Ray Mulvey will be a key player for St. Mary's. Photo by Willie Donnellan
We’re down to the last four in the Connacht Gold Senior and Fox Monumentals Intermediate Championships and the drama and excitement is really starting to build.
Champions Aughawillan were knocked out by a Glencar/ Manorhamilton gaining a nice slice of revenge for their County Final defeat last year to complete an intriguing Senior semi-final line-up of Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s against Manor and Mohill against St. Mary’s Kiltoghert.
In the Intermediate grade, Leitrim Gaels may be positioning themselves as favourites with an impressive replay win over Fenagh St. Caillin’s and now face into a rematch with a Drumkeerin side they took to a replay and extra-time last year.
Aughnasheelin take on Carrigallen in the other semi-final while there are two other matches with some big interest this week, the Senior and Intermediate relegation finals.
Before we look at the games, interesting to note that while the top two teams from both groups in the Senior Championship have reached the semi-finals, the wide-open nature of the Intermediate sees a Drumkeerin team who finished fourth in their group take on a Leitrim Gaels team who were third in their group while Aughnasheelin, who topped group one face second placed Carrigallen from Group two.
BALLINAMORE SEAN O’HESLIN’S V GLENCAR/MANORHAMILTON
Never write off Glencar/ Manorhamilton - that’s the message Ballinamore players would do well to heed this week after the north Leitrim men produced a fantastic final quarter to end the reign of Aughawillan once more.
Aughawillan looked the better team for the first 40 minutes but crucially missed two goal chances. But Glencar/ Manor produced a superlative last quarter where they seemed to find fresh reserves of energy and determination.
The loss of Darren Sweeney will hurt and perhaps a fifth game in five weeks may leave them a little heavy legged but there is a feeling that Manor are peaking at the right time and two tough games against Aughawillan will bring them on incredibly.
Sean O’Heslin’s players were watching intently last Saturday and they will bring a very different challenge to Aughawillan. The power they possess around the middle of the field is huge and in Niall McGovern, they have the best target man in the Senior competition.
A lot of Ballinamore fans are worried that they haven’t been tested but they have conquered everything so far and their impressive strength in depth gives them options that few teams left in the competition can match.
O’Heslin’s have been the form team so far but semi-finals come with a pressure that can upset even the best team. Glencar/Manor are slight underdogs and that will suit them but I feel that the Ballinamore men may just sneak through this one.
ST. MARY’S KILTOGHERT V MOHILL
St. Mary’s are group winners and defeated Melvin Gaels while Mohill had a tougher than expected struggle against Drumreilly in the Quarter-Finals but Mary's are still regarded as major outsiders! And that will no doubt worry the Mohill brain trust who had a close look at the Carrick men in the quarter-final in Mohill.
What they saw in St. Mary’s is a team that didn’t play well but simply refused to lose, a trait they showed against Manor also and that means a lot in knockout football. Their only loss came against an Annaduff team they were expected to beat so going in under the radar will suit.
Mary’s can get goals and have an experienced team with a lot of physical power around the field. But strength in depth, physical power and pace is exactly what Mohill have in spades too and despite their struggles against Drumreilly, they remain the favourites.
Ronan Kennedy can get a score out of nothing while Keith Beirne’s accuracy is a killer. Mohill will need more scores from their other forwards but you sense that we haven’t really seen a big performance from the League champions, injuries definitely slowing their progress so far.
Mohill got a serious gut check against Drumreilly so you'd image complacency won’t be a problem and you have to believe they have too much scoring power and are frankly very focussed for St. Mary’s to pull off what would be a big upset.
AUGHNASHEELIN V CARRIGALLEN
Most people predict Aughnasheelin for the title now but nobody from Aughnasheelin who saw their team escape with an injury-time win over Mohill’s second string will take anything for granted against a Carrigallen team who have beaten some good teams so far.
Carrigallen had four points to spare over Mohill, beat Leitrim Gaels and seem to be building up a nice head of steam, their victory over Ballinaglera impressive. In Eoin Ward, they have a player who can take and create scores but they will want more support upfront.
Aughnasheelin looked brilliant in the first half against Mohill and were undefeated in the Group stages but any complacency is well and truly gone after the quarter-finals. Fintan Fitzpatrick is leading the line well but there is scoring threats from Ben McGirl, Fergal Earley and Gavin Sammon.
And that is without Conor Cullen’s surging runs from midfield, the experience of the McWeeney brothers & Wayne Gilgunn. It makes Aughnasheelin favourites for a good reason but Carrigallen are a formidable side and shouldn’t be underestimated. A tight, tight battle in store, Aughnasheelin to win.
LEITRIM GAELS V DRUMKEERIN
It’s not quite a grudge match but this is a game that Leitrim Gaels have wanted desperately ever since last year’s dramatic quarter-final replay loss to Drumkeerin, a team that went on to reach the final and only lost to an injury time point.
Their form may have been mixed in the group stages with losses to Carrigallen and Kiltubrid but they showed an organisation, desire and ability in the replay against Fenagh that suggests they are live contenders. Physically imposing, the Gaels are able to hang on when they are struggling and can pounce in deadly fashion when they need to.
Drumkeerin’s form has been equally mixed but the spirit they showed in overcoming Cloone in the quarter-finals suggest a team that refuses to give up. They know Leitrim Gaels inside out and will have watched the replay last Saturday very closely, knowing full well the scale of the challenge against them.
Predicting this game has to be on current form and even though they will have five games played in five weeks next Sunday, Leitrim Gaels look like a team who are in form and playing with confidence. The Gaels to march on.
In the Intermediate game, you have to expect Eslin should come through against Glenfarne/Kiltyclogher but the Senior game is anybody's guess as neighbours Annaduff and Bornacoola come face to face with so much on the line.
Annaduff will miss Mattie Cox hugely after his dismissal as he has been a real leader this year. Annaduff were in the relegation final last year and produced a big performance to avoid the drop but the tide may just be with Bornacoola next Sunday.