Gaelic championship fever erupts

Gaelic championship fever erupts

7 August 2019

CHAMPIONSHIP fever will be sweeping through the county over the next five days.

Reputations will be put on the line as all the sparring that has taken place throughout the league campaigns is replaced by an iron resolve to make a mark.

The action gets underway tomorrow night with four games down for decision.

Most interest will be focused on Pairc Esler with Clonduff taking on Saval in the SFC at 8pm. A few weeks ago Clonduff would have been regarded as red hot favourites to progress against their Division 2 opponents.

However, it is uncertain if the Hilltown outfit will be at full strength as several of their players headed off to the USA a fortnight ago.

Clonduff were beaten 2-21 to 2-11 on Friday night by Burren and given half a chance, Pat Havern and Daniel McCarthy could take full advantage of Clonduff’s misfortunes and lead Saval to a surprise win.

The curtain-raiser for this game is the IFC encounter between Drumaness and Glasdrumman at 6.30pm. Drumaness are expected to progress as the Quarter Road outfit have yet to win a game this season and seem certain to be relegated from Division 3.

A Gary Murdock-inspired Drumaness beat Glasdrumman 4-14 to 0-4 at the start of July and they will be intent on repeating that result.

There are two IFC games also down for decision over at Fontenoy Park when Drumgath face Darragh Cross and Teconnaught clash with St John’s.

Darragh have been involved in a tense battle for promotion into the top flight, but recent defeats to Carryduff and Longstone have dented their aspirations.

However, they are a championship team and in Shane Murray, Michael Monan, Joe McKinney, Matty Hardy and Anton McGrattan they have players capable of going all the way this year and Drumgath, who lie in second place in Division 3, will do well to get a result.

The Teconnaught v St John’s derby should be a nice opener for the Drumnaquoile side who are more than holding their own in Division 2 with John Clarke, Conor Morgan, Marty Keenan and the Flanagans all in good form.

Teconnaught, who won the JFC title last season, will rely on Paddy Grant, Jack Larkin, Ciaran Carville, David Kelly and Tony Davis to keep them competitive.

Friday night sees another four games take place — two in Burren and two in Newcastle.

A lot of focus will naturally fall on the SFC game between Kilcoo and An Riocht in Burren.

Kilcoo have made no secret of the fact that they are determined to regain the Frank O’Hare Cup after losing out to Burren in last year’s decider.

They have blooded several new faces this season and are well in the running for the ACFL Division 1 crown, but they will not be taking An Riocht lightly, despite their 

indifferent season in Division 2. The Branagan, Devlin, Laverty and Johnston brothers will ensure Kilcoo go into the game in the right frame of mind.

At the same venue, Shamrocks clash with Tullylish with the outcome hard to predict.

Tullylish have fallen from grace in recent months and have been cast adrift at the bottom of Division 2. Shamrocks are in the top half of Division 3, but it looks as if they have missed out on promotion yet again.

The game of the night should be in Newcastle where Carryduff lock horns with Castlewellan in the SFC.

D J Morgan’s Carryduff side seem destined for Division 1, while Castlewellan are battling to avoid relegation to Division 2.

Carryduff have really made their mark this season with James and Daniel Guinness, Owen McCabe, Ronan Beatty, John McGeogh and Josh Connery all to the fore.

Castlewellan are just now starting to get a few of their walking wounded back in action and Sean Dornan, Liam, Donal and Gareth McKibbin, Colly Flanagan, Rory Burns and Daniel Morgan could prove a handful for a young Carryduff side.

The curtain-raiser to this game is the IFC encounter between Annaclone and Atticall. 

Ciaran Brannigan’s Annaclone have been blazing a trail of glory at the top of Division 3 and it is unlikely that Atticall, who are 14 points behind them in the table, will inflict their first defeat of the season on them. 

Annaclone were held to a 0-12 to 1-9 draw by a fast-improving Ballymartin side on Friday night, but they still should have too much firepower for Atticall.

Saturday sees another four games take place.

Top billing goes to the Loughinisland v Longstone SFC clash in Castlewellan.

Loughinisland have taken Division 1 by storm since their return this season and are riding high in third place after Friday night’s 0-14 to 0-9 win over a good Warrenpoint offering at Macartan Park. 

