Journey into the unknown could prove rewarding for Lamh Dhearg

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Ulster Club Football Championship

Cavan Gaels (Cavan) v Lamh Dhearg (Antrim)

Lamh Dhearg head to Breffni Park in Cavan this Sunday and for the Hannastown side it is a journey into the unknown. No doubt they will be well briefed on the considerable talents of Cavan Gaels, their opponents in this weekend’s Ulster club championship but for the Belfast side it will be something most of them have never experienced.

Its 25 years since Lamh Dhearg last had their hands on the McNamee cup but the Hannastown side came through a tough battle with old rivals St. John’s at Glenavy a couple of weeks ago to lift the trophy and once the euphoria had died down it was time to plot the downfall of the Cavan champions.

Cavan Gaels represent a stiff challenge for the Antrim men and on their own patch Breffni Park, the challenge looks all the more formidable. Cavan Gaels defeated Castlerhavan at Kingspan to collect their first title since 2014 and are a team laced with talented players.

County player Seanie Johnston turned in a man of the match performance in that final, scoring five points but he is only one of many excellent players who the Lamh’s will face on Sunday. Michael Lyng is another name familiar to Antrim supporters but the new golden boy of Cavan football, a few year’s ago had a promising county career hampered by injuries. Lyng appears to back to something like his former best and with Robert Derham and Michael Dunne will take some watching.

CAVAN FINAL REPORT

Cavan Gaels 0-13 Castlerahan 0-8

Cavan Gaels captured their first county SFC title since 2014 with the minimum of fuss at Kingspan Breffni.

Veteran Seanie Johnston collected his tenth county medal and the man of the match award in what was a real tour de force.

Castlerahan were their own worst enemies, though, as they set about trying to claim first ever title.

They let the Gaels off the hook when Paul Smith blasted his shot over instead of under the black spot on 16 minutes and then Cian Mackey’s effort from the penalty spot – after Daniel Lynch was brought down – flashed wide of the junction of crossbar and upright in the 23rd minute.

Seanie Johnston and Robert Maloney-Derham compounded Castlerahan’s travails by splitting the posts with consummate ease.

Thereafter, Johnston’s points proved pivotal in steering his side into a 0-7 to 0-2 interval lead but points after the break from Oisin O’Connell, Oisín Kiernan and Mackey kept Castlerahan in touch.

Castlerahan kept nipping away at their opponents’ heels but to no avail and the dismissals of influential duo Cormac Daly and Stephen Cooney only served to rub salt into their wounds.

Cavan Gaels: C Flynn; L Fortune, N Murray, K Meehan; S Murray, B Fortune (0-1), L Murphy; P Graham, R Maloney-Derham (0-2); N Smith (0-2), M Lyng, A Graham; P O’Connor, S Johnston (0-5, 2f), M Dunne (0-2, 1f). Subs: D Sexton for S Murray (42 mins); D Meehan (0-1) for A Graham (49 mins); S Fitzsimons for B Fortune (BC, 61 mins); V Coyle for P O’Connor (62 mins).

WHAT OF LAMH DHEARG

While Cavan Gaels will start Sunday’s encounter as firm favourites they would do well not to underestimate their opponents, Lamh Dhearg. The Antrim champions are there on merit having defeated former Ulster and All Ireland champions St. Galls in an epic battle in the semi-final where they recovered after conceding two early goals to the Milltown side.

In the final they were pushed all the way by a St. John’s side who had defeated reigning county champions, Cargin after a replay in the other semi-final. With the game finally balanced Paddy Cunningham and Declan Lynch hit the all-important late scores to see the Hannastown side home.

Those two games will surely have brought the Hannastown side on both in terms of fitness and confidence and with a number of county and former county players in their ranks they will feel they have nothing to fear.

Cunningham has been a member the Lamh Dhearg side for nearly two decades and has experienced the bitter disappointment of defeat in five final over the previous 14 years before this year’s success. For a lot of those years he represented Antrim County with distinction and still carries a considerable scoring threat.

Indeed the side has quite a number of players who have represented the county and Declan Lynch and the Murray brothers, Conor and Ryan were part of the county team over the last few years while Ciaran Flaherty is a former Fermanagh county player.

John Finnucane captains the side and the former county keeper brings experience to a defence where Michael Herron, Brendan McComb, Declan Lynch and Aaron McAufield have impressed this season. Donal Nugent is likely to line out at mid-field with Paul Fitzsimmons while Cunninham and the Murray’s will be joined in attack by the flying Kevin Quinn and Eognan McKeown.

Paddy Cunningham’s free taking could be vital if Lamh Dhearg are to progress and they will need to settle quickly and not concede too many early scores. If their defence can contain a lively Cavan Gaels attack then they certainly look to have the fire power to trouble the Breffni men and don’t be too surprised if the Antrim flag is still flying in Ulster come Sunday evening.

1) DECLAN LYNCH CELEBRATES AT THE END OF THE ANTRIM FINAL 2) PADDY CUNNINGHAM’S FREE TAKING WILL BE VITAL IF LAMH DHEARG ARE TO PROGRESS 3) EOGHAN McKEOWN ADDS PACE TO THE LAMH DHEARG ATTACK WHILE CIARAN FLAHERTY BRINGS EXPERIENCE AND GUILE

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