country and amongst the finest players to have represented Longford while he also represented Ireland in the 1990 International Rules series.
Dromahair have turned to Gerry Ballantine in their search of glory and assisting Gerry are his selectors James Farrell and his brother Ronan. Is it easy to see why the Dromahair club were so keen on securing the services of Gerry as in successive years he led the Dromahair ladies team to junior, intermediate and championship success in successive years - a feat which is practically unheard of.
While most within the county would agree that the best sides have reached the final, it is worth noting that the paths to the final have not been without drama for both. Dromahair survived a scare against Eslin in the quarter finals while Gortletteragh needed a Cathal McCrann equaliser in the seventh minute of injury time against Glenfarne/Kiltyclogher to take their semi-final to a replay although when the sides met for a second time the south Leitrim men recorded an emphatic victory.
Assessing the strengths of both sides it is evident that both the Dromahair and Gortletteragh sides contain a number of match winners and both sets of supporters will be hoping their star players are all on top form.
County goalkeeper Cathal McCrann is widely regarded as Gortletteragh’s star man but within their ranks there are a number of players who are central to their sides cause. Ciaran Egan at centre-back, McCrann in midfield or centre-forward and Darren Duignan at full-forward, although often deployed in a deeper role, give an indication of the strength of the Gortletteragh team but there are still several other players who Dromahair will need to watch closely.
McCrann may get the majority of the plaudits for his role in and around the Gortletteragh midfield but the work of Mark Duignan alongside him is crucial to the cause while Niall Woods is another who works tirelessly.
Seamus Quinn, one of only two Leitrim men to be awarded an All-Star, can still pose plenty of problems for any defence despite the fact that it is 18 years since he was honoured with that accolade. Whether he starts or makes an appearance from the bench, Dromahair will need to keep a close eye on a man who may not be as mobile as he once was but is still a potential match winner.
Another evergreen member of the Gortletteragh team, Terry Kellegher, made a significant impression in both semi-final matches against Glenfarne/Kiltyclogher. In the drawn match he was introduced at a time when experience and calmness was needed and he provided both in abundance. In the replay Kellegher started and starred in a miserly defensive unit alongside Egan, Niall Duffy and Seamus Prunty.
Another player who didn’t start the drawn match with Glenfarne/Kiltyclogher, last year’s captain Cathal Quinn, returned for the replay and his physical presence in midfield is something that can not be underestimated.
For Dromahair, county players Paddy McGowan and Kevin Conlan will be familiar to supporters throughout the county and these players will be key to Dromahair’s chances of victory but similarly to their opponents, this is a team with good players all over the pitch.
Goalkeeper Kieran Meehan is never less than assured and authoritative while immediately in front of him full-back Stephen Keegan has been one of their best performers in the Championship. Despite the fact that Conor Beirne scored 0-10 for Eslin when the sides met, had it not been for the performance of Keegan, with plenty of help from Adrian Fowley, Dromahair may well have been undone by a player who terrorised defences throughout the Championship.
Along with experienced campaigners such as Fergus Meehan, Michael McKeon, Stephen Smyth, Camillus McMorrow & John Evans there are a number of younger players who have made an impression for Dromahair this year. Jamie Conlon is part of a mobile and extremely hard working half-back line while Cian Clinton has looked very comfortable at this level. His accuracy with his left foot is an attacking ingredient most teams would love to have.
Another with the potential to make an impact is Gerard Kelly, the midfielder who has made quite an impression over the course of the year for the junior team.
If Dromahair are to end the wait for Intermediate glory, crucial to the cause will be the form of Christy McGowan and Conor Kelly in the full-froward line while if Declan Fowley returns from the injury that ruled him out of his side’s impressive semi-final win over Aughnasheelin, that would also enhance Dromahair’s chances of victory.
If history and tradition were the factors for predicting a winner, the verdict would go to Gortletteragh. Although they have been competing at Intermediate level for longer than they would like they have a rich history at senior level, being crowned county champions on five occasions.
Dromahair, on the other hand, have never claimed the county senior championship and it is seven years since they last contested an Intermediate Championship final. Their last outing in an Intermediate final was in 2005 when they suffered a heartbreaking defeat against their near neighbours Glencar/Manorhamilton.
In more recent years Dromahair have regularly been tipped as one of the favourites to emerge victorious but have had to contend with the disappointment of coming up short in semi and quarter-finals.
Similarly Gortletteragh have experienced their share of final heartbreak with last year’s decider against Melvin Gaels still very fresh in the memory. Having suffered a heavy defeat in the opening match of last year’s championship against the eventual winners, Gortletteragh showed great resolve to get their campaign back on track to reach the final.
Ultimately they were defeated by nine points but the lessons learned have been put in to practice and the experience of contesting last year’s final should stand to the Gortletteragh players.
With so many factors to consider it is difficult to predict a winner but Saturday’s match should be an absorbing encounter, with very little to separate the sides. Both sides have a strong physical presence, but both also contain fast, mobile players and that should help create a memorable final and with so little between the sides - on paper at least - a draw is not out of the question.