Barring Slaugthneil's way to All-Ireland Club Football final is the famed St Vincent's outfit
All-Ireland club SFC semi-final: St Vincent's (Dublin) v Slaughtneil (Derry), Pairc Esler, 2pm
IF ever there was a game in the club championship to savour, it’s surely this one.
It is certain to attract hordes of neutrals to Newry this afternoon.
Slaughtneil’s assistant manager John Joe Kearney acknowledges the significant outside interest in the recent, heroic exploits of the south Derry club.
The latest installment in what continues to be an amazing sporting story saw their camogs recently reach their All-Ireland final.
If their footballers are to follow suit, they will have to overcome probably their stiffest challenge since their humbling at the hands of Corofin in the All-Ireland final in 2015.
Standing in their way is the famed St Vincent’s outfit.
This is the club of Kevin Heffernan, Lar Foley, the Freaney’s - Cyril and Ollie, Tony Hanahoe, Jimmy Keaveney, and Brian Mullins.
Latterly, another figure has emerged who has carried on that proud lineage, and who is fit to be mentioned in the same breath as those luminaries.
That, of course, is the supremely gifted Diarmuid Connolly.
Long regarded as one of the greatest forwards in the game, to watch Connolly (and like any great, his surname suffices) can be an exercise in keeping your jaw off the floor.
Make no mistake about it, many of those coming to Newry are coming to get themselves a close up view of a special footballer.
“Connolly…he’ll take a bit of watching and even at that – he’ll probably do damage,” declared Kearney
“We just hope for the best and put a man out to mark him and hope that he contains him.
“He’s one of the better forwards in Ireland at the present time now, there’s no two ways about it.
“He’ll create a score out of nothing, a half chance and aside from that – he’s a good man at assisting – he can punt balls in there from 55, 60 yards to the forward line at his cush, if he’s given the freedom to do it.
“He’s also strong, and both footed – he’s not easy marked.”
There are of course others, and Kearney is all too aware that they are far from a one-man band.
“Their centre half back, is ex-county – Ger Brennan,” said Kearney.
“You’ve Mossy [Quinn] up front, you have young [Enda] Varley at full forward – a tough wee cookie too.
“And their two wing half forwards – young fella [Cormac] Diamond, and a young fella [Gavin] Burke.
“Look, they all take a bit of watching now.”
(Pic from Derry GAA Twitter)
So, where will this game be won and lost?
First of all, it bears stating that this contest has the potential to be a classic.
The teams play a similar style of football, characterised by superb defensive organisation, and the ability to break at pace.
They are also, both, adorned with talent.
A number of key battlegrounds, and indeed individual skirmishes will go a long way to determining the outcome.
Kick-outs will be crucial. Both sides will likely push right up on each other’s re-starts, which can deprive Slaughtneil, in particular, of a favoured tactic.
With a full forward line of Quinn, Varley and Ruairi Trainor denying a short outlet, the Derry men may be forced to go long, rather than try to build their attacks.
This could see an old fashioned aerial battle develop, with both sides not lacking in top- drawer fielders.
The Dubliners boast Shane Carthy and Daithi Murphy whilst the Derry men have Padraig Cassidy and Patsy Bradley.
If either team can gain dominance here, it could swing the tie their way.
However, being so well matched, there is likely to be a lot of break ball. This is where Vincent’s can steal an edge, utilising the speed and anticipation of Burke and Diamond especially.
At the other end of course, Slaughtneil may attempt to do the same, as conceded by Kearney.
“I watched them and Rhode, and Rhode I think in hindsight would probably reckon they did the wrong thing,” he said.
“They brought a sweeper back – one of their corner forwards - and left it free for Vincent’s to take the kick-outs right or left at their cush and build up from there, and I think it cost Rhode dearly at the end of the day.
“I would think we’ll be stepping up, and see what happens.”
The match-ups are going to be fascinating too.
Chrissy McKaigue on Connolly should be worth the price of admission alone, but how Brendan Rogers deals with Varley, how Ger Brennan gets on with Paul Bradley and whether Jarlath Curley can contain Shane McGuigan are other mouthwatering clashes.
There is little to separate these two on paper, and luck will play its part, but with Connolly in their ranks there is always the chance of the sublime, and that may swing it for the men from Marino.
In the other semi-final Corofin (Galway) face Dr Crokes (Kerry) at the Gaelic Grounds, 4pm throw-in.