Naomh Comhghall make step into unknown

Ulster Junior club Football Championship quarter-final

Naomh Comhghall (Antrim) v Denn (Cavan)

Breffni Park Saturday 6-00pm

By Paddy McIlwaine

St. Comhghall’s, Antrim make a step into the unknown this Saturday evening when they take on Denn GAC of Cavan at Breffni Park in the quarter final of the Ulster Junior Club football championship.

Naomh Comhghall won the Antrim JFC this year for the first time since 1998 when they beat St. Mary’s Rasharkin in an excellent final in Ahoghill that needed penalties to decide to qualify for this weekend’s Ulster quarter-final against the Cavan champions and it will be the Antrim town side’s first appearance on the Ulster stage.

There was no Ulster Junior club competition back in 98 when Naomh Comhghall previously won the Antrim championship so Saturday’s meeting with Denn will be a first game at Ulster level for the men from ‘The Town’

St. Comgall’s stalwart, Paddy Quinn was in the team who defeated St. John’s in the decider back in 1995 and managed the side who beat Ballycastle in the 1998 final at Casement Park.

Paddy is now chairman of Naomh Comhghall and is still a major driving force behind the club. Adrian Dougan is the man in charge of St. Comhghall’s and the Creggan native has done a fine job in bringing his side to Saturday’s Ulster debut. Dougan has a strong panel to select from but instilling belief that they can carry this year’s form into Ulster will be key if they are to progress.

Tom Patchett and Miles Devine who will be vital to the Naomh Comhghall challenge against Denn of Cavan on Saturday

Anto Watson in goals, Caolan O’Loan, Ryan McAuley, Dylan Murdock, Danaan O’Hara, James McCabe, Tom Patchett, Patrick O’Connor, Joseph Webb and Paddy Quinn are some of the players that Dougan has at his disposal with goalkeeper Watson the Naomh Comhghall hero when he saved the penalty that saw them win the Antrim final.

While Naomh Comhghall lack experience at this level, Cavan champions Denn find themselves in a similar position. Denn’s only other success at county level came back in 1984 so like Saturday’s opponents, they will be making their Ulster debut.

Denn claimed the Junior Championship title for the second time in the club’s history as they ran out seven-point winners over Drung in this year’s Cavan final.

Denn came into this match as favourites, having turned in a scintillating performance against Knockbride in the semi-final and they lived up to their billing, although they only pulled away in the final quarter against a Drung side who performed well for most of the game.

Denn were not to be denied, however, and some super performances all over the pitch helped them over the line. Thomas Edward Donohue was key; he dropped back in a deeper role than usual and was involved in most of what was good about the Crosskeys-based side’s performance as well as scoring from placed balls and open play.

Denn pushed on to win fairly convincingly in the end with Thomas Edward Donoghue leading the way and scoring 1-5, (3frees, 1 mark) and will need close attention from the Antrim champion’s defence with Ben Conaty another who was fluent in attack against Drung and scored 1-2 from play.

The Cavan champions deserve respect from Naomh Comhghall but should not be feared and if Adrian Dougan’s men can produce the level of performance they have displayed consistently this year then they have what it takes to win this one.

Against Rasharkin in the Antrim final they came out on top in a titanic battle where they showed deep resolve and abundant character to get over the line against a strong and determined St. Mary’s side.

It was an epic final between two evenly matched sides with momentum swinging like the proverbial gate and both sides looking like they had it won at the end of the hour.  The sides were tied incredibly on 10 occasions over the 80 minutes with two points the biggest lead either side held at any stage.  The fate of the junior championship was decided by the lottery of penalties but that will matter little to the St Comgall’s.

Miles Devine was superb for Naomh Comhghall and directed matters from mid-field and top scored with 0-9 while Dylan Murdock 0-2, Conor McAuley 0-2, Tom Patchett 0-2, James McCabe and Patrick O’Connor provided the scores that saw St. Comgall’s through.

McAuley and Murdock’s contribution of two points each from defence was key and the Antrim town side have the capability to produce scores from all over the pitch and that could be important in a tight game.

Much will depend on how the Antrim champions start the game but if they can get a few early scores to settle them down and, if they can reproduce the free flowing football that has marked their game this year then I believe they have the players and the ability to overcome the Denn challenge.

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