Harps must be on song if they are to topple Down champions Kilcoo
Down Morgan Fuels senior club championship semi-final: Kilcoo Eoghan Ruadh v Ballyholland Harps (tomorrow, Pairc Esler, 3pm)
IT will take Ballyholland to deliver the performance of their lives if they are to overcome Kilcoo in the first Down SFC semi-final in Newry tomorrow.
The Magpies have won nine county titles out of the last 11 years and there aren't too many betting against them making that 10 in 12 years.
However, this season Kilcoo have been leaking goals and tomorrow they face a Ballyholland team that has scored at least two goals in every championship game thus far this season.
Of course, two goals won't be enough to shake off Kilcoo but the Harps have hit the net in last quarter in all but one of their games, which shows they have a greater belief about them this season.
Managed by former player Damien McCrink and Justy Lynch, this is a Ballyholland team that can mix it physically as well as play the beautiful game. McCrink and Drumgath native Lynch were no shrinking violets in their playing days, and they have instilled a strong work ethic and the team refused to be bullied.
Captain Joe Murphy, his brother Paul and Mark Walshe are players everyone in the Ballyholland community look up to. They have put their shoulders to the wheel time and again and younger players such as Jack Murtagh, Seamus and John Loughlin and Tiarnan Rushe have given them a new lease of life. The Harps are in their third championship semi-final in as many years, and they'll have no fear tomorrow.
Kilcoo will test that theory. They have a knack of getting under teams' skin and possess the firepower to kill them off. Jerome Johnston hasn't lost any of his sharpness in front of goal and players such as Eugene Branagan, Celium Doherty and brothers Shealan and Ryan have picked off vital scores this season. Conor Laverty still makes the important touches and positional moves to keep the Magpies on the front foot.
In defence, tomorrow may come too soon for Darryl Branagan, but his brothers Aidan, Niall and Aaron should feature. They have been in and out of the team this campaign although given how much the Magpies have battled together over the years, there perhaps is too much being made of Kilcoo's unsettled defence.
Kilcoo's assistant manager Conleith Gilligan is concerned about Ballyholland's goalscoring abilities and hopes that the rotation in his squad has kept everyone focused, especially after the quarter-final scare by Carryduff.
“Everyone is aware of the challenges, we haven't started the same team throughout the championship, some because of injuries and some because of loss of form, so that keeps everybody sharp, and they have to be at the top if they want to play,” Gilligan said.