Ulster Intermediate club football championship quarter-final
Tir na nOg (Antrim) v Carrickcruppen (Armagh)
By Paddy McIlwaine
Antrim Intermediate champions, Tir na nOg, Randalstown face a stiff Ulster opener when they take on Carrickcruppen of Armagh in this weekend’s quarter final in Ahoghill but it is a challenge they are capable of overcoming.
The Randalstown side have been the outstanding team in Intermediate championship and division 2 of the league this season and after going through division 2 unbeaten they went on to defeat All Saints in the Antrim Intermediate championship final and were good value for that win.
It has been another fine season for the men from Whitehill and after claiming the Intermediate hurling title for the first time last year they added the division 2 football title and Intermediate football championship this term and will play their football in division 1 and senior championship next season.
Tir na nOg qualified for the semi-final of the Antrim championship from Group 1 where they suffered their only defeat of the season when they lost on day two to All Saints in Ballymena, having won their opening game to St. Teresa’s.
In what was regarded as the tougher of the two qualifying groups, Tir na nOg went on to record wins over Con Magee’s, Davitt’s and Ardoyne to finish in second place to the Ballymena men and qualify for a semi-final meeting with Sarsfields.
Tír na nÓg 1-14 Sarsfield’s 0-9
Tir na nOg proved too good for Sarsfield’s in this OB Construction IFC semi-final at Davitt Park to set up an all South West final against All Saints. 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.
In a fairly even first half Tir na nOg just edged the exchanges to lead 0-6 to 0-4 at the interval. The South West side pushed on at the start of the second half as they added five points in the opening nine minutes to give themselves a lead that looked fairly comfortable even at this early juncture.
It took just 18 seconds for Ciaran O’Neill to thump over another from range, with Aaron McNeilly adding one from the left and then Ciaran McKeown fisted over when through as the Randalstown side dominated the early second half exchanges.
Tir na nOg had matters well in control when they went on to lead 0-13 to 0-5 at the second water break and while Sarsfields closed the gap in the final quarter a late goal from keeper, Sean Paul McAtamney from the penalty spot ensured there would be no way back for the Stewartstown Road side.
Meanwhile All Saints had advanced from the same group as winners and when they overcame Dunloy in the semi-final to set up a third meeting of the season with Tir na nOg in the final the scene looked set for a classic decider.
Tír Na nÓg Randalstown 2-14 All Saints Ballymena 1-10
Played under floodlights at Kelly Park in Portglenone, Tír Na nÓg Randalstown deservedly claimed this year’s Intermediate Championship title after seeing off All Saints with seven points to spare.
After claiming the Division Two title earlier in the season, Michael O’Kane’s side had too much for their neighbours and bar a five minute spell in the third quarter, the Ógs were more than comfortable with anything that the All Saints threw at them.
An early Daniel Martin goal helped them to settle quicker into the contest and in half forward Darragh Fagan, they had the games stand out player. Fagan contributed seven points to his cause, but the Randalstown bench also made a telling contribution.
Ciaran Dobbin was introduced after 41 minutes. His goal six minutes after being introduced put paid to any idea of an All Saints comeback after the Slemish Park side cut the arrears from seven to just two.
Dobbin also added a point as the Randalstown men saw the game out in convincing fashion to book an Ulster championship date with Saturday’s opponents, Carrickcruppen.
Tir na nOg are a solid outfit right through from goalkeeper, Sean Paul McAtamney to Kevin Sheerin on the edge of the square and have serious performers all over the field. Barry McCormick at centre-half-back captains the side and leads by example while Ciaran O’Neill and Caoimhin Duffin flank him in a strong unit.
McCormick’s brother Darren and Ryan O’Neill are likely to line out at mid-field and in the previously mentioned Darragh Fagan, Aaron McNeilly, Daniel Martin and Ciaran Dobbin they have a serious scoring threat.
Fagan finished with 0-7 against All Saints in the final while Dobbin added 1-1 when coming on from a strong bench which included Christy Sheerin and Eamon Og McAllister.
What of Carrickcruppen?
Armagh always produce strong contenders in this grade and Carrickcruppen will provide the Antrim champions with a firm test after a good win over Culloville in the county final.
Cruppen had their homework done, they marked Culloville’s key men out of the game and had the finishers at the other end of the pitch as well as a touch of luck for the all-important goal.
Oisin O’Hare and James Bennett were solid in the Carrickcruppen defence and O’Hare did a brilliant job on marking Culloville’s talisman Niall Rowland.
Blaine Hughes in goals is the Armagh county keeper and weighed in with four pointed frees against Cullovillle while Eoin Woods, Tiernan Kelly, Stephen Loughran and Cathal O’Grady were all on target against the ‘Blues’
It’s been 17 years since Carrickcruppen last won the Armagh Intermediate title and Carrickcruppen manager Barry Flynn, who manages alongside Paul Cunningham, was delighted with the win and the prospect of playing in Ulster was as far away as ever only three seasons ago.
Carricruppen were in Division 2B at that stage and struggling so this year’s success is all the more remarkable but never the less deserved and they will be hoping to keep that winning run going on Saturday.
It’s been a while since the either side has kicked a ball in earnest with Tir na nOgs win over All Saints coming on the 30th October and Carrickcruppen’s success coming in early November and just how these long lay-offs affect the competing sides remains to be seen.
Michael O’Kane and Seamus Hefferon will have the Whitehill side well prepared however and while they should respect the Armagh champions they have nothing to fear. Tir na nOg have been excellent all season and if they can build on their Antrim final performance then I would expect them to advance to the semi-final.