If Donegal proved anything last Sunday in Croke Park, it is that getting to the final is far more important than entertaining anyone on the terraces and it is a lesson that all the clubs involved in the Connacht Gold Senior and GWP Intermediate Championship Semi-Finals next weekend will no doubt take very much to heart.
By John Connolly
Semi-finals are notoriously difficult games, to predict, to enjoy and to win as the ultimate prize is so close yet so far away at the same time and all eight clubs need no reminding of how high the stakes are.
Annaduff & St. Mary’s meet for the second year in a row in the semi-finals and quite apart from the prize at stake, the memory of last year and the fierce rivalry between these two neighbours will make the early game on Saturday one to savour.
Glencar/Manor continue their seemingly inexorable march to the title but will be wary of a Sean O’Heslin’s team appearing in their first semi-final in ten years, the perfect set-up for a championship shock.
The stakes are no less high in the Intermediate – another derby sees favourites Melvin Gaels come up against a rapidly improving Glenfarne/Kiltyclogher while both Gortletteragh and Drumkeerin will fancy their chances in the other semi-final.
Below we take a brief look at next weekend’s games:
St. Mary’s Kiltoghert v Annaduff: Anyone trying to predict the early game on Saturday will do well to remember last year when Annaduff started at hot favourites but were obliterated by an inspired St. Mary’s, certainly Annaduff will remember as they felt they failed to perform last year.
Sometimes the hype can overwhelm Annaduff and manager Michael Moyles will keep his team’s feet firmly on the ground, particularly after the replay against Mohill, something that they probably shouldn’t have had to do had their held onto a four point lead in the first game.
Recovery is the only question Annaduff have to deal with after their replay as their confidence is bound to be boosted and a team as physically imposing and fit as Annaduff should have no problem in getting up for next Saturday.
The only area of concern comes from their only loss this year against Drumreilly where they dominated the match but failed to translate it into the scores, something that almost caught them against Mohill.
St. Mary’s are unbeaten but still come into the game somewhat unfancied – the loss of Jimmy Guckian is a blow but their team are mobile, full of confidence and eager to face their great rivals. St. Mary’s will match Annaduff’s energy, running ability and determination but they may lack the physical heft of their neighbours.
Robbie & Daniel Lowe have benefitted hugely from their County team involvement and expect them to have a big influence on the game. Dermot Reynolds move back to defence against Bornacoola settled his team and gave them added stability. Upfront, the return of Niall Comerton gives Mary’s a goal poacher the equal of Joe Cox and a good spread of scorers may make them slightly more potent than last year.
Picking a winner is incredibly difficult – the reasons why Annaduff were favourites last year are just as valid but the reasons St. Mary’s won last year are equally valid. This will seem like hedging our bets but if it becomes a war of attrition, Annaduff’s power could swing it; if it is open and fast, St. Mary’s appear to have the edge. If pushed, I’d give Mary’s a very slight edge but don’t be surprised if it ends in a draw!
Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s v Glencar/Manorhamilton: Despite a blip in their last group game, Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s have impressed mightily this year and now face into a game where they have nothing to lose. A loss to the three-in-a-row champions for a young and developing team wouldn’t be regarded as fatal, a win would be a seismic event for club football in the county.
Much of what Ballinamore are about comes down to Wayne McKeon & Shane Moran. Both are immense talents and McKeon gave an outstanding display in the quarter-final. However, he will come up against a Manorhamilton team with several players capable of knocking him off his stride, none more so than Adrian O’Flynn who has a knack of wrapping up the main player of the opposition or the outstanding Paddy Maguire who has made a seamless step to the County Senior team this year.
Young Moran is a power house in the middle of the field and Ballinamore will need him at his best to overcome Darren Sweeney, a clash that could be worth the admission price alone.
