Loughinisland out to make up for lost time against Na Mara
AIB Ulster Club Intermediate Football Championship final: Loughinisland (Down) v Réalt na Mara, Bundoran (Donegal) (Sunday, Owenbeg, 2.30pm)
LOUGHINISLAND have already made history by becoming the first team from their club to reach an Ulster final, but it will mean little if they don’t overcome Bundoran in Sunday’s Intermediate Club Championship final in Owenbeg.
Loughinisland were Down senior champions in 1989, but their Ulster adventure ended in the semi-final at the hands of Scotstown. It has been a long road for the current crop of players, some more difficult than others.
Conor O’Toole is a player who lives and breathes GAA as Down’s full-time development officer, but an injury in pre-season meant he missed eight months of competitive action.
He said: “It has been a tough year as I tore my Achilles tendon in February and had a minor operation on it, so I am only really finding my form over the past three months and pushing hard for a place in the team.
“But I am fortunate enough to get myself back into the swing of things and into the starting line-up. Fingers crossed that I can stay there. Some of the boys are probably feeling that the season is never going to end, but there was a long time that I was wondering if this season would ever start.”
After winning the Down Championship, Loughinisland put Derry’s Greenlough to the sword in the opening round thanks to two goals from Down icons Dan Gordon and Gareth ‘Magic’ Johnston. From then, they have improved game by game, beating Tyrone’s fancied Endendork and then convincingly overcoming Doohamlet of Monaghan.
Bundoran needed extra-time to shake off Armagh’s Clann Éireann, but never looked like losing in the Ulster semi-final against Antrim’s Glenavy.
Both intermediate finalists were relegated from the top flight of their respective county leagues. Loughinisland lost to Longstone in a play-off to be denied promotion to Division One, whereas Bundoran are still in the hunt for promotion in the Senior League in Donegal.
It should be a fascinating contest as both teams are set-up to attack. While Gordon will take on much of the midfield duties for Loughinisland, the lively Rory Mason is an exciting forward who has caught the attention of new Down manager Éamonn Burns.
Stefan Mason and Aaron McClements are busy, creative players, while Johnny Flynn is sure to cause the Bundoran defence problems with his pace. And then there is the physical presence of big Johnston to contend with.
Bundoran also bring plenty of firepower to the table, with Christy Keaney a magnificent forward who needs little space to cause damage. Tommy Hourihane is an accurate free-taker, while Diarmuid Sprat and Gary Glancy will need to be watched closely.
O’Toole has played adult football with his club for 18 years and only picked up his first medal when Loughinisland won the county intermediate championship. He knows Sunday’s contest against the Donegal champions is a precious opportunity - and one he has battled hard to see.
“I am a bit longer in the tooth than the majority of boys in the squad and this is something that can’t be sniffed at,” said O’Toole.
“We have had too many barren years at the club and it is 26 years since any senior male player picked up any kind of silverware for the club. Maybe the younger boys could be forgiven for thinking that this is going to become a regular occurrence, but I can assure you that, after playing senior football for 18 years with the club, it is far from it.
“We won the Championship in 1989 and got beat by Scotstown in the Ulster semi-final - so this is something new for the club and we would be very proud to be the first to bring an Ulster title to the club.”