Friday evening club action in Armagh, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone
Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship semi-final: Burren v Castlewellan (Friday, Pairc Esler, 8.15pm)
BURREN or Castlewellan will become the first team to book their place in the final of the Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship when they face each other on Friday in Newry.
Burren, managed by Paddy O’Rourke and Steven McDonnell, have their eyes firmly on the Frank O’Hare Cup but won’t take Castlewellan lightly.
‘The Town’ haven’t won the Championship since the back-to-back winning team of 1994 and ’95, whereas Burren’s success has been more recent, with back-to-back wins over their own in 2010 and ’11.
Castlewellan, though, have enjoyed a taste of silverware already this year by winning the Down Division One League after beating Kilcoo in the postponed 2016 final and they will be quietly confident of pulling off an upset.
However, their hopes have suffered a hammer blow with top scorer Daniel Morgan suspended for the game following his red card against Loughinisland.
Morgan is an inspirational figure but without him players such as Sean Dornan and Kevin Duffin will need to step up.
‘The Town’ go into the contest relatively untested having beaten Bredagh, Saval, An Riocht and Loughinisland en route, whereas Burren’s quarter-final win over rivals Mayobridge is perfect preparation according to assistant manager Steven McDonnell.
“We knew that they could win it with the last kick of the game and to come out on the right side of the result in that scenario certainly brings a team’s momentum on and gives us great confidence,” he said.
“There is no doubting the ability and the quality that we have in the dressing room but at the end of the day these guys have to learn from previous years and improve on previous years.”
Burren have improved from last season and they are a much more mobile team than 12 months ago.
Of course that has been greatly helped due to the return of the sharp-shooting Donal O’Hare, who spent much of last summer in the States.
Kevin McKernan has carried his impressive form with St Mary’s and Down into his club displays but is playing with freedom higher up the pitch.
Mark McKay’s midfield reputation continues to grow with each performance and while much has been expected of young Ryan Treanor, the cool forward hasn’t disappointed with his performances, especially against Glenn and Mayobridge.
County team-mates, Burren’s Gerard McGovern and Sean Dornan are likely to renew acquaintances in tonight’s clash, in what should be a fascinating battle.
There is no doubt that the Town won’t roll over but Burren have the cutting edge and should progress.
The second semi-final between Kilcoo and RGU Downpatrick takes place on Saturday in Pairc Esler, with a 5.15pm throw-in.
Donnelly Group Armagh SFC quarter-final: Armagh Harps v St Patrick’s, Cullyhanna (tonight, Athletic Grounds, 8.30pm)
ARMAGH Harps and St Patrick’s Cullyhanna, in a repeat of their second round encounter, cross swords again on Friday at the Athletic Grounds – this time with a semi-final place at stake.
Ryan McShane’s hat-trick of goals had Harps cruising by 14 points when the sides met in Crossmaglen. St Pat’s found their rhythm, however, in the closing 20 minutes bagging three quick goals to make a game of it, but the city outfit just managed to survive.
St Pat’s had little bother seeing the Wolfe Tones off in the first round. Goals from Ross McQuillan (2) and Aodhan Conlon left them 3-8 to 0-5 at the break with Mick O’Dowd’s charges going on to win 3-17 to 1-10 – the Tones’ only goal coming with the last kick of the ball.
Despite going through the league with vastly depleted numbers, Cullyhanna were able to retain their Section A status. They now have most of their panel back, including top marksman Aidan Nugent, whose introduction in the qualifier success against Whitecross proved beneficial.
However, that 2-12 to 2-7 victory over St Killian’s was not overly impressive and last year’s beaten finalists will have to improve significantly if they are to avenge that Harps defeat.
As for Harps, managed by former club and county player John Toner, the last 20 minutes of that game has to be worrying.
They were steamrolling St Pat’s in every department, only to suddenly fall apart. St Pat’s introduced a number of regulars and goals from Kieran Hoey (2) and Shea Hoey turned the contest on its head.
Harps have a championship tradition, something their opponents lack.
The city side were kingpins back in the 1950s but had to wait all of 31 years to win back the title. They won it again in 1991 but, despite two recent final appearances, when they were hammered by Crossmaglen, another sizeable gap has emerged.
As for St Pat’s, they have yet to win the prize and were bitterly disappointed at losing out last year to Maghery, having toppled their great rivals, Crossmaglen at the
semi-final stage. Both teams will certainly be on a mission tonight so a fine game is in prospect.
St Pat’s defence wouldn’t need to be as lackadaisical as they were in the first half of the previous encounter. One would expect the likes of Ciaran McKeever, Stephen Reel, Paudie McCreesh, Sean Connell and Gary McCooey to be on their game.
