By Brendan McTaggart
The Intermediate Championship began last weekend with Naomh Éanna overcoming the challenge of Glen Rovers Armoy at a sodden Whitehill to reach the quarter-finals. Three of the four matches are being held on Sunday with Armoy hosting a double header while Cardinal O’Donnell’s will play hosts to the third match on Sunday but we begin our preview with the undoubted tie of the round at Pairc Rossa.
Sarsfields v St Gall’s
Friday August 4
Venue: Pairc Rossa
Throw In: 7pm
Referee: Mark O’Neill (Armoy)
This could quite easily have been a pairing for the final of the Intermediate Championship. Just three years ago, it took a replay to separate these sides in the semi-final of the senior championship. On Friday evening Sarsfields and St Gall’s will do battle at Pairc Rossa for a semi-final spot at Intermediate level. St Gall’s have had a solid year when you look at their league form with their Division Two status all but secured. If we look a bit deeper into their recent form though, there may be reason for concern for the Milltown Row men. One win from their last five league matches and the concession of 18 goals in the same period is hardly the type of form that will strike fear into any of the opposition. But with five wins from their 11 league matches in 2017, it shows they had a record of four wins from six at the early part of the year. Sarsfields league form is a much easier conundrum to crack. 10 matches, 10 wins and the Paddies are on route to a swift return to the second Division. Both sides have hugely talented county players within their ranks and while I expect this to be a close encounter, I can see the men from the ‘Bear Pit’ to gain revenge from their 2014 loss to St Gall’s. They may be playing in a Division below the St Gall’s men but that was the result of a turbulent 2016 campaign. Sarsfields to progress but don’t be surprised if this one requires a second day out.
Rasharkin vs Tír Na nÓg
Sunday August 6
Throw In: 1:30pm
Referee: Thomas McGilligan (Dunloy)
After an indifferent start to their 2017 league campaign, Rasharkin have come into form in their last five matches. Four wins from five, despite four of those matches being on their travels will give the men from Dreen a certain degree of confidence coming into their quarter-final against Tír Na nÓg, their loss coming against Naomh Éanna three weeks ago. Seven wins from their 11 league matches means they sit comfortably in the upper echelons of Division 3/4 and will have aspirations of claiming a scalp on Sunday despite their underdog status. The men from Randalstown have all but secured their Division Two status for 2018 with a solid league campaign. Five wins from their 11 matches leaves them with ten points and a recent record of three wins from five. If we delve further into those matches, it makes for impressive reading for Tír na nÓg. Despite losses to St Gall’s and St John’s, the Whitehill side have recorded wins against St Gall’s, Carey Faughs and most notably the 2014 Ulster Champions, Portaferry in what could quite conceivably be looked upon as the best result in the recent history of Tír Na nÓg hurling. Tír Na nÓg will start this one as favourites and I expect them to live up to that tag. They have built on their run to the semi-final of the Intermediate championship in 2016 where they lost out to eventual winner Cloughmills and look a stronger side this year. Rasharkin are a better side than they showed in their opening round loss against Gort na Mona last year and have shown signs of improvement throughout the league but I think Tír Na nÓg will be too strong. I don’t expect a score fest but the Whitehill men should progress.
Naomh Éanna vs Lámh Dhearg
Sunday August 6
Throw In: 3pm
Referee: Darren McKeown (St Gall’s)
Naomh Éanna’s reward for their four point victory over Glen Rovers Armoy in the preliminary round is a meeting with 2016 junior champions, Lámh Dhearg. Traditionally, junior champions struggle when they compete for Intermediate honours and the Lámh’s will be hoping to buck that recent trend.
With a strong league campaign that has yielded eight wins from their 12 matches so far and four wins on the bounce, the 2016 Ulster Junior champions are coming into form at the right time of the season. 18 goals in those four matches, albeit 11 in one match against Loch Mór Dál gCais, the Hannahstown side carry a huge goal threat but with Domhnall Nugent reportedly not fit to play after concussion, it leaves a huge void for someone to fill for the Lámh’s.
Naomh Éanna showed plenty of signs that during their preliminary round victory that they are capable of at least matching their exploits from last year. In John McGoldrick they have an exceptional free taker, ball winner and a player who can play in a variety of positions. Brendan Cormican was superb as sweeper against Armoy the last day out in horrendous conditions but despite the individual scoring exploits of McGoldrick, the most impressive trait the Hightown Road side showed was their team work. On a day that wasn’t concussive for pure hurling, they worked their socks off for each other and won the lion’s share of second phase possession – ultimately proving to be the difference in the sides.
Both teams are sitting high in the Division 3/4 table but have yet to play each other in the league. Both come into this quarter-final in good form but I think if reports are true suggesting Nugent will be missing for the Hannahstown men then it will be the difference. Naomh Éanna to progress to their second semi-final in two years.
Carey Faughs vs Oisins Glenariffe
Sunday August 6
Throw In: 3:30pm
Referee: Owen Elliott (Ballymena)
The quarter-final clashes ends with another battle of two teams who will have high aspirations of progress in the championship and much like St Galls vs Sarsfields, this could have been a final pairing. Carey and Glenariffe are two of the ‘big hitters’ in the Intermediate grade and to a certain degree can find themselves unlucky to face each other so early in the competition.
Two years ago, Carey reached the final and went into the decider against Creggan as favourites, a tag that doesn’t seem to sit well with the Ballintoy men. They were favourites to progress to the semi-finals last year but an inspired performance from Tír Na nÓg ended their campaign. Glenariffe have been turned over in two of the last three years at the semi-final stage while being the bookies favourites to progress. Armoy in 2014 and Naomh Éanna last year both took the Oisins to extra time before progressing, suggesting that the favourites tag doesn’t sit well with the men from Waterfoot either. Both have had similar fortunes in the league with just two points separating them in the Division 2 standings and both have recorded home wins against each other during the 2017 league campaign, the Faughs winning by one point in May while Glenariffe were victorious by a five point margin when the sides met at the start of July. The form of James ‘Rocket’ Black has been instrumental for Carey in 2017 and if Glenarrife can quell his influence, they can go some way to progressing to the semi-finals. Carey only have one league win in their last five while Glenariffe haven’t fared much better with two in five but one of those against Sunday’s opponents. I think the men from Waterfoot will progress to the next round but don’t be surprised if Carey are celebrating at the end of 60 plus minutes.