Derek Hunt of the Copper Still Dromod presents a set of jerseys to the Bornacoola Senior team. Pictured, from left, Declan Bohan, Anthony Mulligan, Damian Moran and Derek Hunt. Photo Willie Donnellan
The marathon five-game Group stages of the Connacht Gold Senior and Fox Monumentals Intermediate Championship is finally coming to boiling point next weekend.
With teams beginning to look at their table and see what they need to do to make the top four, the pressure is building nicely for what promises to be a weekend that sorts out a lot of issues in both competitions.
It is not that the penultimate round of games will decide everything but it will decide who has a chance to play for something in the final round and it will be interesting to see if the attitude towards the Group stages will change any more. There seems to be a feeling that the Group stages are too long but perhaps spacing the games out more might solve that problem.
We take a brief look at all the games next weekend at both Senior and Intermediate level:
ANNADUFF V ST. MARY’S KILTOGHERT
A local derby with a lot of urgency for Annaduff - St. Mary’s are more or less through with three wins and could afford to drop the points but for Annaduff, the need to keep pace with Bornacoola is paramount. Bornacoola did what Annaduff narrowly failed to - beat Glencar/Manor - and it has transformed the group. Annaduff do have a potential banker against Dromahair in their final game but they need to stay on the same points as their neighbours to take the head to head tiebreaker. The question for Annaduff is do they let their need override their emotion and they lose focus to a Carrick squad that look clinical and are quietly building a nice head of steam. If it is close, Annaduff’s desire may get them across the line but the formbook would suggest St. Mary’s will emerge victorious.
BALLINAMORE SEAN O’HESLIN’S V MOHILL
It is a real pity that this is not a Thursday or Friday night fixture as it will draw a huge crowd. The teams are eerily similar as they move with great pace, have potent forward lines and mobile and effective midfields along with defences that give up little. This is the biggest test so far of Ballinamore’s growing ambitions but it is a test too for Mohill and maybe a chance to see what happens when they meet a team that stay with them physically for the entire 60 minutes. I’d be very reluctant to put any money on this game - both have really impressed me and look like potential finalists. It will be close and both teams will want to lay down a marker but if pushed, Mohill.
DRUMREILLY V GLENCAR/MANORHAMILTON
You’d have got long odds on both these teams being tied on four points at this stage of the competition as Drumreilly continue to defy expectations and it will take an unlikely series of results for them not to make the quarter-finals now. Yet the absence of John McKeon with a serious hamstring tear is something they simply cannot afford and while they came through against Annaduff last week, it will cost them against a Glencar/Manorhamilton team determined to atone for their shock loss to Bornacoola. That defeat will have stung the north Leitrim men and a win on Saturday will book their place in the knockout stages. Expect a reaction and a win for the north Leitrim men.
AUGHAWILLAN V MELVIN GAELS
This is no simple match as Aughawillan will want to remove any hope for the teams below them by winning while Melvin Gaels want to rubber stamp a place in the quarter-finals so something has to give. Aughawillan haven’t shown the form of last year by any means but the return of Pearce Dolan boosts their options and are hopeful that their injured players come back soon. But as they showed against Ballinamore, they are playing in spurts and need a consistent display if they are to win.
Melvin lost to Mohill, no shame in that, but they will want to avoid finishing in third or fourth place and facing one of the stronger teams in the quarter-finals. Darragh Rooney will find his space much constricted and the rest of the Gaels need to lift their games around him to see them through. Many fans are talking Aughawillan up and you wouldn't disagree with them but this is the sort of test that will tell us much about the young Melvin Gaels team. Tradition says Aughawillan, form says Melvin Gaels and form is usually the best indicator.
RELEGATION BATTLE TO GO DOWN TO THE WIRE
Nearly every game expect the meeting of Ballinamore and Mohill has some effect on the relegation battle in the Connacht Gold Senior Championship but two games stand out above all as the losers are doomed to the relegation semi-finals.
In Group One, Allen Gaels have been well beaten in all their games but the Drumshanbo men had led at halftime in two of them and rallied to within four of Melvin Gaels in round three. They are much better than their results show. Gortletteragh look devoid of self-confidence but the battling display against Mohill may restore some of that. Injuries are killing them too but a fully healthy Jack Heslin is capable of doing real damage.
In Group 2, Dromahair look set for the trap door after three heavy, heavy defeats and the manner of the loss to St. Mary’s doesn’t inspire any confidence. The question is whether all belief has been drained from their ranks or can they summon a surprise here. Bornacoola gave themselves a huge chance with a stunning win over Glencar/ Manor. They were hanging on for dear life after a superb first half but expectations are raised now for this one and that will add to the pressure.
You cannot predict either game with any great confidence but Bornacoola look the stronger team while a draw may be a good bet in other game but if pushed, Allen Gaels may just sneak it.
FENAGH & CLOONE OUT IN FRONT, EVERYONE ELSE BATTLING IN INTERMEDIATE GRADE
BALLINAGLERA V FENAGH ST. CAILLIN’S
Fenagh don’t really need to win this game but it is hard to see them letting up now. Ballinaglera know a win would leave them in a great position and they should a lot of heart and spirit to earn a draw with Aughnasheelin. But Fenagh look to be the class of the competition at the moment and you can only see a win for the Red & Black.
DRUMKEERIN V ESLIN
Whoever wins here takes a huge step to making the quarter-finals. Eslin took advantage of some appalling misses from Ballinaglera to win their game but have suffered heavy losses against Aughnasheelin & Fenagh. Drumkeerin finally got a win over Aughavas but stopping the Beirne brothers will be a tough task. On overall strength in depth, Drumkeerin have a definite advantage but they haven’t delivered a full 60 minutes. If they get near that, expect a win for the north Leitrim side but this truly is one game that could go either way.
AUGHAVAS V AUGHNASHEELIN
Aughavas can get back into contention with a win while Aughnasheelin can confirm their place in the quarter-finals with a win. Severely under-strength against Ballinaglera, it told in their performance but Aughnasheelin still have lots of talent & experience. A win would almost certainly put Ballinaglera in the quarter-finals but they haven’t been great in dealing with the pressure. You have to think that Aughnasheelin have too much strength here.
CARRIGALLEN V KILTUBRID
Kiltubrid need the points to get back in contention as a loss would leave them perilously close to the relegation series. Carrigallen showed more hunger and self-belief and the manner in which they fought back against Leitrim Gaels is a huge boost. If they keep that spirit, Carrigallen should edge a tight one.
GLENFARNE/KILTYCLOGHER V MOHILL
Glenfarne/Kilty are incredibly short of numbers and form and Mohill are certainly not either of those. A second win for the second string Mohill team.
CLOONE V LEITRIM GAELS
Cloone have been impressive all year but they come up against an imposing Leitrim Gaels outfit who have been up and down during the campaign. A loss won’t be fatal but Cloone, if their injuries clear up, probably have the greater momentum at the moment and should edge it.