Northern Switchgear Antrim SFC Group Two: Lamh Dhearg v Roger Casements Portglenone (Sunday, Cargin, 2pm)
PORTGLENONE are the team on many people’s lips this season to go all the way in the Antrim Senior Championship and get their hands on the McNamee Cup for the first time in their history.
Semi-finals have been their stumbling block in recent years, but John McKeever’s side have been tipped by many to finally smash through that glass ceiling.
Lamh Dhearg manager Decky Bunting, who’s side face the league champions on Sunday afternoon, isn’t surprised that Portglenone are being billed as one of the top contenders for the title, although that brings its own added pressures.
“I think they put a big emphasis on the league this year,” said Bunting of Sunday’s opponents.
“They have four or five lads who would have been involved in the county panel the last couple of years that stepped away for one reason or another.
“They have Dermot McAleese and Oisin Doherty, two crackers who had been playing for the county and they’d a very strong team throughout the league. There’s maybe a lot of pressure on them internally and externally, that expectation for them to go and win the championship.
“John McKeever’s came back, and they’ve had Kieran McGeary and Peter Canavan involved in the background at times and they’ve a very strong backroom team. They lost by a point in the last two semi-finals so they’re probably desperate to make that breakthrough.
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“They’re a young, up and coming team to a degree but they’ve got that mix of experience as well and the pressure is probably on them going into Sunday and overall, for the championship, because they are getting tipped by many to go on and win it.”
Lamh Dhearg, winners of the Antrim SFC in 2017, have a strong panel of their own and they’ve displayed a battling resilience numerous times throughout the season.
Bunting’s men experienced a tough start to their Division One league campaign but bounced back to finish third in the table and carried those characteristics through to their championship opener against Ahoghill, with a final quarter surge getting them over the line.
“We got a good win there against Ahoghill two weeks ago. We were eight down with 15 minutes to go and the boys were super. I think we hit maybe 1-10 to 0-1 in the last 15 minutes,” recalled Bunting.
“This group of players to be fair have stepped up over the years and have proven to be a strong championship team. Even in the league this year we won one of our first five, but the boys fought back, and we ended up finishing in third place.
“It’s very important to win that first (championship) game but it only gets us two points, so we move on to the next one and that’s on Sunday against Portglenone.”
Being a dual club, the week-on-week championship action for the hurlers and footballers of Lamh Dhearg can cause its own obvious headaches, but Bunting is hoping to have a full hand to pick from this weekend.
“We have a few niggles and knocks; we obviously have the long-term injury of Ryan Murray (cruciate) which is a big loss to Antrim as well as us. Our hurlers had a championship game last Friday evening and they won.
“You’re always hoping that they win but there’s also that one eye closed element because there’s a lot of key men playing for both teams so it sometimes can be tough and demanding on the dual clubs.
“There were a couple of lads that picked up knocks against Rasharkin last week in the hurling but hopefully they should be ok come Sunday.”
Also in Group Two, Naomh Eanna host St Mary’s Ahoghill and a win for both sides is vital following first round defeats. The pair are in desperate need of points if they want to keep their championship hopes alive.
Elsewhere, reigning champions Cargin, who opened their account with a handsome nine-point win over O’Donovan Rossa in the first round, take on Tir na nOg on Saturday evening.
Sharpshooter Pat Shivers was the star of the show for Ronan Devlin’s side, notching a personal haul of 2-2 while also playing the part of provider, setting up an Eamon Quinn goal in their 3-11 to 0-11 win.
The older guard of Kevin O’Boyle, Tomas McCann, Justin Crozier and James Laverty are still leading the way for Cargin, and a win this weekend will more or less guarantee their place in last eight.
O’Donovan Rossa will be aiming to bounce back against Naomh Eoin, who successfully saw off Tir na nOg in the opening round with four points to spare. If Naomh Eoin can pick up a second win, then they’ll face a top of the table clash with Cargin in round three.
Former Antrim kingpins St Gall’s battled hard against 2021 winners Creggan in round one, leading by three points at the halfway stage, but ultimately came up just short in the end, with five points the difference.
They’ll hope home advantage counts for something this evening as they take on Dunloy, who are beginning their championship campaign having been drawn into a group of three.
A defeat here will spell the end of St Gall’s championship aspirations as a second loss would mean they can only finish bottom of the group, so they’ll do everything in their power to pick up at least a point.
St Ergnats are in the same boat as Dunloy and are only getting their championship underway this weekend. They’ll enjoy home advantage against St Brigid’s, who upset the odds on the opening day by beating Pete McGrath’s Aghagallon.
The St Mary’s men have featured in the last two senior finals, but St Brigid’s proved slightly stronger on the day and emerged with an impressive two-point win.
In a tip and tuck encounter, goals were always going to prove decisive, and it was the home side who rippled the net, twice. Enda Downey and James Smith claimed the crucial majors, and three-pointers will be just as important tomorrow afternoon.