Rivalries renewed as Antrim meet Derry in the Danny  McNaughton Cup final

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The Antrim team who beat Down in last week’s semi-final at Corrigan Park

Electric Ireland Ulster Minor Hurling Championship Final

ANTRIM VS DERRY @ OWENBEG

Throw In: 1.30pm

Referee: Colin Murray (Down)

By Brendan McTaggart

After last weekend’s six point victory over Down, Antrim turn their attentions to another Ulster Final with Derry standing in their way of claiming a fifth title in succession.

These two teams are no strangers to each other with the bulk of the Oak Leaf side coming from their Under 17’s that also took part in the Celtic Challenge.  The Saffrons took the spoils on the two occasions that they met in the group stage and while there are differences in the sides from that day, there is only one survivor in the Derry team that memorably took Antrim to extra time in last year’s Ulster Semi-Final.  The Saffrons meanwhile have five from their starting team last day out who played some form against Derry last year, a match that Antrim had equalised in the fifth minute of injury time before going onto dominate in extra time.

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In the Semi-Final, Seaan Elliott continued to showcase his undoubted talents.  1-10 from the young Cuchullain with five points from frees while Tiernan Murphy and Deaghlan Smith also impressing in attack.  Team manager Colly Murphy was satisfied with his side’s performance when we spoke with him during the week: “I was pleased with the commitment and passion that the lads showed.  Down threw everything at us and we stuck together.  If anything we were maybe a little over exuberant in our play and tackles.  I think that if we were a bit more relaxed then we might have pulled away earlier than we did but that was to be expected.”

The Rossa clubman confirmed a clean bill of health for his charges coming into Sunday’s match but the Saffrons will have one absentee from their starting 15 at Corrigan Park: “We’ve known for a while that OIsin McAuley wouldn’t be available if we were to make it to the UIster Final.  They’ve had a family holiday planned for a good while now so we’ve put the necessary plans into place.”

Murphy wouldn’t confirm who would replace the Ballycastle man with the team to be named on Friday but with Francis McCurry coming on for Shane Magill in the second half against Down, it is expected that the Ruairi Og defender will be drafted into the starting 15.

It’s the third time in four years these two will be playing in the Final but the Oak Leaf side are trying to win the Danny McNaughton Cup for the first time in 16 years and while there is a plethora of talent coming up through the age groups west of the Bann, Murphy told us that they are confident that they know what to expect on Sunday: “With the Derry teams playing in the Antrim leagues at minor level, there aren’t too many secrets or hidden danger men and that’s on either side.  You throw in the fact that the majority of these lads will have played each other at college level as well and these boys all know each other at this stage.”

Derry will be backboned by their Kevin Lynch’s contingent with Liam Himphey in charge.  Only Eoghan O’Kane survives from last year’s starting 15 but they have talented hurlers all over the pitch.  Richie Mullan will punish any Saffron indiscretion with his free taking ability while dual star Tiarnan McHugh on the edge of the square will require Antrim’s full attention.  As expected, Derry accounted for Donegal with ease in their Semi-Final, the Oak Leafers with 16 points to spare at the full time whistle with the majority of the damage coming in the opening half.  Antrim will again start as favourites but they won’t get things all their own way when they take to the Owenbeg pitch.  Derry made numerous changes in the second half that disrupted their flow but Murphy told us that he is expecting his side to improve again from last weekend: “That’s the first match done and it’s great to have the win but we feel as if we have more in us.  There were four or five of the players who looked jaded and that’s probably the effects of having four Championship matches in four weeks with the Celtic Challenge so we’ll have a look at that before deciding on who our starting 15 will be for Sunday.”

Antrim will travel to the Dungiven pitch with no qualms on the venue decision, Murphy adding: “We’re actually delighted that the match is in Owenbeg to be honest.  A few of the lads wanted to play there and we jumped at the chance.  It’s a great venue with top facilities so we have no worries about travelling at all.  Hopefully we’ll get a good crowd of support travelling for the match as well.”  Murphy concluded by saying: “There’s a good buzz about the camp and we’re keen to keep that feel good factor going.  This is the last year that minor level will be under 18 and we’re wanting to win that cup again.  The lads are looking forward to it.”

The match is scheduled for a 1:30pm throw in with County Down referee Colin Murray the man in charge and if it’s half as good as the epic tussle between the sides 12 months ago, it will be well worth the journey up the Glenshane on Sunday.

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