Gort na Mona could have the edge against improving St. Paul’s

Casement Social Club Junior Hurling Championship final

Gort na Mona v St. Pauls

Saturday: Lamh Dhearg  1-45pm

Tomorrow’s Junior hurling championship final at Lamh Dhearg features West Belfast rivals, Gort na Mona and St. Paul’s and appears to have all the ingredients of a real cracker. The sides finished first and second in division 3 of the league this year with the Turf Lodge side taking the title.

The Gorts defeated their West Belfast neighbours 1-15 to 2-7 at Shaw’s Road in their most recent meeting at the start of August and have had a more consistent league campaign, finishing four points ahead of them to take the league title.

St. Paul’s, while less consistent that Gort na Mona never the less recorded some impressive results in the league and carried that good form into the championship. They began this year’s campaign with a win over St. Teresa’s at Lamh Dhearg.

First-half goals from Colm McLarnon, Stephen Rooney and Sean Lawell saw St Pauls get the better of local rivals St Teresa’s and book a place in the semi-final of the Casement Social Club Junior Hurling Championship after a 3-11-0-13 win.

They controlled the opening half of this game and although a Philly Maguire led St. Teresa’s fared much better after the break they never really looked like reeling in a sweet moving St. Paul’s side. That was on a Friday night and the following day it was the turn of Gort na Mona to make their championship debut and they did so in style with a convincing 3-14 to 1-7 win over Glenravel at Ahoghill.

A first half goal from Desi McClean and two in two minutes from substitute Christopher McErlean paved the way for the Gort victory.  McClean top scored for the Gorts with seven points in addition to his first half major but this victory was built around the strength in their half backs and midfield.  Padraig McHugh had a major influence throughout from centre half while Patrick McCaffrey and Declan Hughes went through a mountain of work to help the Gorts maintain a sense of control over this quarter-final.

Both semi-finals were staged under the lights at Quinn Park, Ballymena and the first of these between St. Paul’s and Shane O’Neill’s Glenarm was a real cracker. A fine exhibition of free taking by Stephen Rooney pointed St. Paul’s through to a place in the Junior Hurling Championship final when they came from behind to pip their North Antrim rivals.

Glenarm had much the better of the first half exchanges and with the excellent Darren Hamill in fine form they led by 0-8 to 0-4 at the break and might have been further ahead though their opponents were guilty of some poor shooting during the opening 30 minutes.

Stephen Rooney got St. Paul’s on their way from a free in the second minute of the second half before Joe Gillen got down well to deny Darren Hamill what looked a certain goal, the St. Paul’s keeper going full stretch to his left to deny Glenarm’s ace marksman.

The West Belfast side had the bit now firmly between their teeth as Stephen Rooney sent over his seventh point of the game in the 28th minute to edge his side ahead for the first time before Conal Finnegan saw his effort come back of a post with keeper Liam Mulvenna stranded.

A great comeback by St. Paul’s led by the accuracy of Stephen Rooney who top scored on the night but he was only one of a handful of stars in a dogged St. Paul’s side. Keeper Joe Gillen pulled off a couple of good saves and Sean Lawell, Fionntan Gamble, Patrick Doyle and James Farrell all impressed.

In the second semi-final Gort na Mona took on St. Mary’s Rasharkin at the same venue. A devastating scoring spell, which yielded four goals in as many minutes midway through the first half, paved the way for Gort na Mona to seal a place in the Junior Hurling Championship final with St Paul’s.  The Turf Lodge side had 13 points to spare over Rasharkin at the end of the hour, thanks largely to a fantastic display from Desi McClean.  The former county man helped himself to 3-7, his three goals all coming in that four minute onslaught in the first half.

Patrick McCaffrey and substitute Christopher McErlean added the other goals for the Gorts who put in a hugely impressive and controlled display throughout.

Based on those two semi-final performances and on their respective league campaigns, Gort na Mona will start tomorrow’s final as favourites but they will have to maintain that form if they are to beat a St. Paul’s side who look to be peaking just at the right time.

Much could depend on how the opposing defences deal with Dessie McClean and Stephen Rooney and I expect there to be little between them at the end but I give a tentative not to the Turf Lodge side to go on and complete a memorable league and championship double.

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