Ballinascreen determined to topple perennial champions Slaughtneil
The Elk Derry Senior camogie final: Slaugthneil v Ballinascreen (tomorrow, Bellaghy, 2pm)
ARE Slaughtneil in danger of not collecting their seventh successive Derry senior championship when they face Ballinascreen tomorrow?
It will be the fourth time in six seasons that the pair have battled it out for the Elk Derry senior title, but probably the first time that Ballinascreen have gone into the final with a heightened expectation of success.
Last season Swatragh took their closest neighbours to a replay before the Emmett's edged home. The champions looked vulnerable enough without two key forwards in Tina and Siobhán Bradley while Gráinne Ní Chatháin picked up a serious injury early in the drawn game.
Ní Chatháin is still recovering from surgery and Siobhán Bradley is also still unavailable. Tina Bradley, however, has returned to action after the birth of her baby and scored 1-4 as Slaughtneil beat Lavey by 7-15 to 3-5 in the semi-final a fortnight ago.
Another absentee this year is the influential Louise Dougan who will require a cruciate operation after pulling up in Derry's All-Ireland intermediate quarter-final defeat by Meath last month.
Apart from the absence of key players, Slaughtneil have seen a far from seamless transition as the management team that had been in charge since 2015 stepped down. Initially Micky McCullough took over but then stepped away early in July to be replaced by a group of players and they would seem to be still in charge for the championship run.
The score-lines however do not indicate that the team is struggling with Therese Mellon in particular in fine form up front; she scored 3-5 against Lavey. Aoife Ní Chaiside is also in attack and contributing strongly.
Swatragh were, of course, expected to challenge strongly this year for the title they last held in 2005, but Ballinascreen surprised them with a comfortable 3-11 to 2-6 semi-final victory.
The ‘Screen set up well with Caitriona McBride as sweeper and were able to create space up front for their forwards to run into. They were also able to hit back as soon as Swatragh scored their goals.
The McGuigan sisters and Áine McAlister are the form players over the summer, while Jackie Donnelly is once again a huge goal threat.
The last time Slaughtneil came into a final with so many question marks against them they were not the title-holders. However, since then they have built up a wealth of on-field experience and it would be an injustice not to install them as favourites.
They may be vulnerable, but the pressure will still be on the challengers who have to prove their credentials and then hold their collective nerve if they are still coming down the home straight with the game in the balance.
It looks like being just as close as last year's final and replay. Back then Slaughtneil found a way and they probably will do so again.
The early game in Bellaghy sees Greenlough take on Magherafelt in the junior final (12pm) and that also should run to the wire.