Can lightning strike twice for Tir na nOg in Balinderry

By Paddy McIlwaine

As I looked through the Ulster club fixtures this morning I saw that Tir na nOg’s Ulster Intermediate final against St. Malachy’s Moortown has been switched to Ballinderry and immediately I reflected on the last time I had visited the Loch Shore venue.

It was back on the 10th March 2019 and the game I was covering featured our very own Tir na nOg and the opposition was another Tyrone side, Gortin in an Ulster Intermediate League decider.

Tir na nOg turned in a solid performance in far from ideal conditions that day to beat the Tyrone side convincingly so the visit to Ballinderry this Saturday could be seen as a good omen for the Randalstown men as they face Moortown for a place in the Ulster final.

Can lightning strike twice for the Randalstown men? Quite a number of the side that played that day will feature on Saturday and today we start the build up to Saturday’s semi-final with a report and photographs from that Ulster League final in 2019

Ulster Intermediate Football League (final)

                  Tir na nÓg (Antrim) 2-10 St Patrick’s Gortin (Tyrone) 2-02

Tir na nOg kept their cool against an undisciplined St. Patrick’s, Gortin to collect their first Ulster Intermediate football league title at cold and windy Balinderry today. The Tyrone side were very much architects of their own downfall, losing two players to straight reds during an opening half where they played into the driving wind.

The Tyrone side had entered the game as strong favourites but the dismissal of midfielder Ruairi Kennan at the end of the first quarter and team captain and full forward, Brian Mc Garvey in the 29th minute left them facing an uphill battle.

Tir na nOg had the strong breeze behind them in the opening period but the concession of a fifth minute goal and another in the latter stages of the half looked likely to cause them problems.

Early replacement Ciaran Dobbin made quick impact after being introduced for Ryan O’Neill who had suffered a facial injury, when he signaled arrival on the scene with a 25th minute point before quickly making the addition of a goal.

The Whitehill lads did have numerical advantage and a four point lead,1-07 to 2-00 at the short whistle but conditions, and the strength of the breeze against ensured nothing could be taken for granted.

Despite being reduced in numbers the Red Hand side started the second half on the offensive but Damien Hagen had the Whitehill men ready for action and although a 41st minute Ciaran Brolly point reduced the deficit that was to be as close as they were to get.

Tir na nOg were fully primed for rear guard action with team captain Christy Sheerin and the pace laden Sean Redmond leading the way.

The Antrim lads stood strong in defence and used their extra men to good effect. Their slick counter attacking produced points from Leigh Martin, Ciaran McKeown, and Ciaran Logan before minor star Ciaran O’ Neill, a second period replacement, blasted to the back of net to ensure the silverware was on the way to Randalstown.

In far from ideal conditions Tir na nOg and Gortin took to the field in Balinderry today to decide the destination of the Ulster intermediate football league title.

St. Patrick’s had impressed en route to the decider with eye catching wins over Castledawson and Tir na nOg, Portadown  and entered today’s final as firm favourites

Tir na nOg, with the gale force westerly breeze in their favour the opening half got off to a good start with mid-field general Christy Sheerin firing between the posts seconds into proceedings.

The Antrim side added a second point via Leigh Martin in the 3rd minute but despite the positivity offered from a good start Tir na nOg were in arrears by the 6th minute as Gortin corner man Sean Og McAleer rose to punch a Sean McKenna cross to the back of the net.

Brian McGarvey who had been assigned a ‘go anywhere role’ linked up with Sean McAleer and Tony Mossey to open the way for the corner forward to fist into the net.

Tir na nOg regained the initiative as back to back points from a Daniel Martin long range effort and a sweetly struck Leigh Martin delivery ensured they sneaked ahead, 0-04 to 1-00 and their chances were further enhanced when the opposition were reduced to 14 when Ruairi Keenan was shown red for an off the ball incident.

Another well delivered Leigh Martin score increased the Tir na nOg lead but the advantage was soon to become deficit when the Tyrone men grabbed a second major.

A strong interception from corner back Cormac Bradley initiated the score but it was a sublime inch perfect pass from Ciaran Brolly which opened the way for Sean Og McAleer to grab his second goal and make it 2-00 to 0-05 after 25th minutes.

The Whitehill side had been forced into replacing Ryan O’ Neill with what looked a bad facial injury but his replacement, Ciaran Dobbin was about to signal arrival.

The fleet footed substitute took up position in the corner and had the ball over the bar in the 27th minute after Darren McCormick interception in the central zone.

Dobbin was soon to add a second score as Christy Sheerin rose to collect the resultant kick-out before transferring to the former who quickly rounded his marker before firing firmly into the corner of the net.