Longstone, on the other hand, are embroiled with Carryduff for an automatic promotion place at the top of Division 2 and now that Ambrose Rogers and Mark Poland are back to full fitness, this should be a cracking affair.

Absolutely nothing separated the sides when they met in Division 2 last year and the same should be the case on Saturday.

Loughinisland will rely on their big hitters Dan Gordon — still good enough to be playing county football — Jonny Flynn, Rory Mason, Stefan Mason and the McClements brothers and they should progress.

This game will be proceeded by the Saul v Bosco IFC encounter.

Saul, if they can reproduce the sort of form they showed a fortnight ago to beat Carryduff, will be expected to ease past their Division 3 opponents, but championship football doesn’t always work that way.

Bosco fell to a narrow 1-14 to 1-12 defeat away to Clann na Banna on Friday night while Saul were soundly beaten 3-13 to 0-9 by Bredagh.

However, Donnan Ritchie will have his charges pumped up for this encounter with the Arnold, Harney and Mahoney brothers prepared to take the game to Bosco.

It will be a short trip down the road to Kilcoo for the next two games on Saturday.

Glenn play Liatroim in the IFC at 6.30pm and Bryansford take on Bredagh.  

Neither Glenn or Bredagh have been causing a stir this season, but now is the time to turn it on. Liatroim should be at full strength with the McCrickard connections finally finished with their county hurling commitments and the Fontenoys might just cause an upset.

The big game on Saturday night is the Bryansford v Bredagh game in the SFC.

Bryansford have been plagued by injuries to key players all season long, but in Davy McKibben, Ruairi Wells, Danny Savage and Conor Maginn they have the men for all jobs and I would expect them to see off Bredagh.

Brendan Mason’s outfit hammered Saul on Friday night and in Donal Hughes, Tommy McElroy, Eoin Costello and Conor Francis they have players capable of mixing it with the best, but last year’s IFC winners might find Bryansford’s physicality too much to handle. 

There are another three games to be played on Sunday.

Ballymartin face Clann na Banna in the IFC at Mayobridge at 1pm before Warrenpoint take on Ballyholland and Burren lock horns with neighbours Mayobridge at Pairc Esler.

Ballymartin seem to have turned the corner after a few disappointing results, but they are now operating at full strength again and warmed up for the championship with a draw against runaway Division 3 leaders Annaclone on Friday night.

Clann na Banna are sitting in a comfortable mid-table position, but I don’t think they will give Ballymartin too much to worry about.

The Ballyholland v Warrenpoint game should be another close encounter.

Ballyholland may lie bottom of the Division 1 table, but Warrenpoint are only four points above them. The ‘Point have potential match winners in the Boyles and Ross McGarry with Ballyholland looking to the Murphy brothers, Tiarnan Rushe and Seamus Loughran.

The Mayobridge v Burrren game is the tie of the round.

Paddy O’Rourke’s side, the defending league champions and Frank O’Hare Cup holders, will not relinquish their grip on both trophies without a fight.

They have been a little bit inconsistent of late, but bounced back to their best on Friday night with a comfortable 2-21 to 2-11 victory away to Clonduff, while Mayobridge were beaten 1-20 to 2-8 by Kilcoo.

In Kevin McKernan, Donal O’Hare, Liam Kerr and the McAvoy brothers, Burren have the perfect blend of youth and experience, while Maybridge will look to Corey Quinn, Shane Annett and the combative Conor Garvey to keep them interested.

Downpatrick and Rostrevor bring the curtain down on the first round of fixtures when they clash in Hilltown on Monday night.

The sides met last Friday night in the league at Petit Park with Rostrevor winning 5-11 to 2-15. However, Caolan Mooney, who was literally unplayable in that game, is unable to play in the championship and that could well hand the initiative to the Hoops.

Downpatrick will again look to big performances from their big game players and they don’t come any bigger than Gerard Colllins, Michael Magee, Conor McGrady, Jarlath Branagan and the Turley brothers.

Without Mooney, Pete McGrath’s side will look to Conor Doyle, John Connolly, Shan Parr and Piras Kane for inspiration.