St Gall’s take on Lissbelaw in Ulster Intermediate Club Championship

CRLL0493The St Gall’s team who beat St Enda’s in the Antrim semi-final

St Gall’s make the long journey to Brewster Park in Enniskillen on Sunday where they take on Fermanagh representatives Lisbellaw in the opening round of the Ulster Club Intermediate Hurling Championship. Two weeks ago the men from Milltown sealed the Antrim title with a late fightback against Creggan in a windswept game at Hannahstown to win their first title at this grade since 2009 and on that occassion they went on win Ulster and indeed reach an All Ireland final.

L-R – Karl Stewart, Tómas O’Ciaran, Aodhan Gallagher and CJ McGourty.

With no less than seven of the team who lost in last Sunday’s dramatic Antrim Senior Football semi-final against Cargin there is no doubt team manager Mickey Culbert has a job on his hands to lift his players. Aodhan Gallagher, Jackson McGreevy, Conor Burke, Niall O’Neill, Tómas O’Ciaran, Kieran McGourty and CJ McGourty were all part of the team who lost so dramatically to Tómas McCann’s last gasp winning goal and building up for an Ulster Hurling quarter-final must have been far from those players thoughts in the early part of this week. However this may well be the tonic they need to put that one firmly behind them.

CRLL2208St Gall’s manager Mickey Culbert

Since Mickey Culbert took over the hurlers they have come on in leaps and bounds this season. A slow start to the league did not auger well for their chances, but they slowly picked up the pace and came with a great run of victories to eventually clinch promotion back to the top-tier next season. Their run in the Antrim championship has been impressive as well and after accounting for Gort an Mona in the opening round (despite having three men sent off) they went on to overcome a tough hurdle in Glenariffe Oisins. In the semi-final they had six points to spare over St Enda’s in Corrigan Park before a late second half surge got them over the line against Creggan in the final.

As a club they have been through this all before and they have a good sprinkling of the men who did it nine years ago still wearing the blue shirt of St Gall’s. Their form in the Antrim title race must give them great confidence, but they must not take anything for granted against a side who also have proven pedigree in this competition.

Lisbellaw also won a title in this grade back in 2012 when they beat Antrim champions Cloughmills in the final in Pairc Esler in Newry, a remarkable achievement for a club who basically plough a lone furrow in Fermanagh. With no opposition in the county they play their hurling in the Tain Ulster Hurling League with clubs like Carrickmore from Tyrone, plus Keady and Middletown from Armagh providing the opposition.

imageFormer Lisbellaw and Fermanagh player Shane Mulholland. The Loughgiel native had made Fermagh his home before his tragic death in 2015

There is of course a significant link to Antrim in the Lisbellaw club and that is their former player Shane Mulholland, who died so tragically in a road accident back in April 2015. Shane was a native of Loughgiel who took up the caman with the Fermanagh men after marrying his wife Vennessa just a year before his untimely death. Six months later the Shane Mulholland Foundation was set up and his memory and is still very much alive in the club and in Fermanagh in general.

St Gall’s go into Sunday’s game as favourites and they deserve to be, but they must not take the Fermanagh men lightly. We are all behind them as they set out on their Ulster adventure, but there may be a few around Loughgiel who will have a soft spot for the Fermanagh men.

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