The Randalstown men had regained advantage and an interception and adept delivery from Sean Redmond opened the way for a further score as Michael Dempsey split the posts.

The Antrim side had gone four points clear in the latter stages, but with the elements to face in the second half that lead looked precarious.  Gortin’s tackling was reckless at times and the Tyrone men were further reduced in number when Brian McGarvey was shown red following a strike on an opponent.

Gortin started the second half on the offensive and it was only a last minute intervention by Aaron McNeilly on his own goal line that prevented Shane Clarke finding the net.

Fiachra McNulty sent Ciaran Brolly in to raise white in the 40th minute for Gortin to reduce the gap to three but Damien ‘Scotchy’ Hagen’s men were soon back in formation and standing tall in defiance.

Christy Sheerin and Sean Redmond led by example and a fast counter and a foul on Aaron McNeilly led to the ever accurate Leigh Martin dispatching the resulting free over the bar in the 47th minute.

Martin’s score was negated at the other end a few minutes later when Sean Mc Aleer strode forward to finish in style but the Whitehill Blues quickly responded with team captain Christy Sheerin to the fore.

Ciaran Dobbin was denied by the base of the post when he shot low and hard in the 54th minute but Ciaran McKeown came strong on the right hand side to fist between the posts a minute later.

Tir na nOg had a four point advantage as the decider moved into the last five minutes and the Whitehill Blues were now in control all over the field.

Gortin kept battling but the Antrim side were immoveable and when Ciaran Logan added a 57th minute point they looked in charge.

St Patrick’s continued to battle but the Tir na nOg defence stood firm and another well laid counter attack saw replacement Ciaran O’Neill place Ciaran Logan who fired to the net and the die was cast.

Despite the addition of six minutes of injury time there was no further employment for the scoreboard attendant as Tir na nOg kept possession as they ran down the clock.

The silverware was Randalstown bound and to Whitehill and the club rooms of Tir na Nog in their centenary year as they passed the post full value for a 2-10 to 2-02 winning advantage’

Tir na nOg: Sean P McAtamney, Daniel Martin (0-01), Niall Cassidy, Sean Redmond, Barry McCormick, Caoimhinn Duffin, Darren McCormick, Ryan O’ Neill, Christy Sheerin (0-01), Malachy Og Duffin, Aaron McNeilly, Peter Cullen, Darragh Fegan (0-02), Leigh Martin (0-02), Sean Duffin

Subs

Ciaran Dobbin (1-01) for Ryan O’Neill

Michael Dempsey for Ronan O’Neill

Ciaran Logan (1-01) for M Duffin

Ciaran O’Neill for D Martin

Ronan O’Neill for S Duffin

Gortin: Cathal McCullagh, Cormac Bradley, Patrick McCullagh, Peter Bradley, Peter Keenan, Fiachra McNulty, Sean McKenna, Ruairi Keenan, Paddy Northern, Tony Mossey, Ciaran Brolly, Laurence Hollywood, Sean Og McAleer, Brian McGarvey, Shane Clarke.

Tir na nOg progress with super win in Ulster

Ulster Football Club Championship

Intermediate Quarter Final

Tir na nOg 2-14 Carrickcruppen (Armagh) 1-11

Saturday 4th December

Brendan McTaggart reports from Ahoghill

Tir na nOg produced a mighty performance on Saturday afternoon as they saw off the challenge of Carrickcruppen with six points to spare.  This quarter final was only decided in injury time with the Armagh champions looking to produce the Orchard version of the Great Escape but the men from Whitehill were full value for their win on a bitingly cold afternoon at Ahoghill.

Leading by three points at half time after a superb start, all three majors in the game came after the last minute of normal time.  Ciaran Dobbin and Eamon Og McAllister taking advantage of Carrickcruppen goalkeeper Blaine Hughes going walkabout as the Naomh Padraig men looked to get back into the game while James Burns looked to have got the last touch on the ball for the Armagh champions goal.

In a frenetic end to the game, referee Niall McKenna issued three red cards with Burns and Conal O’Callaghan seeing red and Barry McCormick for Tir na nOg but in reality, the dismissals had no effect on the result.  Tir na nOg played with precise organisation, to their strengths and in truth could have won by more but for a brilliant save from Hughes in the first half and McAllister’s opportunistic goal bound effort just going wide in the second half.

The Randalstown men started the game superbly and opened a four point lead before the Armagh champions found their footing in the game.  Ciaran McKeown, Daniel Martin and a brace from Darragh Fagan giving them the ideal start.

