Naomh Padraig can advance in Ulster opener

Ulster Junior Football Championship

St. Patrick’s Lisburn v Collegeland (Armagh)

Sunday 2-30 (Glenavy)

Antrim Junior champions, St. Patrick’s Lisburn make their Ulster bow this Sunday when they take on Armagh champions, Collegeland at St. Joseph’s Glenavy. For the Lisburn men Sunday’s game is a giant step into the unknown but a step they are more than capable of taking.

It’s been a mixed season for the boys from Lisburn but one I feel will stand them in good stead. Last year they won promotion from division 3 of the              ACFL with Con Magee’s Glenravel but lost to the Glenravel men in the Junior Championship final.

Their division 2 campaign this year certainly didn’t go the way as planned and indeed they failed to gain a win until late in the year when they travelled to Glenravel and defeated the Glensmen. While results didn’t go their way in the league this year they never the less performed well in most of their games and that experience at a higher level stood them in good stead going into the championship.

Naomh Padraig began this year’s championship journey with a less than convincing win over Lochra loch Lao at Sunday’s venue, the Lisburn side emerging 1-9 to 1-4 winners in a nervous opening to their championship campaign.

A wins a win and it seemed to settle St. Patrick’s and next time out they showed just what they are capable of when they defeated Na Piarsaigh 1-18 to 0-4 at Rossa. Conor Dixon, Mark Torbitt, Ben McMullan, Josh McMullan, Niall Ward and  Tighearnan O’Meallaigh were the men on target with Ben McMullan getting the goal.

They carried that good form into their semi-final meeting with O’Donnell’s at Woodlands beating the Whiterock Road side 1-22 to 0-9 in an impressive scoring display. The sides were evenly matched in the opening quarter as Richard McAvoy kicked five of O’Donnell’s opening scores and brought his side back on terms after Conor Dixon had edged Lisburn in front with the game’s only goal.

But O’Donnells went over 40 minutes without a score and struggled to deal with the threat from outstanding corner-forward Josh McMullan.

McMullan drew numerous fouls that were converted by Dixon and Francis McMeel as their side hit 17-points unanswered to comfortably progress to the decider.

They faced a stiff test when they met a Kickham’s Ardoyne side who had already gained promotion to division 2 and had impressed throughout a season which included a promotion play-off against St. Mary’s Rasharkin and there were many who had Paddy Murray’s side as favourites for this one.

St Patrick’s Lisburn bridged a yawning gap, stretching away back to 1995 when they defied the strong challenge of Kickham’s Ardoyne to gain the verdict after a keenly contested and hugely entertaining final in Glenavy.

Last year’s beaten finalists took the lead in the 7th minute when the impressive Ben McMullen concluded a stylish counter attack by firing to the back of the net and despite being reduced in number shortly after when Sionan O’ Suilleabhain saw red they were not to be headed again.

With Niall Ward patrolling the ‘40’ in a majestic role as sweeper the Lisburn men dominated possession from their own kick outs and Mark Chernek pounced on a wayward clearance to return to the back of the net and ensure a 2-04 to 0-05 half time advantage.

As expected, Ardoyne came strong in the second half and had closed the gap to the minimum at one stage but Naomh Padraig struck with a late Francis McMeal goal to put the disappointment of defeat in the previous two finals behind them to take the title and earn a place in Sunday’s Ulster opener against Collegeland.

What of Collegeland?

Collegeland O’Rahilly’s have a proud but chequered history. They won their first Armagh Junior Championship way back in 1956 and in 1961 they won their only Armagh Senior Championship. Their fortunes declined after that but the opening of their new pitch and clubrooms in 1998 provided a new impetus. This culminated in the capture of the County Junior title in 2007. An interesting aside to this was the fact that Tomasz Fopka, a Polish national, became the first non-national to win a county title in Armagh and perhaps beyond.

This year has been a good season for one of Armagh’s oldest clubs and they have been impressive in their march to this year’s Armagh Junior Football title. The Armagh championship is played in a league format before progressing to a knockout at the quarter-final stage.

They topped their group which included Dorsey Emmets to whom they suffered their only defeat. In the quarter final Collegeland defeated Peader O’Doirin Foirceal 2-11 to 1-11 before going on to avenge that earlier defeat to Dorsey Emmet’s in the semi-final at the Athletic Grounds , winning 2-8 to 0-9.

In the final Collegeland defeated Derrynoose in another tight encounter, running out 1-12 to 1-9 on the 29th September to set them up for a meeting with Naomh Padraig this Sunday.

Naomh Padraigh can progress

Sunday provides an interesting opening round encounter at Chapel Hill. Collegeland O’Rahilly’s have certainly earned their place in Sunday’s Ulster opener with a consistent campaign in Armagh but they will face a Naomh Padraig side with a tough division 2 campaign behind them and one who appear to have run into good form just at the right part of the season.

Ben McMullan, Niall Ward, Jack McMullan, Tighearnach O’Meallaigh, Eoin Fay, Mark Cherneck, Francis McMeal, Conor Dixon and the superb Josh McMullan have the experience and know how to see the Lisburn side overcome their first Ulster hurdle.

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