Lavey take on Galbally in heavyweight Ulster U21 clash
Bank of Ireland Paddy MacLarnon Ulster U21 Club Tournament
Quarter-final: Galbally (Tyrone) vs Lavey (Derry) (Sunday, Creggan Kickham's, 2.30pm)
THE potential tie of the round is saved for the finale on Sunday afternoon in Creggan. Tyrone versus Derry, a rivalry that we’re all familiar with but on Sunday afternoon we have two new teams on opposing sides.
Galbally, fresh from their first success at the age group take on Lavey in a mouth-watering encounter.
Both teams are making their debuts in the competition and both, in their own words are in bonus territory.
Lavey are coached by club native and Oakleaf legend Seamus Downey and his side raised a few eyebrows even within their own club in 2017.
“We’ve got a few lads who had a taste of senior football last year and a few who played some reserve football last year as well but it’s a young bunch of lads to be honest.
"12 of Saturday’s starting 15 will be U21 next year again and really we’re ahead of schedule with this group of players. We weren’t expecting to win the Derry Championship so this is definitely bonus territory for us.”
Downey’s son Shea is one of the Derry champions main performers with Conor Mulholland, Eamon Magill and Hugh McGurk also names to look out for but the Erins Own man added they have strength throughout.
“They’re a great bunch of lads whose biggest characteristic would be their togetherness as a team.”
The 1993 All-Ireland final goalscorer is no novice when it comes to a clash between these two neighbouring counties and told us what he expects from their opposition on Sunday.
“They might be a new name to come out of Tyrone but it’s no surprise to us that Galbally came through.
“They’ve had success right down to Feile and upwards with this group of players. Paddy Tally and Kevin Kelly will have them well drilled and they’ll pose a formidable opposition but we’re looking forward to it.”
Galbally took the Tyrone honours when they saw off Loughmacrory in the U21 county final.
Goals from Liam Rafferty and captain Daniel Kerr proved to be decisive as they saw off the Lough by two points.
“It’s great to be playing Ulster football for the first time in the clubs history," said Kerr.
“There’s a great buzz about the club and village and this tournament is definitely a big deal around the club.”
Half-forward Rafferty has been playing for St Mary’s in the McKenna Cup and is sure to play a role in their Siegerson challenge this season, while the Pearses build their defence around Conor Quinn at full back although they have an injury concern with Enda McGarrity, who is 50-50 to shake off an ankle injury picked up in the county final.
Preliminary round: Gaoth Dobhair (Donegal) vs Rossa (Antrim) (Saturday, 12.30pm, Creggan Kickham's)
ANTRIM champions O’Donovan Rossa are playing in the tournament for the first time in their history after claiming a maiden Antrim U21 crown in 2017.
They open the tournament on Saturday with a preliminary round tie against Donegal kingpins Gweedore and as team coach Ciaran Grego explained to us, they are hoping to learn from their minor sides Ulster experience.
“The whole club were on a high after winning the minor and U21 championship but the minors feel as if they let themselves down in the St Paul’s tournament against Ballinascreen.
“They weren’t at the races in the first half and they’re down on it a bit from that but we’ll be looking to draw on that experience for Saturday and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“We’ll maybe have five or six of that side starting on Saturday, the likes of Tiarnan Murphy, Eoghan McMenamin and Dominic McEnhill will be hoping to continue their good form.
“We’ve had Deaglan (Murphy), James (Connolly) and Gerard (Walsh) all away with the county hurling which hasn’t been ideal but they’ve been training and playing matches which is a bonus.”
Historically in Ulster competitions, any Donegal team coming up against Antrim champions will start as favourites.
Saturday will be no different and Grego admitted they are going into the unknown.
“We know very little to be honest and we’ve just been working on our own game.
“From what we can see all Donegal teams nearly set up the same way and we play something similar ourselves - Keep things tight at the back and attack at pace.
“We’re not the biggest or most physical team in the competition but we feel that our strength comes from our fitness and speed.
“We’ll just hope that we can take our opportunities when they come. If we’re still in the game at half time then hopefully we’ll kick on late in the game.”
Quarter-final: Crossmaglen (Armagh) vs Southern Gaels (Cavan) (Sunday, 12.30pm, Creggan Kickham's)
LAST year’s beaten finalists Crossmaglen have made it to the provincial stage once again and start their campaign as pre-tournament favourites.
On Sunday however, they open their account against the fancied Cavan champions, Southern Gaels with many predicting a close contest.
The two side’s have history at this level, with the Lacken-Gowna amalgamation accounting for the men from the Orchard County in the St Paul’s minor tournament two years ago, although it took 120 minutes of football to separate the teams on that occasion.
The Cavan men come into the quarter-final having comfortably accounted for Assan Gaels in the county decider, winning by 5-18 to 1-1 with midfield duo of Thomas Galligan and Conor Brady impressing.
Sunday won’t resemble anything like that score line with Cross providing an infinitely sterner opposition and as the Armagh champions captain Aidan Rushe said recently, the south Armagh men are looking to go one further this year.
“It’s always nice to say that your still involved in championship football after Christmas.
“Usually it’s the dreaded pre-season but it’s great to be involved in a competition like this and we’re ready to give it another good rattle this year.
“I played last year and we were beat in the final against Glen Maghera.
“They beat us by two points and it was hard to take but we’ve got another strong group of players here this year again and another strong team coming through as well. “Hopefully we’ll be able to go one better than last year.”
The last time the teams met wasn’t far from Rushe’s mind when he added.
“We played Southern Gaels at St Paul’s a couple of years ago and it was a really tough game.
“We drew with them after extra time the first day and they beat us by a couple of points in the replay.”
This has the potential to go either way and don’t be surprised if there is the need for extra time and another 60 minutes.
Quarter-final: Enniskillen Gaels (Fermanagh) vs Carryduff (Down) (Saturday, 2.15pm, Creggan Kickham's)
THIS year's quarter-final line-up was only complete last weekend when Enniskillen Gaels were crowned champions of Fermanagh.
Adding to their minor county and provincial titles already won, the Gaels are beginning to show the signs of a resurgence in the Erne County.
This is their third year in succession at the tournament and on Saturday afternoon they round off the opening day’s matches with a tie against Creggan newcomers Carryduff from Down.
It’s been an incredible season already for the Down champions with their U21 success the clubs first 'A' championship success at any level.
Managed under the tutelage of DJ Morgan and Paddy Doherty, Carryduff claimed their maiden crown the hard way in the Mourne county.
They beat both Kilcoo, Burren and Bryansford, and went the whole way through Down without conceding a goal.
Today, however, they will be without forwards Ronan Beattie and Dara Connolly.
Beattie’s absence will be a huge blow to Carryduff’s hopes having hit 2-3 in the county final, while Connolly is on a skiing holiday and doesn’t return until Sunday.
Morgan knows he is going to have to ask something different of his squad.
“We’ll be putting square pegs in round holes with a few minors coming in but hopefully we can build from our defence giving us a solid foundation.”
Despite missing regulars, Morgan told us that his side are relaxed and looking forward to the challenge of playing Enniskillen Gaels and competing in Ulster for the first time.
“The Gaels come into the match having just won the St Paul’s minor tournament. I don’t know how many of that team will be playing on Saturday but when you consider they only played the Fermanagh county final last weekend they have a bit of momentum going.
“It’s a big occasion and for young boys it can take them out of their comfort zone but we’re looking forward to it and we’ll certainly give it a good go.”