Carrickcruppen finally opened their account in the 13th minute thanks to a free from Tiernan Kelly but Tir na nOg were bossing the contest with Darren McCormick, Christy Sheerin and Barry McCormick hugely influential.  They used the speed of Aaron McNeilly and McAllister on the break, varying their method of attack with great effect.  In truth, they should have been further ahead with McAllister testing the goal keeping abilities of Blaine Hughes with a rasping drive but the Armagh net minder produced a save of the highest quality, pushing the ball away at full stretch.

Barry McCormick fired over his first of two points in the game just after the water-break before McNeilly split the posts with a sumptuous score following some neat recycling while under pressure.

The Whitehill men lead by five points going into the last ten minutes of the half but the Armagh men finished strongly before the short whistle.  Points from Tiernan Kelly and Blaine Hughes (free) came either side of a point from Barry McCormick.  A Fagan free and Sean Duffin point opened a six point lead but Carrickcruppen scored three points unanswered to claw their way back into the contest with Richard Keenan firing over a brace of frees either side of a fisted point from Adam Matthews to leave three points between the sides at the break and a reminder to Tir na nOg that they wouldn’t get everything their own way at the end of a pulsating half of championship football.

Carrickcruppen needed to maintain their momentum in the second half and livewire forward Eoin Woods split the posts with a delightful score from the acutest of angles with the second half barely 10 seconds old.  It was their fourth unanswered score but it was as close as the Armagh men got to Tir na nOg.

Despite a sedate feel to the contest after the restart, Tir na nOg remained organised and composed, frustrating Carrickcruppen while in attack they always threatened.  Christy Sheerin and McAllister keeping the scoreboard ticking for them before another Keenan free restored the three point advantage. 

Tir na nOg created another massive goal chance with substitute Ciaran Dobbin and McNeilly combining but Dobbin’s shot was superbly saved by Hughes. 

With darkness falling and hailstones thundering from the skies, Tir na nOg found some of their first half fluency to fire over three points in as many minutes after the second half water-break to open a six point advantage with eight minutes remaining.

With the Armagh men looking to change the momentum of the game, they pushed up on Tir na nOg and Hughes left his goal keeping duties to create an extra body in midfield.  Tir na nOg struggled to get out of their own half as Carrickcruppen turned the screw in midfield and halved the deficit with scores coming from Conor Sloan, Keenan and a ’45 from Hughes in the 57th minute.

With all 30 players in the Tir na nOg half of the pitch, the Blues had opportunities to seal the contest.  The Armagh men rolled the dice but it was Tir na nOg who’s luck was in.  Caoimhin Duffin and McAllister combined but McAllister’s effort from distance drifted agonisingly wide with the goal at his mercy.  It was an audacious effort but he would have the final say.

Ciaran Logan playing the ball to Dobbin who spun his defender and raced through unchallenged to fire to the back of the net as the clock ticked into injury time.

Carrickcruppen fired back with an aerial assault on Sean Paul McAtamney’s goal and with a crowd of players on the edge of the square, it looked like James Burns got the last touch with the ball squeezing over the line to reignite the Armagh men’s hopes of a dramatic comeback.

Substitute, Ciaran Dobbin celebrates as he fires into an empty net for Tir na nOg’s opening goal

With tensions high and the game in the melting pot, tempers flared with three players seeing red for second bookable offences.  Christy Sheerin (second yellow) for Tir na nOg while Burns and O’Callaghan were off for Carrickcruppen but the game was put beyond doubt in the seventh minute of injury time.  McAllister’s major came in similar fashion to Dobbin’s with Hughes caught in ‘no man’s land’ and the goal at his mercy to seal a memorable win for the Whitehill men.

TEAMS

Tir na nOg: Sean Paul McAtamney; Brandon McLarnon, Ciaran McGrellis, Peter Cullen; Ciaran O’Neill, Barry McCormick, Caoimhin Duffin; Christy Sheerin, Darren McCormick; Aaron McNeilly, Sean Duffin, Darragh Fegan; Ciaran McKeown, Eamon Og McAllister, Daniel Martin

Subs: Ciaran Dobbin for D Martin (38); Ciaran Logan for C McKeown (48)

Scorers: D Fagan 0-4 (1 ’45, 3 f’s); E Og McAllister 1-1; C Dobbin 1-1; B McCormick 0-2; A McNeilly 0-2 (1f); S Duffin 0-1; C Sheerin 0-1; C McKeown 0-1; D Martin 0-1

Carrickcruppen: Blaine Hughes; James Bennett, James Burns, Aaron Kimbley; Ross Flynn, Adam Matthews, Oisin O’Hare; Richard Keenan, Jack Cunningham; Conall O’Callaghan, Lorcan McParland, Eoin Woods; Tiernan Kelly, Stephen Loughran, Cathal O’Grady

Subs: Conor Sloan for C O’Grady (43)

Scorers: R Keenan 0-4 (3 f’s); J Burns 1-00; B Hughes 0-2 (1 ’45, 1f); T Kelly 0-2 (1f); A Matthews 0-1; E Woods 0-1; C Sloan 0-1

Referee: Niall McKenna (Monaghan)

Tir na nOg can overcome Carrickcruppen challenge

Ulster Intermediate club football championship quarter-final

Tir na nOg (Antrim) v Carrickcruppen (Armagh)

Ahoghill 2.30pm

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.

