Always edge when Kilcoo meet Mayobridge in Down SFC
Morgan Fuels Down Senior Club Championship
TOMORROW'S Down senior club matinee is a repeat of last season's blockbuster championship opener between defending champions Kilcoo and Mayobridge, at 3pm in Pairc Esler, Newry.
The back door system in Down takes the edge of some of the early championship games, especially if compared to Tyrone or Armagh, but not when it is the Magpies facing the Sky Blues.
This will be a contest played at full tilt and the parachute of the qualifier system won't be in the mind of Mayobridge boss Ciaran McKeever or Kilcoo's Mickey Moran.
Neither side set the league alight, but Mayobridge were still in with a shout until the last round of fixtures. Still Kilcoo are expected to go through the front door. The Branagan brothers of Eugene, Darryl, Niall, Aidan and Aaron and the Johnston brothers of Jerome, Ryan and Shealan make up half the starting team, while Ryan McEvoy keeps improving, whether he plays at full-back or in the middle and leading the attack is Conor Laverty, who always produces some magic.
Mayobridge have reversed roles with goalkeeper and midfielder, so this season Charlie Smyth is between the posts, where he did so well for Down under-20s, and CJ Barr will play around the middle, in an area the Sky Blues will hope to dominate. Cory Quinn, Kevin McClorey and Shane Annett will need to be on their game.
Also tomorrow, Ballyholland take on Loughinisland in St Patrick's Newcastle, at 5pm. The Harps are aiming to make it into the last four of the Down senior championship for the third year in a row.
Managers Damien McCrink and Justy Lynch have built a solid team and blooded a lot of youth over the past few seasons. Tiernan Rushe and John McLoughlin are talented footballers and lively forwards as is Down under-20 star John McGovern but he is signed with Newry City AFC and may not feature.
They still have championship pedigree players such as Joe and Paul Murphy and young Sean Campbell is strong in defence or around the middle. Loughinisland have had a torrid time with injuries and there are doubts if county man Johnny Flynn or former Down star Dan Gordon will feature. Declan Clements has been ruled out and that is a huge blow for the Blues, which probably gives Ballyholland the advantage.
Later on, Sunday night at 7pm, it's back to Pairc Esler where the derby between Clonduff and Pete McGrath's Rostrevor takes place.
Clonduff won the 2020 league, which was completed last month and finished close behind the 2021 winners Warrenpoint. The Yellas are under new management. Ciaran McBride replaced his county man Mark Harte at the start of the season, and he has Clonduff in fine condition. Darren and Barry O'Hagan are key to the Yellas, while Stephen and Arthur McConville as well as Tom Close are big game players. Rostrevor have struggled this season, the past two seasons they have lost to the eventual winners at the knockout stages but this year they are plotting without Caolan Mooney, and they'll get it difficult. Piaras Kane and Conor Doyle are top forwards, whether they can get enough possession or not is crucial to their ambitions.
Mooney will be in action today (Saturday) when his new club Downpatrick face Carryduff, in Darragh Cross at 5pm. The Down star injects a lot of pace and athleticism into the RGU side, who also have big Pete Turley in great form. Carryduff won't be lacking for pace either with the Guinness brothers Daniel and James and with Eoin McCabe up top they'll be confident of overturning Downpatrick.
The championship action gets under way today at 3pm in Downpatrick at 1.30pm when Castlewellan face Bredagh. The Town are managed by Danny Hughes, and he has the team moving in the right direction. This should be a tight contest; confidence is high in Castlewellan, and Sean Dornan has been impressive in attack while mobile keeper Rory Burns is another top player. Bredagh appear not to have kicked on from the progress made in recent years, but many feel they have been keeping their powder dry for the championship campaign.