St Patrick's, Keady start favourites to topple St Mary's, Magherafelt in Casement Cup final
Danske Bank Casement Cup final: St Patrick’s, Keady v St Mary’s, Magherafelt (Friday, QUB Arena, Belfast, 7pm)
HOLDERS St Patrick’s, Keady are hotly-fancied to retain their Danske Bank Casement Cup title when they return to the Queen’s Arena on Friday evening.
It was at that venue last year where they defeated Rathmore Grammar by 1-16 to 2-6, with Paul Green turning on a masterclass in scoring with 10 points on the night, six of which came from frees.
The bad news for this year’s final opponents St Mary’s, Magherafelt – appearing in just their second senior hurling final – is that Green is back, along with five others from last season’s starting line-out, while another three – Sean óg McGuinness, Fionntain Donnelly and Conor McGrory – entered the fray as subs.
Keady also won last year’s Kirk Cup and it is no surprise that they have progressed through the early stages of the Casement Cup with ease.
However, they were run very close in the semi-final just before Halloween, with Our Lady’s & St Patrick’s, Knock coming up a point short on a 0-15 to 1-11 scoreline.
Indeed, the switch of Green to midfield for the third quarter changed that game and left Knock with too much to do during the run-in to the whistle.
Green finished with four points while free-taking duties were handed to the impressive Fionntan Donnelly, who landed seven and one from play.
The group stages turned out to be a mixed bag for St Mary’s.
They lost narrowly to Rathmore and then heavily to Knock, but still managed to make the quarter-finals, where they sent St Patrick’s, Downpatrick packing on a 1-10 to 1-6 scoreline, with the defence taking all the plaudits.
Last week, the defence again stepped up to the mark as they saw off Rathmore by 2-8 to 2-7, despite the concession of a very early goal.
James Crawford’s accuracy from placed balls, a goal from Morgan Nelson and inspirational points from new pupil Ciaran O’Neill and debutant Ronan Kalla avenged the first round defeat.
Significantly the semi-final success was achieved without Creggan’s Tiarnan McAteer, who picked up a bad injury in a club match and will be out of action for some time now.
His experience and physical presence will be missed in the final where he would probably have picked up the dangerous Green.
As it is, St Mary’s will need to close out the Keady Lámh Dhearg clubman if they are to have any hope of going one better than three seasons ago, when their only other Casement final appearance was a losing one to St Louis, Ballymena.
DANSKE BANK MacRORY CUP
AFTER the midweek action, the Danske Bank MacRory Cup knock-out stages are gradually taking shape writes Séamas McAleenan.
Group B is complete with MacCormack Cup champions St Ronan’s, Lurgan back in the semi-finals at the end of the month, Omagh CBS assured of football in 2018 and St Patrick’s, Armagh and St Malachy’s, Castlewellan having to go the play-off route.
Group D is still wide open with two games next week, while games today and tomorrow in Groups A and C will clarify matters to some extent.
St Mary’s, Belfast v Patrician, Carrickmacross (Friday, Hilltown 2.45pm)
ST Mary’s, Magherafelt have already convincingly won Group C and are in the MacCormack Cup semi-finals. If Patrician High, Carrickmacross defeat St Mary’s CBGS, Belfast this afternoon, the Monaghan school will also lay claim to knock-out football in the new year.
However, St Mary’s still have their fate in their own hands. Should they win this game and then beat the other Monaghan school – St Macartan’s – next week, they, not Patrician, will be in the knock-outs.
St Mary’s put in a decent shift against the holders St Mary’s, Magherafelt before falling away during the second half of their only game to date.
Eoin McMenamin was the surprise packet that day at midfield, but he was well curtailed after the break, something that Carrick will note.
Patrician have most of last season’s team back in harness and that includes a useful set of forwards who put down a strong marker last February by knocking Maghera out of the title race.
This same panel took the Rannafast Cup this time two seasons ago, but the absence of Liam óg Murray, who picked up a straight red last time out, will open a door for the Belfast school.
St Patrick’s, Academy v St Colman’s, Newry (Saturday, St Paul’s, 2.30pm)
ON Saturday, the focus switches to Section A where St Patrick’s, Maghera put down a strong marker when they opened their campaign with a 2-12 to 0-13 win over St Colman’s, Newry. That win was even more impressive given that it was achieved without the Dungiven hurling contingent.
St Colman’s were at sea in the opening half, going in at the break 2-8 to 0-4 behind. They did win the second half by 0-9 to 0-4, with half-time sub Eoghan Byrne surely earning a starting jersey with three points.
The Academy looked to be struggling in their only game to date, an eight-point defeat to a Cavan team that subsequently lost heavily to St Colman’s. Ciaran Gourley will have been concerned by the concession of 4-14 in that game.
I would expect their defence to be a lot tighter against St Colman’s, but possibly not tight enough to avoid defeat.