One Giant Leap for Naomh Éanna

The Antrim Champions take to the Ulster stage and a trip to Owenbeg on Sunday for their opener.  With last years run with the ‘big ball’ still fresh in their minds, the Hightown Road side are looking to take steps with the ash as Banagher awaits….

Ulster Intermediate Hurling Championship

Quarter-Final

Naomh Éanna vs Banagher (Derry)

Venue: Owenbeg, Dungiven

Thrown In: 2.30pm

Referee: James Connors (Donegal)

By Brendan McTaggart

Naomh Éanna make a maiden journey into the Ulster intermediate hurling championship on Sunday afternoon and a trip to the Derry Centre of Excellence.  Derry champions Banagher lay ahead for Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton’s side and the Hightown Road men couldn’t have wished for a more difficult start to the provincial championship.

The North Derry men lost out to a resurgent Lavey side in the Senior Hurling Qualifier round in the Oak Leaf county.  Despite going into the interval six points ahead, Banagher lost out to a resurgent Lavey side in extra time.  They regrouped to edge past City side Na Magha to reach the Intermediate Final where the Feeney side were rampant against the 2018 champions, Swatragh, a side who pushed St Galls to the pin of their collar in the semi-final of this competition last year.  A late CJ McGourty major in injury time accounting for the Swa. 

Banagher will fancy their chances of making waves in Ulster this year and come into the game full of confidence.  Not only from their resounding win over Swatragh in the county final but their footballers have been turned more than a few heads in their championship trail.  Defeating Bellaghy and Swatragh before bowing out to Magherafelt by the narrowest of margins last weekend.  A first senior semi-final for the club.  With plenty of dual players in their ranks, the confidence of playing in such matches and defying the odds is huge.

Their performance against Swatragh in the county final will have been pleasing for the Derry men.  Out of their 21 points scored, 15 came from play while they had nine different scorers over the hour while conceding just four points from play over the hour.

The return from injury of Oisin McCloskey will be a huge plus for the Feeny side and will bolster an attack that were on fire in their last outing.  Darragh Cartin and Sean McCullagh shared seven points between them in the Derry final while Brian Og McGilligan added a couple from play from midfield.  Tiarnán McCloskey will be Banagher’s free taker and he will be in familiar surroundings on Sunday, another massive bonus for the Derry men.

Darragh and Ruairi McCloskey will be key in their defence while Mark Lynch could be used as a sweeper to nullify the attacking threats of Naomh Éanna.  John McGoldrick will be key once again with his free taking abilities.  Owenbeg is notorious for a swirling wind and it could be a difficult hour for the Naomh Éanna man but you wouldn’t want any other man standing over a free inside 80 yards, such is his accuracy.  Philly Curran on the edge of the square was a handful for Carey in the county final and the Naomh Éanna management team will be hoping for more of the same and while Killian Jennings wasn’t as prolific as previous matches, he will carry a threat from open play as well.

The Naomh Éanna half back line is where their strength lays.  Captain Cormac Ross and county star Joe Maskey either side of Mark Donaghy make a strong trio who can help the Hightown Road side take a stranglehold of this match.

The midfield battle with Ryan Bogue and Ruairi Donaghy up against Ciaran Lynch and Brian Og McGilligan will be mouth-watering and whoever comes out on top of that battle could go a long way to deciding who progresses to the next round.

Looking at the scoring power, Naomh Éanna have racked up some impressive tallies on their way to the Antrim title and in four matches they’ve hit 6-65.  Averaging 1.5 goals and 16.25 points while conceding just 1.25 goals and 13.75 points.  Banagher have average 0-33 goals and 19 points while conceding an average of 1-13 in their three matches.

This will be a tight contest between two sides who have worthy aspirations of claiming the crown.  It’s just a shame they have to meet in the opening round.  Who wins could come down to whoever deals with the occasion better or the elements on Sunday.  Owenbeg has been like a second home for Banagher this year in all codes and the surroundings under the shadow of Benbradagh Mountain in north Derry will give them the edge.  Naomh Éanna may have to up their performance levels from what they’ve shown this year so far in the championship but with the season they’ve had so far, it would take a braver man than I to bet against the Hightown Road side from making the next round.

The two clubs share some recent history with another side who will be playing in the first match at Owenbeg on Sunday.  Mullahoran, the side Naomh Éanna defeated to win the provincial Intermediate football crown 11 months ago while the Cavan side edged past Banagher in the semi-finals.  A match that needed extra time and free kicks to separate the sides.  Let’s hope it’s settled within the hour on Sunday!

PATH TO ULSTER QUARTER-FINAL

Naomh Éanna                                                          Banagher

Antrim First Round:                                              Derry SHC Qualifier:

Naomh Éanna 1-28 Cloney Gaels 1-8                    vs Lavey 1-13 to 1-19 (aet)

Quarter-Final                                                           IHC Qualifier:

vs Creggan 0-13 to 0-11                                            vs Na Magha 0-23 to 1-12

Semi-Final                                                                 Intermediate Hurling Final

vs Glenariffe 3-19 to 2-10                                        vs Swatragh 0-21 to 0-8

Final

vs Carey 3-14 to 1-17

Banagher match images from Mark Doherty.

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