Gaels can shade a tight semi-final

Andersonstown SC IHC Semi-Final

Cloney Gaels v Kickham’s Creggan

Sunday 2-00 (Randalstown)

By Paddy McIlwaine

This year’s Intermediate Hurling championship has been a real thriller to date with both groups undecided until the last round of games. In Group 1 it was Cloney Gaels who finished tops on 9 points from five starts but they had to win their final game against St. Gall’s in Cloney to ensure qualification.

Four wins and a draw from five starts however suggests that the Ahoghill men are in rude health with those victories coming against Glen Rovers, Gort na Mona, Cathaoir an Ri, and St. Gall’s with a draw against Glenariffe Oisin the only blip on their record.

It was perhaps in that draw against Glenariffe in Cloney that the Ahoghill side showed their real character however. The visitors looked to be in a strong position at half time when they led by six points.

After the break the sheer intensity of the home side slowly wore down the opposition and they drew level by the 18th minute and looked to be taking over but Oisin came back strongly with the lead changing hands several times before Alex O’Boyle brought matters level for the final time with a pointed free for the visitors in injury time.

In the other group things were slightly more clear cut with Emmet’s Cushendun winning all four of their games to finish on eight points from four starts including a 2-16 to 1-15 win over Kickham’s in Cushendun but that was the Creggan men’s only defeat in the group stages.

As in Group 1 things were not decided until the final day and Kickham’s travelled to Shaw’s Road knowing that a victory over St. Paul’s would probably guarantee them a place in the semi-final but aware that a win for Sarsfield’s over Cushendun at the Bear Pit could leave three sides on six points each and that score difference could come into play.

Cushendun spared the mathematicians the problem of deciding who qualified when they defeated the ‘Paddies’ by five points to win the group with Creggan securing second place by that win over St. Paul’s.

Meetings between Cloney Gaels and Kickham’s have always been keenly contested and hard to call and Sunday’s semi-final meeting at Whitehill is unlikely to be any different.

Both these two South West rivals have a rich hurling history with both clubs winning Ulster Junior and Intermediate hurling titles in the past and the Kickham’s going all the way in the Junior championship to win the All Ireland in 2014.

Cloney Gaels came close to All Ireland glory seven year’s earlier before losing out to Danesfort of Kilkenny and while those results are unlikely to have any bearing on Sunday’s game they never the less show the rich vein of hurling history in both clubs.

Cloney Gaels were last year’s beaten finalists, losing out to Tir na nOg in the final at Dunsilly and are determined to go one better this year but their South West rivals Creggan will be determined to stop that happening.

The Ahoghill side are vastly experienced and most of Sunday’s lineout have seen it all before. Martin Graham has proved an excellent keeper since his switch to the number 1 jersey at the start of last season.

Stephen O’Connell, James Magee, Eamon Brady, Fionnbar O’Neill, the Graham’s, Francis Neeson and Thomas McGlone will bring their vast experience into Sunday’s semi-final but it’s up front that the Gaels have the real aces in the pack in PJ and James O’Connell, both potential match winners on their day.

Their opponents on Sunday, Kickham’s, Creggan have a number of players who are no strangers to the big occasion with Sam Maguire, Aidan Maguire, Aidan McKeown, Rory McCann, Thomas McCann, Kevin Rice and Oran McCann all excellent hurlers and like Cloney, they have their own ace in the pack in county captain Conor McCann.

Conor McCann for Creggan and James and PJ O’Connell for Cloney Gaels are likely to come in for some very close attention on Sunday and the ability of both defences to contain the oppositions danger men may go a long way to deciding the issue.

However both teams have others who could be potential match winners on the day and there might not be too much between the sides come 3-10 pm on Sunday but Cloney Gaels have shown this year that they can dig out results when the chips are down and I expect Hugh Dobbin’s side to shade a tight semi-final by a couple of points.

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