LOCC Solicitors Intermediate Football Championship Final
Dunloy vs St Brigid’s
Venue: Fr McGuigan Park, Ahoghill
Date: Saturday October 14
Referee: Paul McKeever (Portglenone)
By Brendan McTaggart
The LOCC Intermediate Football Championship has come to its day of reckoning. On Saturday, St Brigid’s face Dunloy for the right to be crowned champions in Ahoghill at 3:15pm.
St Brigid’s are hoping to take the title back to Musgrave Park for the second time in their short history, their previous win coming in 2006 just eight years after their inception and while the Cuchullains last won the Intermediate the following year, they have been on the wrong end of their last three deciders.
St Brigid’s looking to buck recent championship trend….
The north Antrim men are coming into Saturday’s decider as underdogs, St Brigid’s have accounted for Naomh Éanna enroute to the final – the bookies favourites before a ball was kicked in anger due to their exploits in the league but this is their third final in succession. They will be hoping that it’s third time lucky and St Brigid’s manager Eunan Conway told us that the Cuchullains have perfected becoming championship specialists: “When you look at Dunloy, they are the epitome of the old saying ‘leagues are for playing in, championships are for winning.’ They’ve played well in patches during the league but when it comes to the championship they always find their form.
“If this was their first appearance in the championship final then I’d think nothing of it but when it’s their third final in succession, you see a trend and they’re here on merit that’s for sure.”
Conway admitted that his own side have had a mixed 2017 in terms of their league performances but refused to say they had prioritised the championship: “When you have the recent championship tradition that we have, to say that we have had an eye on the championship would be folly. I think prior to this year we had won one, maybe two championship matches in the last six.
“We had a mixed bag in the league but we lost against the top teams in Naomh Éanna and Moneyglass and didn’t push on. The league tables don’t lie at the end of the campaign and in truth we’ve maybe rode our luck in the championship a little as well.
“We won narrowly against Tir Na nÓg, by two points I think but it took a goal in the last minute for us to get through after a very tough match. That win gave us some momentum though and the first 40 minutes against Naomh Éanna was probably the best football we’ve played all year. They came back at us in the last 20 and we were certainly less happy with that but we came out on top against a very good Naomh Éanna side.
“The match against Ballymena, just to look at the final score would indicate we won handily but on further reflection, they missed a penalty when they were closing in and the loss of Sean McVeigh hurt them. He’s their leader on the pitch and him going off for injury certainly helped our cause. It took the sting out of their performance.”
The south Belfast side come into Saturday’s final with doubts over county player Jack Dowling. Conway admitted that he’s 50/50 while they will be short the services of other players for the final: “Jack is doubtful, he’s carrying a back injury and is struggling but there’s still a chance he will play. Kevin Gallagher is out as well, he’s another player who has played the majority of the league for us and we’re missing three or four other players on Saturday because of work commitments but it opens the door for someone else. We’re stretches in terms of our squad but we’ve got youth this year in James Smith, the Finnegan brothers, John Blayney and Nathan Carter. They’ve all came up from last year’s minors much like Dunloy have in their squad.”
The carpet like surface of Fr McGuigan Park will play hosts to the two sides on Saturday and the St Brigid’s manager was delighted with the choice of venue: “We have no problems with the venue. Ahoghill is a great place in the heart of the scenic south west with a great surface for football. Our lads are looking forward to the challenge of playing a team with the championship tradition of Dunloy and hopefully it’s a good game.”
Cuchullains hoping for third time lucky….
If the match is as dramatic as when these two sides met in the league this year, we will be in for a cracker. The sides finished tied on 2-13 to 3-10 after the hour with Keelan Molloy scoring an injury time point to equalise despite the Cuchullains ahead by 11 points at half time.
