Antrim-Derry final still on the cards in Bridie McMenamin Shield but others likely to have their say
Bridie McMenamin Shield quarter-finals (Saturday at 1pm):
Red Hugh's pitch: Markievicz (Donegal) v Ballerin (Derry)
Páirc Éire Óg, Carrickmore: Éire Óg (Tyrone) v Crosserlough (Cavan)
Ballycran: East Belfast (Down) v Killeavy (Armagh)
THE past three finals of the Bridie McMenamin Shield have featured the Antrim champions beating the Derry champions to lift the trophy.
With Cushendall and Ballerin kept apart in the draw this year, there is every chance that it will deliver the same final pairing once more.
Indeed Cushendall are already a step closer than Ballerin after getting a bye into the semi-finals. They will meet the winner from the tie in Carrickmore between the local Éire Óg side and Crosserlough seconds.
Éire Óg have come through to win the Tyrone junior on a couple of occasions over the past six or seven years but have still not won a game in the Ulster club championship. This is perhaps one they could shade.
Crosserlough seniors of course have won the Ulster junior championship, but this is the second time that their reserve team have come through Cavan. They will be fairly physical, but Éire Óg should line up Cushendall in the semi-finals.
Ballerin were very impressive in the Derry final where they blitzed Drumsurn during the opening half in Owenbeg and left their neighbours too big a hill to climb in the first half.
They will be strong favourites to come home from the Finn Valley with a win over Markievicz who won their second successive Donegal title with a 5-12 to 1-5 over Carndonagh away back in September.
Centre half-back Laura McGuinness hit 3-3 from distance that day, but she is more likely to be occupied defensively keeping tabs on Caoimhe Higgins who scored eight points in the Derry final. Scoring responsibility will therefore fall to Ciara Coulter, but Ballerin's forwards should be too strong.
East Belfast make their debut in the title race and will have a huge support as they take on Killeavy in Ballycran. After losing the Down final last year to Beann Dearg, they have bounced back to win the title this term.
Strong at the back, they can frustrate the south Armagh side's forwards, but their biggest problem will be getting enough scores at the other end.
This should still be a tight enough game as Killeavy seem to have the same problems. The support behind the Down champions could make a difference.
Verdict: wins for Éire óg, Ballerin and East Belfast.
AIB Ulster Junior B final Naomh Treasa Dungannon (Tyrone) v Lacken (Cavan) (tomorrow, Middletown, 1pm)
A fortnight ago 2020 champions Naomh Treasa had a tough game with Culloville before securing a 2-7 to 1-10 victory. At the same time Lacken were easing their way to a 4-15 to 1-0 win over Clontibret.
They have therefore set up a repeat of the 2020 final that took place this time last year and resulted in a 1-5 to 0-7 win for the Tyrone champions, curtesy of a goal from Cara Little and four pointed frees from Róisín McErlean.
McErlean scored three points last week, but was played further out the field where she got on a lot of ball although she was not in a position to hurt Culloville as much as she has done to other teams at this level when operating at full-forward. Can Naomh Treasa afford to push her up for more scores?
Gráinne Rafferty and Beth Jones were arguably more effective last week with Rafferty and Clare Kelly scoring the goals that turned out to be key scores early in the second half.
Lacken have several Cavan county players in their team including Rosie Crowe-McKeever at centre half back, Róisín O'Keefe and Róisín Galligan. They are still hurting from that provincial final defeat last year and will be fired up to reverse it.
They just might edge home.