Cloney to edge shoot-out of free takers

Andersonstown SC Intermediate Hurling final

Cloney Gaels v Tir na nOg (Dunsilly 1-00)

GAA fixtures at present are a bit like a bus! You wait for one for ages and then a number come along and so it is in Antrim tomorrow. I’m not complaining, nearly six months of writing reviews and features under the cosh of Covid 19 makes one appreciate what we at the Saffron Gael have been missing as we endeavour to cover all championship games in the county.

Tomorrow’s meeting of Cloney Gaels and Tir na nOg at Dunsilly tops the bill in another day of championship drama and it’s certainly one that supporters from both sides will be eagerly awaiting and one that is likely to be keenly contested.

Cloney Gaels won their last Intermediate title back in 2013 before going on to claim an Ulster title and quite a number of that side are still playing for the Ahoghill side. Carey Faughs were their opponents in that Antrim final back in 2013 and Carey were again their opponents in this year’s championship semi-final.

Indeed Cathaoir an Ri started that semi-final as slight favourites but Ghaeil Cluanaidh turned in an excellent performance to beat the Ballyvoy side by three points and were good value for that win. James O’Connell was their star man and finished with 1-9 as his side ran out 2-18 to 1-18 winners and the youngest of the O’Connell clan will take some watching tomorrow.

He will be joined in a sharp Cloney attack by his brother PJ, who can be another match winner on his day while another youngster, Eoin Graham and Dan O’Neill and the returning Patrick Graham add pace and scoring potential to a potent attack.

Martin Graham has been a revelation since taking over the goalkeeper’s jersey this year while Bernard Graham, Stephen O’Connell and Eamon Brady have been in good form in a resolute Cloney defence.

Tomas McGlone and Francis ‘Slim’ Neeson form a formidable mid-field partnership who have been the catalyst of most of the Gaels attacks and this mix of experience and youth will take some beating if they are firing on all cylinders.

Standing in their way are Tir na nOg from Randalstown and the Whitehill side will go into tomorrow’s decider in search of a first Intermediate title but certainly with no inferiority complex and with good reason.

They have their own star man in attack in Sean Duffin. Big Sean, like James O’Connell, the youngest of the Duffin clan scored 0-14 in his side’s semi-final win over Oisin Glenariffe and the Antrim panellist will be hoping to carry that form into the Dunsilly decider.

The similarities in the sides don’t stop there however as Kevin Sheerin has swapped his outfield jersey for the number 1 shirt and has been impressive as the Og’s last line of defence. Against Glenariffe his brother, Christy Sheerin lined out at full-back while Caomhin Duffin brings a wealth of experience to the Tir na nOg defence.

Aaron McNeilly and Ciaran McKeown form a strong mid-field partnership while Sean Duffin is likely to be joined in attack by Eamon Og McAllister, another youngster with an eye for a score and captain, Ryan O’Neill who’s introduction in the semi-final steadied his side.

Verdict: Both sides bring a good balance of youth and experience to Saturday’s final and this one could come down to a shoot-out between free takers, James O’Connell for Cloney Gaels and Sean Duffin for Tir na nOg but in a tight contest the Cloney side may just edge it.

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