MacRory Cup and MacLarnon Cup final berths up for grabs in weekend triple bill
Danske Bank MacRory Cup semi-final: St Patrick’s, Maghera v St Michael’s, Enniskillen (tomorrow, Loughmacrory, 12pm)
THESE two teams had contrasting quarter-final assignments a couple of weeks ago.
St Patrick’s, Maghera have been fancied by quite a few for the title outright this year and they lived up to the favourites’ tag with a comfortable 1-10 to 0-4 win over a poor St Patrick’s Academy at the Loup.
A few days later in Clones St Michael’s, Enniskillen faced Abbey CBS, a team they had beaten by 18 points in a league fixture in November. They came through but only just, requiring two injury-time points to get over the line.
It probably was a difficult enough assignment for the Fermanagh school given that Abbey had pulled off shock results in the previous rounds in taking out St Mary’s, Magherafelt and St Macartan’s.
Not helping Enniskillen’s cause was the concession of an early goal, but they recovered, with Brandon Horan a commanding presence around the middle and Ronan McHugh, Joe McDade and Darragh McBrien breaking at pace, while Mícheál Glynn was accurate from the frees they picked up.
Each time the Abbey came back at them during the second half, St Michael’s had an answer and it was full-back Garrett Cavanagh who improvised to give them the lead point close to the end with Glynn quickly adding a free.
Defensively Enniskillen are fairly well set up, although Omagh CBS flagged up some problems in the MacCormack Cup semi-final while after he reviews the MacRory quarter-final Dominic Corrigan (above) will not be pleased with the number of frees they conceded in scoring range.
While Maghera were comfortable winners in the Loup, they were far from impressive in the sense that they didn’t create enough scoring opportunities from the amount of possession they secured.
Alec Doherty missed the MacCormack Cup semi-final when the team badly needed a target man up front.
The Glen forward fills that vacancy for an outlet for the long ball after the quick turnover in defence, especially as there is enough pace in Conleth McGuckian and Daithi McLaughlin to get up to support.
Team captain Conleth McShane was an absentee in the Loup, picking up a foot injury a couple of days beforehand.
It is to the team’s credit that they won comfortably without him, but the Bellaghy centre half-back adds quality and when the MacRory Cup comes down to the last four quality makes the difference.
In my opinion neither team performed to their optimum in their most recent games, yet they had enough in the tank to make it through.
Enniskillen teams in the past have set up well to counteract the strengths of Maghera and the Derry school have regularly struggled with their system, last year’s quarter-final being a case in point when Enniskillen were rank outsiders yet came within a score or two of knocking them out.
St Michael’s have a lot of last year’s team on board here and have a higher rating than they did 12 months ago.
Maghera will need McShane back, a full complement available, because this game will ask a lot of questions off them.
They have the potential to survive, but coming down the home stretch in a tight game they could get caught.
I will sit on the fence. It could take a replay to declare a winner.
Danske Bank MacRory Cup semi-final: Omagh CBS v St Patrick’s, Armagh (tomorrow, Dunmoyle, 2.30pm)
ONE team has stood out in this year’s Danske Bank MacRory Cup campaign and they will go into the semi-final today as the only team with a 100 per cent record since the ball was thrown in on the MacRory Cup back in October.
Omagh CBS have impressed in each outing, even though they didn’t have their full team available for the pre-Christmas group games.
Tomorrow they take on St Patrick’s, Armagh for the second time in a month, hoping that they can reproduce the form that saw them coast to victory in the MacCormack Cup final which was played in the Athletic Grounds on the same bill as the Dr McKenna Cup decider between Tyrone and Armagh.
They got off to a blistering start that night, recording 1-6 before Armagh could open their account, with Sean McDonagh chipping home the goal in the 16th minute.
He was part of a dynamic half-forward line that tore their opponents apart and delivered many of the scores in a deserved 11-point win.
Nine different players hit the target that evening and there were nine also registering scores for the west Tyrone side in the quarter-final a fortnight ago at Scotstown when they were just as comfortable in seeing off the challenge of St Colman’s, Newry, the only other unbeaten team at the time.
There wasn’t a goal from the forward line in Scotstown, but Mark Hayes was a huge threat and, given the conditions, probably should have got a lot more ball directed into the full-forward area.
The McBrides also impressed against St Colman’s, Cormac from Glenelly both at corner-back and breaking at pace and Carrickmore’s Lorcán a strong, steady, hard-working influence at midfield.
But all over the field Omagh played quality football with all their players looking comfortable on the ball.
Of course, the easy MacCormack final victory could work against them; they will be strong favourites to repeat that success and that may lead to complacency.
Armagh, however, were without Michael Conroy against Omagh.
The Moy player was injured that night but came back to torture St Ronan’s, Lurgan at the same venue in the MacRory quarter-final a fortnight ago.
Similar to Hayes, he is a focal point in attack, strong under the high ball and deadly accurate, scoring 1-5 out of 2-8 against St Ronan’s. In the MacCormack semi-final win over St Patrick’s, Maghera, he scored or was directly involved in 1-11 from Armagh’s 1-13.
Another Tyrone club player, Eglish’s Michael McGleenan, was missing from the Armagh midfield in their win over Lurgan.
Christopher McParland was a capable deputy on the night but the boys from Cathedral Hill will need to be at full strength for this semi-final if they hope to reach a first final since 2000, when Sean Cavanagh and Ronan Clarke orchestrated a 3-6 to 1-9 win over Enniskillen.
Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup semi-final: Scoileanna Inis Eoghain v Cathair Doire (tonight, Celtic Park, 7.30pm)
ON the evidence of the quarter-final ties played, the winner of this semi-final will be highly fancied to go on and record a first outright victory in the competition on March 18.
The pair had almost identical scorelines in the last round, Cathair Dhoire winning 3-11 to 0-5 and Scoileanna Inis Eoghain by 3-11 to 1-5 – and both teams pulled away during the last 10 minutes to put a gloss on the scorelines.
Was fitness a factor, or was it a case that their respective opponents, Knock and Keady, dropped their intensity after a goal around the 50th minute mark?
In general play throughout their game, these teams looked much stronger than their opponents, but they also wasted a few chances to really impress that on the scoreboard.
Indeed Cathair Dhoire allowed Knock to dictate the third quarter scoring. But neither really looked like losing the game.
Both have strong players in key positions. Inis Eoghain’s Conor O’Donnell was very impressive, using his physique to push past players and go for scores, 2-2 from play and 0-3 from frees a fair return for a midfielder.
Ben Bradley also broke the half-forward line on a number of occasions. He then drew players and released his wings for scores, but he also shot wildly as well.
Overall, the Inis Eoghain team is comfortable in possession and patient in moving the ball latterly until they get O’Donnell or Bradley released to burst through.
The jewel in their opponents’ crown is undoubtedly Steelstown’s Ben McCarron, who is hot property at the moment; an Allstar at Christmas, scorer of 3-1 when he came off the bench for Derry seniors in a Dr McKenna Cup game and a real focal point for this team.
But this is not a one-man band. James Lynch and Jude Moore are also finishing well at the minute while Fearghal Mortimer at midfield is strong – and another Allstar, Naoise Ó Mianáin carried an injury into the quarter-final.
Ó Mianáin was excellent in last week’s Markey Cup final in Letterkenny for St Columb’s and one or two others from the school might force their way into the starting line-out on the evidence of their Markey Cup form.
Amalgamations work well when there is work put into them.
The further they travel in a competition, the better they become. Both these teams look to be on that upward curve.
Cathair Dhoire, however, would look to have more stand-out players who can turn a game, as long as they step up to the plate.
They get my vote.