St Louis, Ballymena can edge out St Patrick's, Maghera to book Mageean Cup final sport
Danske Bank Mageean Cup semi-final: Tuesday 1.30pm in Ahoghill: St Patrick's, Maghera v St Louis, Ballymena
PAUL HUGHES, the St Patrick's Maghera coach, was pretty annoyed that this semi-final didn't run to schedule with the holders taking on the 2016 champions more than a fortnight ago in a repeat of last year's semi-final.
There were two reasons why it didn't happen and both involved the talented Dunloy contingent in the ranks of St Louis Ballymena.
They managed to put together their second Antrim minor football and hurling double in three seasons over the last two Sundays in October.
Central to that achievement was St Louis captain Seaan Elliott, scorer of 11 points in the hurling final replay with Loughgiel, including the injury-time winner.
He also hit five points in the football decider when Dunloy defeated St Gall's.
Elliott is the sole survivor from St Louis' Mageean Cup success three seasons ago and again he was a scorer in that final.
However he is joined in the panel by quite a few of his club-mates including Patrick Kinsella, Callum Scullion and Eoghan McGrath, all of whom also scored in the hurling final.
This season St Louis were unbeaten in the group stages but their last game has been fully a month away as topping the group sent them straight through to the semi-finals.
Ballymena will know exactly what they are up against however as they lost at this stage a year ago to Maghera in An Lúb and Declan McCloskey, Eoghan Daly and Cormac McFadden, along with the Dunloy boys, played in that game.
Maghera have only Fintan Bradley and Tiarnan McHugh from the team that started last year's final – but what a mark the pair made in their 3-13 to 2-14 quarter-final win over St Mary's CBGS exactly three weeks ago!
McHugh bagged two of the goals and Bradley the other 1-13, with all 13 points coming from placed balls. It was phenomenal shooting from Bradley, but it also highlighted the short-comings in the team this season.
The holders have had a big turnover in players from last season to this and they have not been particularly prominent in this age-group through their school careers. Last year's panel members, Michael McCormack, Dara Simpson, John Mellon, Sean T McErlane and PJ McAleese, all dug in and put their shoulder to the wheel, but unless Maghera can increase their scoring base and the frequency of their scoring from open play, their title could be lost today.
Added spice in the mix today is that the winner will automatically play in the All-Ireland semi-final in the spring-time as Mageean Cup finalists An Dún cannot, as a combination team, progress from the provincial competition.
I suspect that St Louis will look to cut out the threat of McHugh and Bradley from general play and avoid the concession of frees, while Maghera will certainly look to do the same at the other end with Elliott.
However St Louis would seem to have enough talent elsewhere in their forward line to reach this Friday evening's final, even in the unlikely scenario that Elliott becomes anonymous.