Make or break time in championships

Make or break time in championships

11 September 2019

IT’S knockout GAA championship action all the way this weekend with no less than four SFC and IFC quarter-finals and two JFC semi-finals.

The action gets underway on Friday night at Clonduff where Ballymartin face Shamrocks and Drumgath lock horns with St John’s, both in the IFC.

A few miles down the road at Eoghan Rua Pairc in Kilcoo, Dundrum play Dromara in the JFC and Darragh Cross face Saul in the IFC.

Ballymartin will be hoping to repeat an earlier round 1-16 to 1-10 victory over Shamrocks and maintain their unbeaten run, but the Newry side have been working away effectively out of the limelight and they should again give the Lilywhites a run for their money.

Jody McGovern, Jack Haughey and Niall Rafferty have all been showing up well for the Newry side and they will be looking to secure a semi-final spot.

However, Ballymartin have been extremely impressive in recent weeks and with Peter Fitzpatrick, Ryan McCullagh and Ross Cunningham, Paul Quinn, Owen Collins and Cathal Doyle all in sparkling form, the Pat’s Road side should progress.

A John Clarke-inspired St John’s are fancied to take care of business against Drumgath in the IFC. 

The Johnnies have accounted for Teconnaught and a good Annaclone offering, while Drumgath lost out in the first round to Darragh Cross.

However, they have bounced back well since that defeat and subsequently edged out Tullylish before accounting for Drumaness and they are also running into a nice bit of form at a crucial stage of the season with Ryan Hillen, Cathal Tumilty, Shea McConville and Colum McComish all in great form.

St John’s, on the other hand, have been building up a nice head of steam and Clarke, Marty Keenan, Chris McKay and Conor Morgan should have too much firepower and a place in the last four awaits them.

The big IFC East Down derby between Darragh Cross and Saul in Kilcoo is another blockbuster.

Saul have more than held their own in their first year in Division 2. They rely a lot on scores from the Harney brothers and Cathail Arnold, but Ruairi O’Hare, a member of St Patrick’s Grammar School’s recent MacLarnon Cup winning team, is starting to make his presence felt and, along with the Mahoney brothers and Rory Mullen, they should be able to mount a serious challenge to Darragh.

The St Mochais outfit are fancied in some quarters to go all the way this year, given their strength in attack. Shane Murray, Matthew Hardy, Marcus Miskelly, Joe McKinney, Paddy Branny and Anton McGrattan are all seasoned campaigners and should have too much in reserve for Saul.

The Dundrum v Aughlisnafin JFC curtain-raiser at Kilcoo is another interesting and potentially explosive derby tie.

Aughlisnafin dumped pre-tournament favourites Dromara out of the competition with a sparkling 1-12 to 1-9 victory at Liatroim last Thursday night and are determined to secure their place in the final, but Dundrum will certainly not make it easy for them.

If Dundrum can get their best 15 out then the ‘Fin are in for a game and a half. Paddy Curry, Odrhran and Oisin McKibbin and Aiden Fegan are on fire for Dundrum and Chris Doran, Adam Gartland, Donagh Steele and Oran Flanagan will have to be at their best to see off their challenge.

There are another four games down for decision on Sunday, two in Newcastle and two in Burren.

The JFC semi-final between Bright and St Paul’s takes place at 1.30pm and will be a fitting curtain-raiser to the SFC clash between Carryduff and Clonduff.

Kyran Smyth has Bright in good shape at the minute and recent results show that they are in the perfect frame of mind.

In Gareth George, Kevin Groves — if he is fit after dislocating a finger — Freddie O’Connor, B J McMenamin and Jack McLaughlin they have potential match winners, but St Paul’s will be no pushovers as they showed in their quarter-final win over Ardglass.

Star man, Sean Tucker, must be stopped as will the Eastwood brothers, Patrick Falls, Chris Shannon and Eoin Kelly, but Bright fancy their chances and if they can field at full strength, then a second final appearance in three years is more than a reality.

The Carryduff v Clonduff encounter is the first of three SFC games to take place on the day.

D J Morgan’s Division 2 table-toppers will have nothing to lose when they pit their wits against a star-laden Hilltown side.

However, James Guinness, John McGeough, Josh Connery, Joe McFlynn, Ronan Beatty and Gareth Henderson will have their hands full trying to prevent the O’Hagans, McConvilles, Carrs and Liam McGreevy from exerting their considerable experience and ability on proceedings.  

Warrenpoint then take on Longstone in Burren in the SFC.

The ‘Point are firm favourites to progress to the last four.

In Ross McGarry, Ryan Mallon, John Boyle, Jamie Grant and Ryan McAleenan they have experienced, battle-hardened campaigners, but so too do Longstone and in Ambrose Rogers, Mark, Cormac and Conor Poland, Michael Ireland, Conor Doran and ‘keeper, Michael McStay, they have players capable of more than holding their own.

The SFC Mayobridge v Ballyholland game finishes a hectic Sunday schedule.

The ‘Bridge have beaten Burren and Loughinisland on their way to the last eight and they should be too strong for Ballyholland.

But anyone writing the Harps off could have another thing coming.

They are a resilient bunch of players with an insatiable work rate and in Joe Murphy they have a dedicated playmaker who leads from the front. He will receive great support from Tiarnan Rushe, Seamus Loughran, Paul Murphy, Jack Grant and Stephen Grant. 

Mayobridge will rely on Conor Garvey, Corey Quinn, Shane Annett, Caolan Gallagher and Michael Lively and I would expect them to go through.

The final two games take place at Pairc Esler, Newry, on Monday night and what a way to finish off what will be a feast of football.

IFC favourites Glenn come up against Liatroim in a massive game for both sides.

Liatroim have yet to find their best form, but maybe they have been keeping it in reserve for games like this.

Conor and Ruairi McCrickard, Liam Middleton, PJ Davidson, Robbie O’Hare and Gerard McAnulty will look to impose themselves on Glenn, but Matty Bagnall, Jack McCartan, Jarlath McConaghy, Patrick Brooks, Daire Millar and Stevie and Cormac Clarke will not bend the knee easily.

The biggest game of all between Burren and Kilcoo has been left to last.

The Frank O’Hare Cup holders have yet to set the competition alight, whereas Kilcoo have been confidently going through the gears with the minimum of fuss, but when arguably the best two sides clash in the quarter-final stages of the championship, something has to give.

Burren, who scraped past Castlewellan, will again look to Kevin McKernan, Cathal Foy, Liam Kerr and Ryan Treanor to lead the charge with Kilcoo relying on the Branagan brothers, Paul Devlin and Conor Laverty.

This tie has all the ingredients of a classic and if Burren can reproduce the sort of commitment shown in last year’s final then they could well lower Kilcoo’s colours again.

However, Kilcoo seem to have regained their mojo and when in full flow there are few teams who can cope with their intensity. Given Kilcoo’s hunger and desire, I believe it will be their name going into the hat for the semi-final draw.