Old dogs Scotstown take the hard road to Derry for Ulster quarter-final against Glen
Ulster Senior Club Football Championship quarter-final: Watty Graham's Glen (Derry) v Scotstown (Monaghan), (tomorrow, Celtic Park, 3.15pm, live on TG4)
By Andy Watters
TRIED and tested Scotstown take the long road to the Bogside to meet Ulster rookies Glen and the Monaghan champions will need every ounce of their experience to keep the in-form Watty Graham's at bay.
An intriguing clash of styles pits Scotstown's big-game knowhow and defensive solidity against the attacking élan of the inexperienced Derry champions who are in their first campaign at this level.
County semi-finalists in 2017 and 2018, Glen were losing finalists in 2019 and last year lost out to eventual champions Slaughtneil at the quarter-final stage. But all those years of pain were forgotten when they turned the table on their rivals with a typically scintillating display in this year's decider which heralded unforgettable scenes as they returned home with the John McLaughlin Cup for the first time.
The celebrations in Scotstown would have been low-key in comparison because county titles are the norm for the club these days. The An Bhoth men won their seventh county championship in nine years (they were losing finalists on the other occasions) three weeks' ago and since then they have added the league title.
Glen laid waste to all before them on their way to a first ever Derry crown. Danny Tallon led the way up front but the ball-winning ability of midfield pair Conor Glass and Emmet Bradley has provided a steady stream of possession for a host of scorers in almost every game.
In six outings, Malachy O'Rourke's side scored 10 goals and 111 points (an average of almost 22 points per game) and scores came from all over the field.
The high-point was a dozen scorers in the 3-19 to 0-5 semi-final win over Loup but even in the final, against an experienced and well-drilled Slaughtneil side (Ulster champions in 2014, 2016 and 2017), seven Maghera men got on the scoresheet.
They found the going much tougher in the preliminary round against Donegal champions St Eunan's however. Scotstown will have taken note from how Rory Kavanagh's team sat back and frustrated the Derry men but their negativity did not pay off and Michael Warnock's goal and a last-gasp Tallon free saw Glen to a 0-8 to 1-4 win.
Tomorrow Glen will run into a Scotstown defence – marshalled of course by the peerless Rory Beggan – that is notoriously hard to break down. Scotstown conceded only three goals in their championship-winning run and restricted three opponents to single-figure scores.
But Scotstown have yet to hit top form in attack. The championship final against Truagh might have gone to extra-time if Gary Mohan had been able to take a gilt-edged goal chance when he caught Beggan (out playing sweeper) off his line and it took a terrific finish from Conor McCarthy, who had struggled to get into the game, to add some flattering gloss to the final scoreline.
Glen boss O'Rourke (who took Derry's Loup to the Ulster title in 2003) will know McCarthy, Beggan, Shane Carey and Darren and Kieran Hughes very well from his Monaghan days. Scotstown have come mighty close to making the breakthrough in Ulster and are determined to make this their year.
“Experience could be beneficial,” said Beggan as he looked ahead to this Ulster campaign.
“We got to two finals and we said we probably left it (the Seamus McFerran Cup) behind us.”
Crossmaglen denied Scotstown in a titanic battle at the Athletic Grounds in 2015 and Donegal's Gaoth Dobhair did likewise three years ago but they accounted for the Derry champions (Slaughtneil and then Coleraine) on both those runs and will be confident they have the markers to shackle the Glen forwards tomorrow.
Emmet Bradley is expected to be fit for the Oak Leaf champions and the return of the ball-winning, free-taking Derry midfielder will be a massive boost for his side.
Scotstown have Carey and McCarthy up front but this season Kieran Hughes has been their biggest threat, bursting from the middle and his battle with Ciaran McFaul, who likes to go the other way, could go some way to deciding this game.
Glen's relatively sluggish effort in the last game was only to be expected after their championship celebrations and since then the club has been shaken to the core by the tragic death of Francis Lagan. Scotstown may well have more to give than they showed in Monaghan and they'll need to produce it tomorrow because Glen have the all-round firepower to reach the semi-finals.