Glenullin are facing a huge step up in the form of the Loup
NEWLY-PROMOTOED Glenullin, fresh from their unbeaten Division Two league run that took them to the title and promotion back to the top-flight, face Loup at Owenbeg on Saturday at 5pm for a quarter final place against Glen.
Following their relegation last year, Glenullin were immediately installed as favourites to go straight back up and, with Liam Bradley back as manager, they skated through Division Two unbeaten. They also won the Ulster senior football league, beating Coalisland in the final and that immediately highlighted they were a good senior team.
However, facing Johnny McBride’s Loup will be a huge step up from anything they faced in Division Two. The loss of Neil McNicholl with a cruciate ligament injury was a big blow and they will have to face up to both Paddy and Eoin Bradley being in America since late July. No doubt, they will return fit, but maybe not as match fit as Liam Bradley would have liked. This championship game was put back with the agreement of Loup to accommodate some Glenullin players who were travelling to New York for the wedding of former team-mate Neil Mullan. All that disruption will have upset the Glenullin plans considerably.
Loup had an excellent league campaign, finishing just three points behind winners Magherafelt on 21 points. They had 10 wins, one draw and four defeats in their 15 games but, notably, it was strong teams like Ballinderry, Slaughtneil and Magherafelt who got the better of them. Loup have the advantage of playing two more league games after Glenullin had mopped up the second division. No doubt, Glenullin were not idle, but nothing beats competitive games.
In previous meetings, Glenullin would have had the edge and they go into this game with a huge advantage in experience. Players like Brian Mullan, Eoin McNicholl, Gerard O’Kane and Paddy and Eoin Bradley have played county senior football and, indeed, were in the team who took the title in 2007.
Loup, under Johnny McBride, may lack the experience of Glenullin, but they do have an advantage in pace and, probably, team work, given they have played more games at a higher level. The hard working Aidan McAlynn is partnered at midfield by the strong Terence O’Brien, a player of huge potential but lacking in consistency. On his day, he can be a match winner. They will be facing a Glenullin pairing of big Tarlach Bradley and the experienced Brian Mullan. That duel could have a big bearing on the game.
Thomas Mallon, with his pin-point kicking-out, will be an asset to Loup, who are not the biggest team in the competition. County minor star Patrick Coney, county U21 captain Jason Rocks, the elusive Anthony O’Neill and the consistent Declan McVey are key players in a well-balanced Loup team.
Glenullin are always a team to be feared in the championship and they will be determined to make their mark after a forgettable 2015. Loup’s biggest problem will be to curtail the influence of Paddy Bradley, if they double up on him then there are other players who can make hay in the extra space, like the two Chrissy Dempseys, Eoin Bradley and ace free-taker Dermot O’Kane. At the other end, the Glenullin defence, which was only tested by Ballymaguigan during the league, will have to face a slick moving St Patrick’s attack, led by the experienced Paul Young.
It is a game that is difficult to weigh up, given Glenullin’s games were against Division Two opposition and most of them resulted in facile wins. There is, no doubt, a risk factor in the step up, but they must feel confident they can make their mark at senior level.
The Bradley brothers, Paddy and Eoin, have been playing with the Donegal club in Boston and they have qualified for the championship final. While they play Loup at 5pm on Saturday, the Boston final is the following day.