While the Junior and Intermediate Football championships take centre stage there are three interesting Senior Football Championship preliminary round games on the fixtures list and all three are likely to attract good crowds and a fair deal of interest.
Ahoghill v St. Brigid’s (Ballymena Saturday 1-30)
St. Mary’s Ahoghill make the relatively short trip to Ballymena on Saturday where they will meet division 2 league leaders, St. Brigid’s in the first of three SFC preliminary games and the Clooney men will start this one as favourites. Ahoghill are now a long established division 1 side and while they haven’t figured recently in the challenge for honours they have never the less proudly maintained their division 1 status.
St. Brigid’s look certain to join them in division 1 next year as the Musgrave Park side currently sit at the top of division 2 with only a couple of rounds remaining and last year’s Intermediate champions will arrive in Ballymena in confident mood. Jack Dowling, Enda Clarke, James Smith, Peter Webb and Ruairi O’Neill will lead the St. Enda’s challenge and they could give the St. Mary’s men a run for their money.
Ahoghill are an experienced outfit however and in Francis Neeson, the Graham’s, O’Connell’s, and Neeson clans and Dan O’Neill they have players who usually step up to the mark when the going gets tough and they may have just too much know how for their division 2 opponents.
Casement’s Portglenone v O’Donovan Rossa (Creggan Sunday 1-30)
Casement’s Portglenone have had a good season in division 1 this year and sit in a very healthy sixth place with 14 points from 14 starts. The best of those wins were against St. Gall’s who were leading the division 1 table at the time with the O’Cahan Park side defeating the Milltown men both home and away to make people sit up and take notice. They defeated Rossa in the first round of fixtures at Rossa Park before the league split and a home win over St. John’s is another big scalp they have taken this year.
Rossa have been decimated this year by defections and injuries and find themselves precariously close to the drop to division 2 and will go into Sunday’s game at Creggan as massive underdogs but they certainly shouldn’t be ruled out. Stephen Beatty, Richard Gowdy, Sean Finch, Sean Pat Donnelly, Donal Armstrong, Darren Grego and Christopher McGuinness are the men likely to carry the Rossa challenge and the Shaw’s Road side will give it everything.
League form would suggest that Casement’s will overcome the challenge presented by the city men and the Delargy’s, the McAleese’s, the Kelly’s, Niall McKeever, Michael Hagan, Kieron McKenna and company have the fire power and know how to earn them a place in the next round.
Lamh Dhearg v St. Mary’s Aghagallon (Glenavy Sunday 5-30)
Last year’s Senior football champions, Lamh Dhearg face a tricky preliminary round opener against an improving St. Mary’s Aghagallon and following an indifferent league campaign they would do well not to take their eye of the ball if they are to advance.
The contest becomes more intriguing given the fact that St. Mary’s are managed this year by former Lamh Dhearg player, Kevin Murray who’s brother Ryan will be a key man in the Lamh Dhearg attack while another brother Conor will miss the tie following a long term injury sustained playing for Antrim in the All Ireland qualifiers against Sligo. Donal Nugent, who was a key member of last year’s side, will also miss out after transferring to Warwickshire for their championship earlier in the year.
Aghagallon have had a second solid season in division 1 after promotion from division 2 and an U21 success two years ago and retain most of that youthful side with a couple of years in division 1 now behind them. Gavin O’Neill, Pat Brannigan, Caolan Farr, Oisin Lenehan, Ruairi Loughran, Eunan Walsh and Ruairi McCann are the men who will lead the St. Mary’s challenge.
John Finucane, Aaron McCaufield, Declan Lynch, Eoin McKeown, Terry McCrudden, Paddy Cunningham and Ryan Murray are the men that the holders will look to if they are to take the first step to retaining their title and while they are likely to be pushed to the wire they should advance.
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