Where O’Heslin’s have concerns is in defence as they come up against an attack where scores can come from every sector – the quality of Adrian Croal, Brian McDonald & James Glancy is well known and if they can get a good enough supply, Glencar/Manor will be very hard to stop.
Equally important for the north Leitrim men is the presence of the hard working Anthony McDonald and the return of Colin Ryan, both are unselfish and hard working and the champions need players willing to provide the supply to the inside line.
In all truthfulness, Glencar/Manorhamilton have not been firing quite on all cylinders so far this year, perhaps it has become too easy or maybe players have become blasé about their march through club football in the county but the closer they are getting to the final, the more likely they are regain their form of previous years.
Where Manor need to improve is in the area of team-work as even in the demolition of Kiltubrid, too many players were anxiously to take on their own scores. Ballinamore will want to draw Glencar/Manor into a battle, keep it tight and sneak it at the end but if the champions open up at all, it will very hard to see past them next Saturday.
Drumkeerin v Gortletteragh: Neither were fancied to make it this far but these two teams have been knocking on the door of the Intermediate championship for years, reaching semi-finals in Gortletteragh’s case and finals for Drumkeerin, their losses to Aughnasheelin and Aughawillan both by a single point.
Considering the players they have lost in recent years, Drumkeerin’s feat in reaching the semi-finals is quite remarkable and given the determination and spirit they have shown, nobody would be wise to write them off.
Even without Conor Beirne, Eslin were expected to have too much strength and too much momentum but Drumkeerin kept it tight and Eddie McTiernan’s goal near the end came at just the right time to see the north Leitrim men through.
Jason Byrne, Felim McHugh, Colm Clarke and McTiernan are all quality players and they will fight and fight, Clarke in particular key to his team’s chances if he can get running with the ball but Drumkeerin will find it difficult to match Gortletteragh’s power and experience throughout the team.
Upfront, Conor Reynolds & Darren Duignan are fast and strong with an eye for a score and if they get a decent supply, Drumkeerin’s defence are in for a tough afternoon, particularly as Gortletteragh like to leave a lot of space for Duignan in particular to exploit with his pace.
Cathal McCrann and Cathal Quinn give Gortletteragh huge power in the middle of the field, McCrann sets the tempo for his team and his accurate and long range free-taking is a massive asset for any team. Quinn’s strength is something Drumkeerin will have to counter as well.
In defence, Terry Kellegher and Ciaran Egan lead a hard-working if unspectacular defence and the way they shut down a potent Dromahair attack suggests that Drumkeerin will have to take every chance that comes their way.
Drumkeerin will make it tough but Gortletteragh appear to have the strength and experience to come through.
Melvin Gaels v Glenfarne/Kiltyclogher: On the face of it, Melvin Gaels are such prohibitive favourites that it is hard to see anyone stopping them but Glenfarne/Kiltyclogher’s demolition of Glencar/Manor in the Quarter-Finals suggest that this may be a lot tighter than anyone expects.
Add in the local derby factor and you get the feeling that Glenfarne/Kilty are jumping out of their socks for the chance to end the championship dreams of yet another neighbour. But they won’t underestimate the task ahead of them as the Kinlough men look in a different class to most of the Intermediate grade.
Their range of scoring is incredible with Conor Sheridan, Peter McGowan, Stephen McGurran, Paul and Brendan Brennan and Tom Lipsett all capable of big scores, not to say anything of Emlyn Mulligan who can score from anywhere.
In defence, the Gaels are equally impressive, Fabian McMorrow and James Phelan leading a disciplined and hard working unit so Glenfarne/Kilty have it all to do.
But that is not to say that they are without hope – Glenfarne work tremendously hard, Fergal Clancy is just as capable as Mulligan of racking up big scores and their tigerish defence makes it very hard for anyone to rack up big scores against them. Their spirit and togetherness is also very impressive and nobody should take Glenfarne lightly.
Neither side will yield an inch in this one but you’d expect the more experienced Gaels to come through this one after a real battle.