Stakes high for encounter between Oak Leafers and Farney

The counties met at minor level in the Ulster and All-Ireland finals of 2023

Derry captain Fionn McEldowney lifts the Fr Murray Cup after their Ulster MFC final win over Monaghan last month, watched by Gerard O’Kane (left), who lifted the same silverware before going on to claim the Tom Markham Cup for Derry as All-Ireland champions in 2002       Picture: Philip Walsh
Fionn McEldowney Fionn McEldowney skippered Derry to Ulster and All-Ireland titles in 2023, Monaghan the beaten finalists on both occasions. He will feature for the Oak Leaf U20s against the Farney county side on Wednesday

EirGrid Ulster U20 Football Championship Section A, round four (Wednesday, 7.30pm)

Down v Antrim (Dunsilly)

Monaghan v Derry (Castleblayney)

TWO Ulster U20 games are up for decision on Wednesday night, as Monaghan face Derry in a game where the winner will boost their chances of achieving a semi-final berth, whilst reigning champions Down must win away to Antrim to keep their slim hopes of progressing alive.

For some of the players who grace the turf at Castleblayney, it will be a rematch of sorts. At U17 grade last year, Derry and Monaghan met in the All-Ireland final, which the Oak Leaf county won 1-13 to 0-9.

Now at the higher age grade, the likes of Fionn McEldowney, Oisin Doherty and Cahir Spires have stepped up to the mark for Derry – with Doherty scoring an impressive 1-5 as Derry toppled Down 2-14 to 1-9 in the first round.

For Monaghan, the only player who started both last year’s U17 All-Ireland final and last week’s U20 win over Down was goalkeeper Jamie Mooney, as positions have proven hard to come by for the younger members of the panel.

In their 1-12 to 0-13 victory over the Mourne men, Sean Callan found the net, whilst Packie Doogan Burke and Stephen Mooney combined for 0-8 of their side’s tally.

That win, which followed a five-point victory over Antrim, leaves Monaghan assured of at least a quarter-final spot, but another two points with victory over Derry will make their round five match against Tyrone a decider for a semi-final place.

Derry will have to win their final two encounters and hope for a favour if they are to top the group, after they narrowly lost out to Tyrone last week, following a stoppage-time point from Gavin Potter.

The 2021 and 2023 Ulster champions Down have slim hopes of progressing from Section A after they picked up just one point from their opening three games. They must defeat Antrim in Dunsilly and hope that Derry lose to Monaghan and the Saffrons, which appears unlikely.

Whilst Antrim are the clear underdogs in the group, they responded well to a chastening 33-point opening day loss to Tyrone by pushing Monaghan close two weeks ago, and they will be hoping to continue their progress in front of a home crowd against Down.