The side has a strong and forceful midfield pairing in Mal Mackin and Barry McConville and, up front, Jason Duffy, the Hoeys, Eugene Casey, Aidan Nugent, Aodhan Conlon and young Ross McQuillan, if recovered from injury,will give the Harps rearguard plenty to think about.
The Harps will be looking to their county men, keeper Patrick Morrison, Charlie Vernon (left) and Joe McElroy to show the way. Conor White, who missed most of the season through injury, may also make an appearance.
The city representatives have no shortage of talent – Ryan McShane, Ultan Lennon, Simon McCoy, Declan McKenna, Kaol Loughran and Tom O’ Kane all classy performers.
The result will ultimately depend on who wants it most. Harps will be anxious to pull off the double and may just be capable of doing that.
Donnelly Vauxhall Tyrone SFC
THE first round of the Donnelly Vauxhall Tyrone SFC will be completed over the weekend, starting with Friday evening’s meeting of Donaghmore and Greencastle at Healy Park (8.30pm).
Neither side ranks among the leading contenders to win the O’Neill Cup, but they will approach this tie with all the championship fervour and passion they can muster.
For Greencastle, it’s an opportunity to lift spirits following a difficult league campaign which ultimately ended in relegation. They won’t play in the senior championship next season, but will be keen to make as big an impact as possible in this year’s series.
Donaghmore, who made a confident return to senior football this season, will be fancied to clear the first hurdle and set up a quarter-final meeting with either Omagh or Ardboe.
They have impressive firepower, with Niall McKenna, Tiernan Drayne and Deasiun Quinn among their accomplished finishers.
Damien McCaul, Shea Hamill and Dan Toner will keep it tight at the back as they endeavour to put together a collective resistance.
Cahir McCullagh, Chrissy Gillen and Mark Carson are the men Greencastle will look to as they attempt to break down the Donaghmore defence and pick off scores.
But they will also need big performances from defenders Noel Conway, Mark Conway and Conor Carson to keep them in the game.
Donaghmore’s strong finish to the league should provide them with the momentum that could give them the edge over a Greencastle side looking to lift flagging spirits.
Quinn Building Products Fermanagh SFC semi-final replay: Roslea v Derrygonnelly (Friday, Brewster Park, 8.30pm)
DERRYGONNELLY and Roslea do it all again tonight to decide who meets Devenish in this year’s Fermanagh SFC final.
Last week’s drawn game saw Roslea produce a late smash-and-grab with 1-1 in the last five minutes
The Shamrocks will not have been happy with their overall performance, with 1-4 of their 1-6 total scored in a 15-minute combined period at the beginning and end of the game.
Derrygonnelly will have been kicking themselves at the final whistle having worked hard to eke out a 0-9 to 0-5 advantage.
If the Harps are honest, however, they will know that they were nowhere near their best, with their usual crispness and ruthlessness missing in action.
They will be favourites tonight but that won’t worry Roslea, who should be buoyed that they came so close to toppling the champions having played well below par themselves.
Both teams will look to get much more going in attack and for Roslea they will have to place more faith in their running game if they are to be successful.
Traditionally, the Shamrocks have utilised long ball to great effect, with the Quigley brothers – Seamus and Sean – providing plenty of nightmares for Fermanagh club defenders over the years.
But teams are well set up against this tactic and more variation is needed.
The irony is that last week Roslea were at their best when running the ball, with their goal from Connor Quigley coming after a decisive break through the heart of the Harps defence that saw the ball transferred through the hands of four Roslea players.
Route one will still, of course, be an option but with James McMahon, Kevin Cosgrove and Conor Quigley all capable of direct running they have plenty of options.
For Derrygonnelly, Tiarnan Daly and Eamon McHugh were both impressive in the central defensive positions and Harps boss Martin Greene will be hoping they make things exceedingly difficult for Roslea again.
At the other end, Derrygonnelly were a little laboured in their own attacking play. Declan Cassidy was a bright spot with two points from play and plenty of possession won, while his brother, Kevin, at 40-plus came off the bench to kick a point and set up two others in the second half.
Derrygonnelly will be looking for more punch from their full-forward line, with the return of Conall Jones from his travels bolstering their efforts. Jones made an appearance near the end of the drawn game and his score-taking ability might just be needed tonight.
This should be another close encounter and if both sets of attackers can make more headway, expect more scores by the time the final whistle shrills. Derrygonnelly will get the majority of the neutral vote but Roslea have been dogged and determined of late and the fact they can never be counted out leaves them the most dangerous of opposition.