Tir na nÓg take the title with dominant display

OB Construction Intermediate Football Championship Final

Tír Na nÓg Randalstown 2-14 All Saints Ballymena 1-10

At a pristine Kelly Park in Portglenone, Tír Na nÓg Randalstown deservedly claimed this year’s Intermediate Championship title after seeing off All Saints Ballymena 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 favourites Randalstown 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 on the 5th December against the champions of Armagh.

Randalstown wasted no time in working the scoreboard operator.

Straight from the throw in Barry McCormick surged forward from half-back and he set up midfielder Darren McCormick for the opening point.

While All Saints were failing to find their way past a watertight Randalstown defence, Martin took advantage of some slack marking in the Ballymena defence to blast home from close range.

Michael McCarry eventually opened the All Saints account with a free on 15 minutes, and ten minutes later McCarry added a second after Fagan had kicked Randalstown into a four point lead.

ALl Saints looked to be in for a goal at this stage and wing half Ciaran McGarry got on the end of a good move and found himself on a one on one with Tir na nog keeper, Sean Paul McAtamney but ther big keeper got down to his left to deny McGarry the goal that migh have ignited the Ballymena challenge.

Two points in quick succession from Fagan opened up a five point lead before All Saints gave themselves a fighting chance as half-time approached.

Sean McVeigh’s long ball into the full forward line was misjudged by Brendan McLarnon, and Saints Brendan McDonnell took full advantage to fire a left foot shot high into the Randalstown net after cutting in along the end line.

But the goal only rallied Randalstown and three unanswered points from Ciaran O’Neill, Fagan and Darren McCormick helped the Whitehill side to a deserving five point half time lead, 1-7 to 1-2.

 Tír Na nÓg Randalstown picked up where they left off at the start of the second half.

Fagan from a free and a point from goal scorer Martin helped open up a seven point lead by the 34th minute.

Both sides lost a player each to black cards in separate incidents within a three minute spell.

First Ballymena’s Emmett Kilough went for a deliberate pull down, before Caoimhín Duffin was ordered off for a similar infringement at the other end.

But it was the All Saints who played the better a man down and five unanswered points saw their arrears cut to just two points, the pick of the scores being Kavan Keenan’s point from a tight angle from the right-hand side.

Michael O’Kane freshened up his attack and the introduction of Christy Sherrin and Ciaran Dobbin helped swing the momentum back in favour of the Ógs.

Cathal McOscar Photography

After Dobbin got in behind the All Saints defence to pounce for a second goal, Sherrin finished off a flowing move after some clever play from another replacement, Eamon Og McAlister.

McAlister’s first time flick taking out two All Saints defenders and from here on in, there was no way back for the Ballymena men.

Despite a gallant effort and a Trojan performance from Sean McVeigh, All Saints couldn’t find a way past a well drilled Tír na nÓg defence, a further free from Fagan and an effort from play from Dobbin sealed a deserved championship win for Randalstown as they added the football title to the hurling one they won last season.    

Teams & Scorers

Tír na nÓg: S.P. McAtamney, Brendan McLarnon, Ciaran McGrellis, Peter Cullen, Ciaran O’Neill (0-2), Barry McCormick, Caoimhín Duffin, Ryan O’Neill, Darren McCormick (0-2), Aaron McNeilly, Sean Duffin, Darragh Fagan (0-7 5f), Tiarnan McKeown, Kevin Sherrin, Daniel Martin (1-1).

Replacements: Ciaran Dobbin (1-1), Christy Sherrin (0-1), Eamon Óg McAlister, Kieran Logan.

All Saints: Conor Brennan, Matthew Downey, Peter McNicholl, James McDonnell, Conal Lennon, Emmett Kilough, Ciaran McGarry, Sean McVeigh, Conor Stewart (0-3 1f), Kavan Keenan (0-1), Michael McCarry (0-4 2f), Peter McReynolds, Ronan McKillop, Paddy McAleer (0-1), Brendan McDonnell (1-1).

Replacements: Joe Rafferty & Shea O’Brien.

Referee: Mr Kevin Parke. (Naomh Eanna)

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.