Aughawillan and St. Mary’s will no doubt have a lot to say about it but the draw for next Saturday’s Connacht Gold Senior Championship Semi-Finals have ensured that the dream final is still on the cards after favourites Glencar/Manorhamilton and Melvin Gaels have been kept apart.
Aughawillan’s magnificent 2-10 to 0-14 victory over Annaduff last Saturday has seen them rewarded with a tie against last year’s Intermediate Champions Melvin Gaels while Champions Glencar/Manor renew their rivalry with St. Mary’s Kiltoghert, their first meeting at the semi-final stage since the north Leitrim men started on their domination of Leitrim club football.
And for neutrals, the draw keeps the possibility of the “dream” final still alive, a dream that started the second Melvin Gaels won the Intermediate title last year.
But the danger for both teams that in looking forward to a possible derby in the final, they won’t see the more immediate danger in front of them as both Aughawillan and St. Mary’s have nothing to lose and will pose serious danger to the title ambitions of Melvin Gaels and Glencar/Manorhamilton.
Below we take a brief look at the semi-finals:
Glencar/Manorhamilton v St. Mary’s Kiltoghert
An intriguing game here that holds more mystery than you would have guessed if you haven’t seen either of these teams in action since their Final meeting a year ago. The Carrick men appeared to be in a bad way with retirements and emigration decimating the team but under Martin Barnes, St. Mary’s have revitalized themselves, moving to a more fluid and mobile unit and it has got them to the semi-finals.
The form of Ray Mulvey, Micheal McWeeney & Joe O’Rourke, all additions to last year’s team, has made a huge difference as St. Mary’s now boast incredible speed in attack, if less of the physical heft they once possessed. Their movement and speed all around the pitch is complimented by a sturdy defence where the old reliables remain impressive.
The Lowe brothers manned midfield against Mohill but Jimmy Guckian, should he return from injury, may be deployed in a holding midfield role but the big question is how Mary’s will react when they see the Glencar/Manor men, just how much damage those two County Final losses have done to their psyche.
For Glencar/Manorhamilton, injuries and a lack of form has seen them looking more vulnerable than before yet they have still answered each and every question posed to them with calm authority. That they haven’t hit their previous heights is clear but it is also clear that the champions have such strength in depth and such ability that maybe they don’t need to be at their absolute best.
Adrian Croal looks revitalised after illness earlier this year but he would appreciate a fit James Glancy alongside him to take the scoring burden off him and perhaps to make the task of Jonathan Cassidy and Dermot Reynolds all the harder.
Manor will be worried about the continual injuries suffered by Darren Sweeney, the County star is a massive player for the champions as he adds drive and presence in the middle of the park. In defence, the return of Pat Gilmartin has solidified an impressive unit and with the O’Flynns and Paddy Maguire, Mary’s attack will not find the room they enjoyed so much against Mohill.
What is perhaps most in Glencar/Manor’s favour is that over the past four years, every time a stiff challenge has been posed to the north Leitrim men, they have risen and met it and met it in style. St. Mary’s have a chance, a good chance, of causing an upset if they move the ball quickly and utilise that speed they have in abundance. But you still have to favour the champions who have the knack of delivery when it counts and if they find any sort of form, they should prove too strong for St. Mary’s for the third year in a row.
Melvin Gaels v Aughawillan
A return to the big time for both teams as Aughawillan make their first semi-final in years and Melvin Gaels are back after a chastening year in the Intermediate ranks. And no more than the first game, Aughawillan will find themselves as underdogs against what looks like an unstoppable force in the Kinlough men.
Aughawillan have mixed the brilliant with some poor days in this year’s championship but true to their traditions, they are still fighting, still battling away despite all the odds and it is that spirit that Melvin Gaels will do well to heed for no matter how the game goes next Saturday, Aughawillan will never give up.
Aughawillan’s game plan is frighteningly simple but devilishly hard to stop – pack the defence, hunt for the ball like maniacs and deliver it long and accurately to Gary Plunkett and Morgan Quinn, trusting the two youngsters to avail of the space in front of them to pick off the scores or find the support players haring up the field to support them.
It is a tough and demanding style of play but it is one perfectly suited to the Willies where the emphasis on spirit and resilience is unmatched.
Yet against Melvin Gaels, Aughawillan will find it hard as the Kinlough men, at their best, are a mirror image of those qualities but they probably possess more strength in depth. A tight defence, a strong midfield and an attack that works hard for its own ball are the qualities that Melvin Gaels share with their opponents.
But in Emlyn Mulligan, they have a deadly accurate talisman while Conor Sheridan, Paul Brennan, Brendan Brennan, Stephen and Paul McGurran, Fabian McMorrow and Shane Ryan give the Gaels awesome strength all over the field.
The manner in which they responded to a searching test from Bornacoola in the quarter-finals only highlights just how far the Gaels have come and although they came far closer to defeat than they would have liked, that scare should have wiped any sense of complacency from the Kinlough team’s mindset.
No more than their neighbours, you get the feeling that Melvin Gaels haven’t hit top form yet and a resurgent Aughawillan will prove a much different test than Bornacoola, more mobile and less physically imposing, Aughawillan will test them in very different ways.
But you still get the feeling that Melvin Gaels just have too much strength around the field and with Emlyn Mulligan keeping the score-board ticking over, the Kinlough men should reach their first Senior Final since 2002.
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