Glen success story looks set to continue against St John's
ANOTHER chapter could be written in the Glen underage success story as Watty Graham’s go in search of a second successive Ulster U21 title against St John’s at Creggan on Sunday.
Last year’s win, a 2-11 to 0-7 victory against Cavan outfit St Joseph’s, came on the back of four Ulster minor triumphs between 2011 and '14. It seems Watty Graham’s have developed the perfect blueprint when it comes to developing players and it all points towards the club emerging as a genuine force at senior level in a few years’ time.
Current U21 manager Enda Gormley has been heavily involved in those provincial successes and there has been a familiarity to their teamsheet too. Look back at the team that had 19 points to spare against Armagh Harps in the 2011 minor final and the majority of names remain. Ciaran McFaul, Danny Tallon, Conor Convery, Paul Gunning and Cathal Mulholland starred then, and are all starring now.
Stevie O’Hara was a shining light on that team of four years ago too, and his return form a year-long injury as a second-half substitute in last week’s 5-10 to 1-5 win over Magheracloone was another huge boost for the Derry outfit.
Two of their goals last week came from Conor Glass, who was too young to play minor football in 2011. The midfielder signed with AFL outfit Hawthorn last year, but will line out in the centre of the pitch at Creggan.
It may appear that Watty Graham’s are unstoppable, but St John’s have shown enough already this year to suggest they have the character to front up to the Oak Leafers.
The quarter-final was a stroll in the park as they defeated Ramor United 3-12 to 0-9, but their real highlight was their semi-final comeback against Cullyhanna. The south Armagh side have dominated their county at this level and they had huge aspirations of claiming the provincial crown, given the class of their forward line. They looked on course to get the chance to achieve that goal as they led by three points with time running out. The Johnnies, however, showed real grit and goals from the brilliant Matthew Fitzpatrick and Darragh McCallion saw them through with four points to spare.
Fitzpatrick is the fulcrum of the St John’s attack, especially as the Johnston brothers - Ciaran and Conor - will be on duty with the Antrim hurlers. He is enjoying a fine season for both club and county and he scored the decisive goal in Antrim’s 1-8 to 0-7 Division Four win over Wexford two weeks ago.
The big question for St John’s will be whether or not they have learned from past mistakes. They lost out to Glen in the 2012 Ulster minor series, but it was last year’s U21 semi-final clash that will really grate.
Watty Graham’s entered the match as big favourites, but were rocked back on their heels as they trailed 3-5 to 1-5 at the break - Fitzpatrick grabbing two first-half goals. Coming from behind is something that had almost been alien to the Glen side, but they were calm and composed in the second-half and eventually won on a 2-14 to 3-6 scoreline.
That’s why they will probably succeed on Sunday. St John’s are undoubtedly a hugely talented side and, like last year, they have every chance of pushing Glen all the way. However, Glen have that sought-after experience of being in provincial finals and knowing how to win them. That will probably be the difference on Sunday.
Watty Graham’s should once again prove they are the club that stands tallest at underage level in Ulster.