Banagher and Ballinascreen to get Derry SHC underway
THE opening game in the battle for the Fr. Collins Cup begins this afternoon Saturday at Owenbeg at 5.30pm between Banagher v Ballinascreen.
Three times in the last ten years Banagher have reached the Senior hurling championship decider but on each occasion they have fallen at the final hurdle, to Swatragh in 2012, to Kevin Lynch’s in 2007 and 2006. For their part Ballinascreen, who reached four finals between 1984 and 1989, have only reach three deciders in the intervening 26 years, their last success in the dim and very, very distant past.
Banagher have a very strong squad of players, backboned by inter-county players like Sean McCullagh, John O’Dwyer, the McCloskey brothers Ruairi, Oisin, Darragh and Tiarnan, Brian Óg McGilligan, Steafan McCloskey, Shane Farren and Darragh Cartin, but they will have to gel as a unit and perform at their best to see off the stern challenge of Ballinascreen.
The 2013 beaten finalists also have a core of top class hurlers, players of the calibre former Antrim star Brendan Herron, free scoring Paul Cleary, Hugh Pat Kelly, Sean McBride, Aaron Kelly, Conor McSorley, Philly McGlade, Kieran Conway and Paul Burns. This could be a shoot-out between Shane Farren and Paul Cleary, the winner of that scoring battle perhaps determining the outcome!
Holders Slaughtneil and Lavey face off at 7.30pm, also at Owenbeg, and this has all the hallmarks of a cracker. Lavey will be without Eamon McGill who is suspended from last season’s semi final and Paul Doherty and Michael Drumm who have retired from hurling.
Slaughtneil manager Michael McShane knows very well what Lavey will bring to the table as he was the man in charge of the Gulladuff team when they ended Kevin Lynch’s quest for ‘five in a row’ at the final hurdle in 2010. Now he has his own challenge to take on, four in a row at the very least.
Slaughtneil have a wealth of talent at their disposal, an ever-ending stream of underage talent now making their way onto the senior panel and pushing hard for inclusion in the starting fifteen. Gerald Bradley will be his only absentee for this game as he starts out on that journey but with players like Chrissy and Karl McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, Cormac and Oisin O’Doherty, Sé McGuigan and Gareth O’Kane to call on the Emmet’s will start hot favourites to get over the first hurdle.
Sunday evening at Owenbeg at 6pm brings the meeting of Kevin Lynch’s and Na Magha. On paper Kevin Lynch’s would appear to have the easiest task of the three quarter finals but manager Ryan O’Neill will not be taking anything for granted against a Na Magha side that has excellent players in Alan Grant, Brendan Quigley, Declan Foley and Brendan Douban.
Two years ago Kevin Lynch’s came within two points of Slaughtneil in the final but the broken leg sustained by Conal McCloskey in that game derailed their challenge. He missed last season but is now back and will captain the side.
Lynch’s also lost Kevin Farren with a cruciate injury, also Ciaran Mackle and Paddy McCloskey with similar injuries. Liam Hinphey could also be an absentee but with players like Mark Craig, Kevin Hinphey and Paddy Kelly in key positions they will have the experience to carry them through.
Na Magha also have a number of absentees, Ryan O’Donnell, James McQuillan, Conor O’Rourke, Dermot Shields and Ciaran McCarron unavailable. It would be a huge surprise if Na Magha upset the odds, Kevin Lynch’s long odds on to reach the semi final.
That game should have been part of a double header between Eoghan Rua and 2012 winners Swatragh but Eoghan Rua, who were Ulster Junior Hurling champions and beaten All Ireland finalists last year, have withdrawn from the Derry senior hurling championship this year.