The match was played in June at Musgrave Park with both sides close to full strength. The Cuchullains had made a good start to the campaign and as the Dunloy manager Dominic Dillon told us, they had pinpointed a strong start to their league campaign to lay foundations for later in the year: “With a squad of so many dual players, it was never going to be possible to field a full-strength team every week. We looked at those first seven or eight games and tried to get as many points as we could on the board to secure our Division Two status and once that was achieved, we decided to give the boys a run out who had been training hard since the start of the year but maybe not getting the game time their efforts deserved. I have 35 of a panel and they were all used, I think only me and Martin were the only two who weren’t used all year.”
After an uncertain end to the 2017 league, the Cuchullains have started to find that early season form and Dillon told us that the league defeat to St Comgall’s was the eye opener his side needed: “We played St Comgall’s two or three weeks before the championship. It came at a time when we had our status secured and they were still scrambling for points. They came up to Dunloy and beat us, we didn’t have a weak team out and it was maybe the kick up the arse that our boys needed at that time.
“We played better against them but it was still a tight enough match and there was maybe only one point in it with 20 minutes to go but we got the scores when it counted in the end.
“A lot of people seen us as underdogs going into the semi-final but I certainly didn’t see it that way. Moneyglass are a very good team and Hugh Carey has done a great job in his first year in charge. I know what it’s like to come in and take over a team like he did and on another day, he could have been looking at a championship final and promotion having lost out by just a point in the league.
They gave us a bit of a pasting in the league, beating us by something like 20 points so for us to put on a display like we did that night was very pleasing.
“It was a tough match but I was always confident that we would come through in the end. We were ahead at half time and they kept coming back at us, pegging us back but cometh the hour, cometh the man. Woody stepped up in the third minute of injury time to score the winning point.
“Hopefully playing a match as tough as that will stand us in good stead come Saturday.”
Eight of Dunloy’s panel played some form of their Ulster Hurling semi-final defeat to Slaughtneil last weekend but as the Cuchullains manager continued, he told us that it’s been back to business this week: “We had everyone out on Tuesday again and the lads were down hearted but they were brilliant during training and they know the magnitude of Saturday’s game. They won’t be wanting to taste defeat in two massive matches in the space of a week and that alone will be motivation enough for them.”
Dillon was full of praise for his hurling counterpart in the club for the work they’ve achieved together stating his preparations have been perfect now he has a full panel of players to chose from: “Myself and Gregory worked closely at the start of the year along with Eoin McNicholl. We talked about keeping the players in the best possible condition for when it came to championship and I think we’ve been successful when you look at our seasons so far. Gregory has put everything into this club for the last four years and I was delighted to see him get the reward his efforts deserved. Eoin’s input has been pivotal in keeping the lads in top condition and the lads have bought into that. You just have to look at our last match against Moneyglass – that came just five days after the hurlers match against Cushendall in the championship final.
“I’m happy with our preparations and how they’ve gone. There’s something about Ahoghill, we’ve had success there in recent times. In the minor championship final against St Brigid’s last year and more recently in the semi-final but it’s another pitch at the end of the day and we’re hoping to make it third time lucky.”
Who will win….
This one has all the ingredients to be a cracking battle. St Brigid’s have injury concerns and while Dowling is a doubt I fully expect him to play some part on Saturday, just how much could be pivotal in deciding the outcome. Dowling has been employed on the edge of the square and midfield throughout the year and his presence alone on the pitch will lift his side. The free taking ability of Ronan McGrady and attacking prowess of John Blayney will also be critical for the south Belfast men.
The Cuchullains come into their third final in succession as underdogs just like their previous years but they’re a different animal this time around. Before they were reliant on the scores of Conor McKinley but with the addition of Eoin O’Neill, Conal Cunning and Keelan Molloy, they have additional firepower. Sean Doherty will claim back the number one shirt having served a suspension and his accuracy from kick outs against a tall St Brigid’s side will be key.
The Cuchullains added the youthful exuberance of Deaglan Smith to their midfield for the semi-final win against Moneyglass. Just how much involvement Smith will have remains to be seen as he is also in action in the curtain raiser (minor final) and the battle in midfield is likely to be where this match will be won and lost. If the Cuchullains can match St Brigid’s in this area, I feel they have the attack to do damage. Dunloy to make it third time’s a charm in a close encounter.