GAA Football

Novel MacLarnon Cup final pairing on the cards as last four battle it out in semi-final action

Séamas McAleenan

Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup semi-final: Rathmore Grammar v Loreto Milford (Friday, Owenbeg, 2pm)

GOING into last Friday’s Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup quarter-finals the general expectation was that St Pius X Magherafelt and Aquinas would survive tough challenges but emerge to contest this first semi-final.

That wasn’t how it panned out; both bit the dust with Loreto Milford and Rathmore Grammar showing the determination to force their way through.

Rathmore made the early running in a low-scoring tussle with Aquinas and led by 0-5 to 0-2 at the break. However they were reeled in during the third quarter and Aquinas seemed to have the momentum at 0-6 each with ten minutes remaining.

Captain Fintan O’Boyle then stepped up to the plate with two outstanding scores, the second a solo point after winning possession on his own 20 metre line. They won 0-8 to 0-6.

Rory McErlain also impressed, both from the dead ball and with his playmaking, while Conor Logue at the back broke up Aquinas attacks time and again.

Slightly earlier on Friday in Meadowbank, visitors Loreto Milford fell four points behind to St Pius X during the opening 20 minutes. Their defence was at fault for Magherafelt’s early goal with a defender allowed to run through the middle unchallenged.

The Donegal side’s three goals shortly before and then immediately after the interval put them in control of the game. Two of the goals were similar to St Pius X’s opener – runs through the centre with a player over to strike to the net – but the middle one was a long ball to the edge of the square where tall midfielder Oisin Scanlon found himself one-on-one with a much smaller opponent in acres of space.

After those three strikes they never looked likely to concede enough for Magherafelt to get back at them. They filtered a lot of players back inside their 45 and were quick on the counter attack. Indeed there were a couple of late chances to add to their goal tally.

Both midfielders, Scanlon and James Joseph Sweeney who shot four points, impressed as did the movement, distribution and accuracy of Cian McMenamin, scorer of 2-3.

Milford’s pace on the counter-attack was impressive, but they may need a little more patience against Rathmore who were also very good at containing attacking moves.

I still favour Milford to come through to contest the final for the first time next month.

Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup semi-final: St Joseph’s, Donaghmore v St Louis, Ballymena (Saturday, Slaughtneil, 1.30pm)

THE winner of the second Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup semi-final on Saturday will undoubtedly generate a huge amount of excitement in the school over the next couple of weeks.

St Joseph’s Donaghmore have never been this far in the competition while St Louis Ballymena will be bridging a gap of a quarter of a century to their only (losing) appearance in 1998.

The mid-Antrim school has already experienced success with many of this group collecting the Mageean Cup before Christmas and the likes of Tom McFerran and Aodhán McGarry were prominent enough in their exciting football quarter-final against St Paul’s Bessbrook earlier this week.

That game swung dramatically with ten minute periods of dominance for each team. But it looked very much like Bessbrook had tied up the result when they led by a goal entering injury time.

Then Cal O’Brien and Shea Ó Broin replied with a point each to cut the deficit to a single point. St Louis won the next kick out and Conan McAuley got his fist to a high ball into the Bessbrook area to send it to the net.

By contrast St Joseph’s coasted past St Mary’s Belfast on the same afternoon with Mattie McNally striking all three goals in a 3-12 to 0-8 victory.

St Louis will prove a more difficult nut to crack, but Donaghmore are well-organised at the back and have strong players going forward in Noah Grimes, McNally and Ronan Molloy who fired over five points in the quarter-final.

St Louis looked good going forward. The late goal in the quarter-final may have been rather fortunate, but they went for it. However they also allowed their opponents periods of dominance and, against Donaghmore, that could prove fata.

There will be a novel final whatever way this semi-final pans out. As long as St Joseph’s don’t get stage fright, they should make it through.