Sport

Down and Fermanagh aiming for a shot at silverware in Ulster U20 last four clash

Shealan Johnston (right) will be a key player for Down in their Ulster U20 FC semi-final against Fermanagh Picture: Philip Walsh...
BY SHAUN MAHONEY

Ulster U20 Football Championship semi-final: Down v Fermanagh (tonight, Athletic Grounds, 8pm, live on TG4 YouTube)

A SHOT of silverware awaits both Down and Fermanagh as they compete for place in the Ulster U20 final tonight.

It is a huge occasion for both sides not only to reach the final, but the two young teams carry the hopes of both counties.

Down go into the game as favourites due to their first half demolition of Cavan in last week's quarter-final and the Erne side will be content with their underdogs tag, but they’ll be no pushover.

Fermanagh are backboned by several of the St Michael’s, Enniskillen MacRory and Hogan Cup winning side.

Goalkeeper Sean McNally, St Michael’s captain Brandon Horan and forward Conor Love are key players for a Fermanagh team bursting with power and pace. Love converted four frees on top of his three points from play in last week’s win over Antrim.

Wing-back Josh Largo-Ellis is another top player, who likes to get forward, but he may be given the task to mark Down’s Shealan Johnston. Largo-Ellis is another graduate from the 2019 Hogan Cup winning team, but Johnston has no shortage of big game experience or a winning mentality.

He played with the Down senior team under manager Paddy Tally last season and helped them to promotion to Division Two, while he already possesses three Down club championship winners’ medals with Kilcoo as well as an Ulster club winners medal.

Fermanagh’s Darragh McBrien has been earmarked for a bright footballing future since his impressive Ulster schools’ performances and there is nothing to suggest otherwise as he impressed in their quarter-final win over Antrim, kicking 1-2.

Down are a strong, athletic side and manager Conor Laverty has knitted together a well-organised team that has been encouraged to express courage going forward.

Goalkeeper Charlie Smyth has a wonderful and intriguing strike of the ball, where, without a run-up he kicked four placed-ball points from 45 metres against Cavan. He also kicked two efforts wide, but it is a useful addition to Down’s exciting attack.

Andrew Gilmore of St John’s and Burren’s Danny Magill were Down’s goalscorers last week, but they offer much more, with their pace and agility. Tom Close is a tall midfielder and he and Tom Smyth are capable of scoring from distance, Ballyholland’s Sean Campbell is a reliable defender and Kilcoo’s Tiernan Fettes could be given the role to mark Fermanagh’s Conor Love.

Both Down and Fermanagh faced weakened opposition last week, Down led 2-12 to 0-6 at half-time to kill off the contest with much of the damage inflicted in rampant second quarter when Down outscored Cavan 1-6 to 0-1.

The second half was mere formality, but that shouldn’t be the case tonight and the Down boss isn’t looking too far ahead.

“I think the second half was a professional performance and I thought the lads showed good leadership in it but there were still areas that I wouldn’t be happy with and still areas that we will need to improve on,” Laverty said.

“To be fair, this group was really concentrating on the match in Breffni Park and now our focus turns completely to Fermanagh, and we are not looking ahead at all. We are just fully focused on our own task ahead.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Sport