Have Glen been firing and we've just been missing it?

Jack Doherty is a doubt for the Ulster final after missing Glen's win over Naomh Conaill, and his loss would be significant. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Jack Doherty is a doubt for the Ulster final after missing Glen's win over Naomh Conaill, and his loss would be significant. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin Jack Doherty is a doubt for the Ulster final after missing Glen's win over Naomh Conaill, and his loss would be significant. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

AIB Ulster Senior Club Football Championship final: Glen v Scotstown (Sunday, 4pm, Box-It Athletic Grounds)

AMONG learned observers, there’s been a phrase of choice attached to Glen’s run this year: ‘But they’re just not firing’.

Always the ‘but’ at the start because it’s inevitably prefaced by the basic fact that the reigning Ulster champions are back in the provincial final.

You cannot say that a team is playing poorly in one breath and not at least acknowledge that, even in Derry’s storied history in this competition, they’re favourites to emulate their neighbours Slaughtneil and become only the second team from the county to win back-to-back Ulster championships.

Is it that they’re in an Ulster final playing badly? The more you look at them, we’ve all probably fallen into the same trap of deliberating on the form of a few star turns and deciding it adds up to Glen not firing.

And it is true that there’s more in Ciaran McFaul, Ethan Doherty, Danny Tallon, Alex Doherty to name a few.

If a couple of them locate their ‘A’ game for Sunday, Glen win this for sure.

They’ll need them because this is a Scotstown side matching the reigning champions in every area right now. Their wins over Kilcoo and Trillick have been more impressive than Glen’s victories against Cargin and Naomh Conaill.

You can drill down into the impact of Jack McCarron on Scotstown as much as Glen’s monstrous midfield duo that will get their fill from the in-form Micheal McCarville and Darren Hughes.

But the real strength of both teams is on the fringes.

Three times in their run to the Derry title, Glen had ten different scorers. On three more occasions, they had nine.

In their county final win over Magherafelt, their first seven points came from seven different sources. They’re averaging close to eight different scorers every time they go out.

Observers have been guilty of focussing on what’s not going well rather than what is.

The Mulholland brothers, Eunan and Cathal, are both playing out of their skins. Danny McDermott, whose father Roger won Ulster Club titles with Scotstown, is still in school but has been outstanding. It's a pity for him that a shoulder injury rules him out. Jack Doherty is a doubt as well.

Michael Warnock, Ryan Dougan, Jack Doherty, Conleth McGuckian, all brilliant, and you’ve Conor Glass playing well above where he was for Glen twelve months ago.

Where both teams had disrupted league campaigns, Glen still flourished while the men of Tydavnet parish ended up in a relegation playoff.

Still you’d have done well to find anyone in Monaghan betting against them, even when they lost their championship opener in Inniskeen to their bogey-manager, John McEntee, who’d beaten them with Crossmaglen in 2015 and Clontibret in 2019.

By the time they made a final rendezvous in Clones nine weeks later, Jack McCarron had bedded down and a team with which David McCague initially tinkered had fallen into a recognisable shape.

They’ve remained coy on the involvement of Kevin O’Brien, whose Corofin team won three consecutive All-Ireland club titles between 2018 and 2020. He appeared out of a puff of smoke in Armagh two weeks ago. They’re insisting his involvement is only on matchdays. Whatever they’re getting from his is bound to be useful.

If the Scotstown lads put their hand on the Bible, they’d probably have to admit they thought this day had passed them by.

It’s ten years since Darren Hughes hit the underside of the bar when they had Ballinderry’s legs wobbling. The Shamrocks got straightened up just in time and went on to win Ulster.

Since then there have been final defeats to Crossmaglen (after extra-time in 2015) and Gaoth Dobhair, other heartbreaking failures at the hands of Kilcoo. When they took a sore touch in Celtic Park at the hands of this fledgling Glen side two years ago, it felt like they wouldn’t be back.

How much of that has been changed by the acquisition of Jack McCarron, it’s hard to quantify. But they didn’t even win Monaghan last year.

They too had ten different scorers against Trillick, Aughnamullen, Donaghmoyne and Magheracloone, nine against Inniskeen, seven against Corduff.

And yet they are still are that bit more reliant on McCarron to carry their scoring tally. He has 26 per cent of their scores for the year, compared to 16 per cent for Emmett Bradley, Glen’s top scorer. The Watties’ scoring depth has more substance to it.

Scotstown’s confidence that the Ulster final is where their club belongs is a powerful weapon.

But if they’ve bought into the idea that Glen are not firing and become preoccupied with the big-name strengths at the expense of the Mulhollands and McGuckian and Warnock, their 33-year wait will turn to 34.