Glen's hopes of Ulster three in-a-row rest on stifling Crossmaglen whirlwind
Bank of Ireland Ulster U21 Club Football Tournament final: Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) v Watty Graham’s, Glen (Derry) (Saturday, Creggan, 2.30pm)
IF WATTY Graham’s are victorious in Saturday’s Ulster U21 Club Football tournament final, few people will question that they did it the hard way.
The defending champions from south Derry had to battle past extremely strong Ramor United and Gaoth Dobhair sides to even make it to Saturday’s final, where they will face the might of Crossmaglen Rangers.
In the quarter-final, it was the goals of Paul Gunning, Tiarnán Flannigan and Cathal Mulholland that ultimately proved the difference in a 3-8 to 2-7 win over a Ramor team that included no less than 10 of their Cavan senior championship winning-side.
The sides were all square at half-time in Creggan, but the dismissal of Ramor centre-back Brian O’Connell gave the Derry men space to exploit, which they did to ruthless effect – all three of their goals coming in that second period.
Their semi-final meeting with Gaoth Dobhair was made that bit harder when Donegal senior manager Rory Gallagher released Michael Carroll, Kieran Gillespie and Cian Mulligan back to the Gaeltacht club for the last-four showdown.
And it appeared the Donegal men would, indeed, prove too hot to handle for the reigning champions as they led by six at half-time. To add to Glen’s woes, Cathal Mulholland was forced off through injury during that woeful first period.
But the second-half was a different matter altogether as Glen held their opponents scoreless and two late points by Danny Tallon and Conor Convery forced extra-time. When a Tommy Mullan point put Glen ahead for the first time, they never looked back as they hit several more unanswered points to make another final.
For their part, Crossmaglen’s campaign has been characterised by lightning quick starts that have left their opponents floundering.
In the quarter-final against Mayobridge, they were 11 to the good at half-time as Oisín O’Neill kicked 1-8 and Ryan McKeever also grabbed a goal. In the semi-final against Stewartstown Harps, it was 2-9 to 0-5 in their favour at the short whistle, with Oisín O’Neill and his brother Rían again to the fore.
But these first-half avalanches by Rangers have also been followed by second periods where they have found themselves smothered by the opposition. In the second-half against Mayobridge, they were restricted to 0-4 and needed the goalkeeping heroics of Tiernán McConville to prevent a seven-point win becoming something somewhat less comfortable.
Against Stewartstown, they were held scoreless for 19 minutes of the second-half as the Tyrone men battled back to within a goal of the south Armagh lads.
Watty Graham’s manager Enda Gormley will no doubt have spotted this trend in Crossmaglen’s games and will seek to exploit it accordingly as Glen go for their third Creggan U21 title in-a-row to add to their four recent minor gongs.
If they are to do so, the intensity and the will to win scrappy ball which Conor Convery, Jack Doherty and Conal Darragh bring to the middle of the park will be essential on the day. The fighting spirit and stamina the entire team demonstrated in those wins over Ramor and Gaoth Dobhair will also have to come in to play.
But if they are to get themselves into the position where that stamina can get them over the line, they will have to be extremely wary of an early Crossmgalen whirlwind that could put the game beyond their reach before half-time.
Glen’s ability to shackle the O’Neill brothers – Oisín and Rían – and stymie their scoring exploits will prove crucial to their hopes of a third Paddy McLarnon Cup in-a-row.