Intermediate final looks a hard one to call

OB Construction IFC final

Tir na og v All Saints

Saturday 7-00pm Portglenone

Saturday evening’s OB Construction, Intermediate Football Championship final between Tir na nOg Randalstown and All Saints Ballymena looks a hard one to call. Saturday’s finalists can quite rightly be regarded as the top two side in division 2 this year and both hold similar records going into Saturday’s decider.

The sides met in the opening day of the league in Ballymena and it was to prove an important game for both sides for different reasons. Tir na nOg produced a superb second half comeback to beat All Saints at Quinn Park and the Whitehill side pushed on to collect the division 2 league title.

All Saints recovered from that opening day loss to go through the rest of the season unbeaten but the slipup that they needed the Randalstown side to have never materialised so Sean O’Brien’s side had to settle for second place and missed out on promotion.

Ironically both sides were drawn in Group 1 of the Intermediate football championship and as fate would have it, they were drawn against each other in the opening round of the group stages with All Saints again having home advantage.

There was little between the sides but All Saints gained some solace from their league defeat with victory over the Whitehill side to begin their championship campaign with a win. Both sides completed their championship group games unbeaten after that Slemish Park encounter with All Saints winning the group and Tir na nOg also qualifying for the semi-finals as runners up.

Both teams faced difficult opponents in their respective semi-finals and it was a mixture of apprehension and confidence that All Saints faced old adversaries Dunloy in last weekend’s semi-final in Glenravel.

Last year’s beaten finalists, Dunloy had proved a hurdle that the Ballymena side had failed to negotiate in recent years including a defeat to the Cuhullain’s in last year’s semi-final in Ahoghill but they produced a strong performance to beat Dunloy by 0-12 to 0-6 and earn a place in their first Intermediate decider for ten years.

At the same time the division 2 league winners were facing another potential banana skin when they took on Sarsfield’s at Davitt’s Partk. Tir na nOg proved too good for Sarsfield’s. The Whitehill side was solid at the back and much more fluid in attack as they led throughout this semi-final and were full value for their win in the end.

Perhaps it is destiny then that these two sides should meet in Saturday evening’s decider. Both sides have lost one game each this season and both have suffered that defeat to each other though All Saints loss to Tir na nOg in the league was the most costly.

A win on Saturday would give All Saints their fourth Intermediate championship title but it feels like a lifetime since that last success in 2011. Portglenone were their opponents that day and their previous wins came against Moneyglass at Casement Park back in 2008 and against St. Enda’s in 1986.

Tir na nOg 1st won the IFC in 1987 beating Davitt’s in the Final.  They were captained by Anthony McClenaghan that day and managed by Terry Robb and Eamon McCoy.  

The Randalstown side last won the Intermediate Football Championship in 2000 beating Gort na Mona in the final at Casement Park.  The captain that day was Jim McAleese and the manager was Anthony Brady

Saturday night’s opponents last met in the semi-final in Casement Park in 2008. Present Cargin keeper Michael Magill was in the Tir na nOg side that day and scored 1-07 from play but still ended up on the losing side. All Saints went on to beat Moneyglass in the final that year.

The following year 2009 Ahoghill defeated Tir na nOg in the Final at Creggan. Present chairman, Dessie O’Neill was manager in both 2008 and 2009 and his son Ciaran is an important player on the present side and he will be hoping for a change of fortunes for his club this time.

The man in charge of the present Tir na nOg team is Glenullan native Mick O’Kane. Mick is in his second spell in charge of the Whitehill side having taken over from Dessie O’Neill in 2010. He was in charge for two years in his first spell and led them to promotion from division 3 to division 2. O’Kane has an experienced back up team in Seamus Heffron and Gerard Martin with Eamon Hart and Stephen Higgins also involved.

Sean O’Brien is the man in charge at All Saints and was team manager when some of the present squad collected an All Ireland Feile title back in 2014. He is assisted by former Tyrone player, Damian Hagan and former player, Paul McCann. Hagan is credited for a much improved defensive performance by All Saints this year and has some inside knowledge of the Tir na nOg side having managed them for a spell before coming to All Saints.

Whether that knowledge will be of any benefit remains to be seen. These side know each other very well already having been involved in some tigh games over recent years and it could be performance rather than tactics that will decide Saturday’s final though in a tight game tactics could play a part.

Against Dunloy Sean McVeigh, Michael McCarry, Peter McNicholl, Emmet Killough, Peter McReynolds and Paddy McAleer were the survivors from that 2011 championship winning side who went on to reach an Ulster semi-final where they were beaten in extra time by Culloville of Armagh and it seemed only a matter of time until they would climb the winning podium again.

That hasn’t been the case although the Ballymena side did gain promotion in 2014 but made a quick return to division 2 after just one season in the top grade. The emergence of a number of talented youngsters in recent years has brought about improvement and there is a quiet optimism within the All Saints camp that this could be their year.

County player, Conor Stewart, Matty Downey, James and Brendan McDonnell, Kavan Keenan, Conall Lemon, Ciaran McGarry and Shea O’Brien have all contributed handsomely to the All Saints effort this year and will be hoping to collect their first IFC medal.

Standing in their way however is a very talented Tir na nOg side who will start Saturday evening’s final as favourites by virtue of their strong league campaign and their ability to recover from that one championship defeat to Saturday’s opponents to qualify for the final.

Tir na nOg celebrated their centenary recently and collected their first Intermediate Hurling title last year when they defeated Cloney Gaels in the final at Dunsilly. They have followed that momentous achievement up with their best season on the football field since that famous victory over Davitt’s back in 1987.

Sean Paul McAtamney, Ciaran McGrellis, Ciaran O’Neill, Barry and Darren McCormick, Aaron McNeilly, Dara Fagan, Colum and Sean Duffin and Kevin and Christy Sheerin are some of the names who will be hoping to complete the season with a memorable league and championship double and on the excellent form they have shown this year they might just do it but it looks a hard one to call.

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