GAA Football

Cavan Gaels will have too much firepower for Derrygonnelly in Ulster semi-final

Seanie Johnston was superb in Cavan Gaels's convincing win over Lamh Dhearg in the Ulster Club SFC quarter-final. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran and Sean O'Neill

AIB Ulster Club Senior Football Championship semi-final: Derrygonnelly Harps (Fermanagh) v Cavan Gaels (Cavan) (tomorrow, 2pm, Clones)

NO club from Cavan or Fermanagh has ever lifted the Seamus McFerran Cup, and the opportunity to come within one game of ending that barren run is the prize on offer at St Tiernach's Park tomorrow afternoon.

Crosserlough (1969), Kingscourt Stars (1987 and 1990), Bailieboro (1995) and Cavan Gaels themselves (1977) have all tried and failed, falling at the final hurdle as provincial glory eluded the Breffni champions time and again.

Those heady days of sharing the big stage with the best Ulster has to offer seem like a distant memory now, however, as clubs from Cavan have struggled to make any headway at all after entering the provincial fray.

Indeed Cavan Gaels's straightforward win over Lamh Dhearg a fortnight ago was the first a club from the county has registered in Ulster since 2008.

Fermanagh, meanwhile, haven't had a team in an Ulster final since Enniskillen Gaels fell to Errigal Ciaran 15 years ago, and Derrygonnelly might never have a better opportunity to make it to the last two.

The three in-a-row county champions sprung the surprise of the championship so far when they ousted Armagh Harps at a windswept Brewster Park two weeks ago, and they are a team built on solid foundations.

The quartet of Mickey Jones, brothers Garvan and Ryan Jones, and Paul Ward around the central area provided the platform for that underdog success when, despite being gifted a goal early on, they were deserving winners.

County star Mickey Jones is the key defensive figure, and is normally detailed to pick up the opposition's most dangerous player. Given his superb performance against the Hannastown men, that is likely to be Seanie Johnston.

The 33-year-old Cavan forward is in his 10th Ulster campaign with the club, and looked better than ever as the Gaels blew Lamh Dhearg away.

After starting at full-forward, Johnston drifted in and out of the inside line, swapping places with fellow veteran Micheal Lyng and controlling proceedings from start to finish.

Some of his long-range passing was a joy to behold, while he fired over points off both feet, finishing the game with five, four from play.

Given the huge gap in quality between the two teams on the day, it is difficult to read too much into the performance of Jason O'Reilly's side, but there is no doubting they pose serious danger to any defence.

Hence, the loss of full-back Tiarnan Daly (hamstring) is a major blow to the Harps cause, as he would likely have been handed the brief of stymieing the influence of Martin Dunne, who bagged five from play in the quarter-final.

“The two boys are rejuvenated and Seanie will probably get Cavan player of the year. His scores from play have been outrageous,” said Lyng of his fellow forwards.

“It's class to be 32 and in an Ulster club semi-final because I remember we got to a couple back when I was 20, 21 and you thought it would come year in, year out.

“But in the last couple of years, since 2011, we've only been in it twice since then, so especially when you're older, you're thinking – ‘right, this could be our last chance'.

“It'll probably be the biggest game I'll play in. Seanie spoke about it at training on Sunday morning. It's probably the biggest game he'll play in.”

The midfield battle will be crucial because the Gaels, like Derrygonnelly, are particularly strong here. Indeed, in the first 20 minutes the Antrim champions could barely get out of their half, such was the dominance exerted by Paul Graham and the powerful Robert Maloney-Derham.

Their match-up against the two Jones brothers at centrefield could go a long way to deciding who lines out against Slaughtneil or Kilcar on November 26.

Cavan Gaels had built up such a lead early on that they were able to commit plenty of men back to snuff out the attacking threat of Domhnall Nugent, Ryan Murray and the pacy Eoin McKeown.

In Barry and Luke Fortune, as well as Kevin Meehan, they aren't lacking in speed and athleticism, while the quick, accurate kick-outs of goalkeeper Ciaran Flynn caught the eye throughout.

Derrygonnelly's greatest threats come from attacking link man Ward and Conall Jones, with Niall Murray likely to be given the task of curtailing the towering full-forward.

Jones terrorised Armagh Harps last time out, finishing up with 1-5 and proving a handful all night before dropping deep to help out the defensive effort late on.

With so much at stake, and two teams not exactly used to finding themselves in the latter stages of the Ulster championship, a tense, tactical battle can be expected.

However, with so much trickery among their forward division, as well as pace and power across the field, it is hard to see anything other than Cavan Gaels progressing to a first provincial final in 40 years.

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