Battle of talismen could decide tonight’s final

Reserve Football Shield Final

Tonight’s Reserve Shield Football final marks the first football final on this year’s Antrim calendar and throws together two teams who have been the most consistent sides in their respective group campaigns. Dunloy finished top of Group 1, a group that included All Saints, Glenravel and Moneyglass.

They defeated both All Saints and Glenravel home and away but dropped a point in both home and away games against the St. Ergnat’s. The Cuchullain’s had a big win over All Saints in Dunloy but in the reverse fixture at Quinn Park it took a late point from Kevin ‘Rev’ McAllister to give them both points.

In Group 2 Tir na nOg and St. Joseph’s Glenavy finished with 8 point each from 5 games with Tir na nOg winning their home fixture against the Chapel Hill side but suffering their only loss away to St. James’ Aldergrove. The final game in the group between Tir na nOg and Glenavy wasn’t played but Tir na nOg finished top by virtue of the head to head between the two sides.

The semi-finals should have given us a better pointer as to what side will start tonight’s final as favourites. Tir na nOg v All Saints (who finished second in group 1) was fixed for Quinn Park in Ballymena after the sides tossed for venue and the popular opinion was that the home side would edge this one but it didn’t quite pan out that way.

Indeed Tir na nOg dominated the game from start to finish to run out 2-11 to 0-5 winners with Shane Donnelly the star man in their side finishing with 1-4 and involved in everything good the Whitehill side did.

The Randalstown side are a mix of youth and experience. Sean Paul McAtamney, Gerard Martin, Ciaran McKeown, Pearse Sherrin and the excellent Shane Donnelly bring that experience and knowhow to a side that has a number of useful youngsters in their side. Brandon McLarnon and Eamon Og McAllister were in great form against the Ballymena men and both are likely to start tonight.

Given the fact that Tir na nOg handed out a hammering to All Saints at Quinn Park and Dunloy only beat the same side by a single point at the same venue in their group game, logic would have suggested that St. Joseph’s Glenavy would have started their meeting with Dunloy at Dunsilly as favourites but here again logic went out the window.

A scoring burst of 1-3 in just four minutes at the start of the second half proved to be decisive for the Cuchullains as they booked their place in the reserve shield final.  13 points separated the sides at the end of the hour and but for the brilliance of Owen McCormack between the sticks for Glenavy, the margin of victory could have been considerably more. 

Eoghan McGrath top scored for the Cuchullain’s with five points over the hour while the goals came from Anthony Smith and man of the match Kevin McAllister.  ‘Rev’ putting in a monumental performance for the Cuchullains as he covered every blade of grass on the Dunsilly pitch.

Tonight’s final may well go down to who of the respective side’s talismen, Shane Donnelly for Tir na nOg and Kevin McAllister for Dunloy perform. Both can be match winners on their day but neither of tonight’s opponents are one man bands and both have talented players all over the field.

Tir na nOg had a strong physical edge to their play against All Saints but Dunloy are better equipped to deal with that aspect of the Randalstown side’s game and they have a few players who can mix it themselves.

I don’t expect there to much in it in the end and it might well come down to whether their star forwards, Donnelly or McAllister perform to their optimum and those lucky enough to gain access could be in for an excellent final.

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