McGuinness seals St Pauls six-in-a-row after thrilling final

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St Paul’s 0-11-1-07 St Ergnat’s Moneyglass

By Kevin Herron at Corrigan Park

St Paul’s ladies claimed their sixth successive Kennedy Centre Antrim Senior Championship in a row with a nail biting 0-11-1-07 victory over St Ergnat’s, Moneyglass in Saturday evenings decider at Corrigan Park.

It looked as though the sides would have to do it all again as darkness began to descend on the Whiterock Road with the sides level two minutes into injury-time; however Kirsty McGuinness converted a late free to seal glory for her side and make it back to back final defeats for the ladies from St Ergnat’s, whose two points in the forty-five minutes was surely a contributing factor in their demise.

St Ergnat’s began the game on the front foot and landed the opening score within the first two minutes, Deirdre O’Kane turned the ball over from the throw in and a patient passage of play ended with Eleanor Mallon popping the ball between the posts.

Defending champions St Paul’s replied three minutes as Kirsty McGuinness threaded a fine through ball into the path of Niamh Enright who levelled and after turning over the resulting kick-out Laura Dahunsi popped the ball over the bar to give her side a 0-02-0-01 lead.

Kirsty McGuinness missed the chance to increase her sides lead, unusually misfiring from a free in front of the posts and St Ergnat’s pulled level with just short of ten minutes on the clock thanks to Lara McCann’s point after some brilliant hold up play from Aine Devlin.

The opening goal arrived from the next passage of play as Lauren Gray’s short kick-out was intercepted by Eleanor Mallon and a neat passing move saw Megan McGlinchey feed Cathy Carey who blasted low to the net past Gray to give St Ergnat’s a 1-02-0-02 lead.

The Moneyglass ladies almost had a second within a minute, but Laura McCann’s shot bounced over the bar rather than under it with Megan McGlinchey and Lauren Gray unsure of the destination.

St Paul’s shot stopper Gray was then penalised by referee Anthony Carleton for a shoulder charge with Cathy Carey scoring from the resulting free and when Aine Devlin drove forward and slotted the ball between the posts St Ergnat’s had registered five unanswered scores and were 1-05-0-02 ahead approaching the midway point in the half.

Kirsty McGuinness landed her first score of the evening to start a revival for her side, but then missed an opportunity to reduce the deficit further from another free on 23 minutes.

Two minutes before the break Stacey McCann conjured up an excellent point for the Shaws Road girls, however St Ergnat’s replied instantly through Carey to restore their five-point advantage.

McGuinness would land the final score of the half after some neat interplay from St Paul’s to leave four-points between the sides at the interval, 1-06-0-05.

0R6A1516St Paul’s came flying out of the traps at the beginning of the second period and almost had a goal within the first sixty-seconds, though Kirsty McGuinness only found the gloves of a relieved Anna McCann after Aine Tubridy had played the full-forward through.

Niamh Enright would land the opening score of the half from a converted free and after Tubridy and McGuinness linked up again, the later would pop the ball over the bar to half St Ergnat’s lead.

Fionnghuala Rocks made it three scores on the spin with a simple point from in front of the posts and Niamh Enright, who started the comeback with a converted free; would finish it after a neat score on the turn to level the scores, 1-06-0-09 after 35 minutes.

The pendulum had firmly swung into St Paul’s favour and they took the lead for the first time since the 5th minute on 38 minutes thanks to Fionnghuala Rocks, who claimed her second point of the evening.

St Ergnat’s were without a score since the 29th minute having lead by six after the first quarter, midway through the second-half they pulled level thanks to substitute Orla Prenter who levelled after a fine score from the right to make it 1-07-0-10.

Kirsty McGuinness had the chance to restore her sides lead on 48 minutes after Aine Tubridy was upended, however luck deserted the full-forward again as her shot tailed to the right and wide.

With less than ten minutes remaining McGuinness was upended on route to goal and after letting play continue, Anthony Carleton pulled play back for a free. McGuinness’ resulting free dropped short after a scramble in the goal mouth the ball fell to the full-forward whose shot was bravely blocked off the goalline by Eleanor Mallon.

The woodwork was next to deny McGuinness as her free a minute later bounced back off the large post and Aine Tubridy failed to convert the rebound.

Fionnghuala Rocks and Prenter both squandered further frees for their respective sides a reply looked on the cards after sixty minutes at Corrigan Park, however two minutes into injury-time Aine Tubridy was taken down and Kirsty McGuinness called for the ball.

The full-forward who had a mixed evening composed herself and landed the pressure kick to give her side the lead.

A minute later McGuinness took responsibility for another free from a similar angle, the woodwork would deny her for the second time on this occasion but St Paul’s were able to negotiate the remainder of injury-time to ensure the Kennedy Centre Antrim Senior Ladies Championship would reside at the Shaws Road for the sixth year in a row.

St Paul’s: L Gray, C Stewart, E Kelly, C Dahunsi, N Kelly, S Tennyson, M Hanna, L Dahunsi (0-01), A Tubridy, S McCann (0-01), F Rocks (0-02), C McNeice, C McGuinness, K McGuinness (0-04,0-01f), N Enright (0-03,0-01f). Subs: L Wallace for C Stewart (37 mins), N Cooper for N Enright (49 mins).

St Ergnat’s: A McCann, C McCann, R Bradley, N McIntosh, D Duffin, B Scullion, E McAreavey, D O’Kane, L McCann (0-02), A Devlin (0-01), C Carey (1-02, 0-01f), E Mallon (0-01), M McGlinchey, T Scullion, A McCormack. Subs: O Prenter (0-01)  for T Scullion (40 mins), M McCann for D O’Kane (43 mins), A McAtamney for M McGlinchy (49 mins), S McLaughlin for R Bradley (54 mins).

Referee: Anthony Carleton (St Brigid’s)

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Cargin Move Onward But Progress Was far From Easy

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Erin’s Own Cargin 0-16 St Mary’s Aghagallon 1-08

The reigning champions, Erin’s Own Cargin made progress into the semi finals of the 2017 version, and in pursuit of three in a row under the  lights at Ahoghill  on Friday evening but the Toome men found their opponents, St Mary’s Aghagallon a tough nut to crack.

The pundits had given the defending champions an overwhelming vote of confidence in their pre match analysis’ and an easy passage was forecast, but in the event the reigning Intermediate champions offered stubborn resistance. When the sides met a few weeks agon in the final of the O’Cahan Cup the men from Toome ran up a big total as they brushed aside the Aghagallon challenge. However this time around the Division 1 new boys offered much more resistance and they showed that their season in the top grade has paid dividends.

Aghagallon were quick out of the starting blocks and opened their account within a minute of the start as Shane Russell confidently stroked the ball over the bar and from the outset it was obvious that the St Mary’s men were not about to take any notice of the preordained script.

Cargin replied as Tomas Mc Cann  sent over within a couple of minutes after Michael Magill’s flick opened the way, but Magill who looked sharp in the opening exchanges was to be forced out of the game shortly afterwards with a calf injury with minor star Jamie Gribbin entering the fray as his replacement, and the new boy gave a performance to suggest a bright future ahead.

A Gareth Magee 6th minute pointed free saw Aghagallon nip ahead but that lead was not to remain for long as a foul on the incoming James Laverty was punished fully when Kieran Close sent the resultant award between the posts and when Kevin McShane sent Michael McCann away on the left and the centre forward was grounded 30 metres from goal Tomas McCann added another from the awarded free.

The Toome men seemed to be in the groove as the game progressed and with the Aghagallon keeper finding problems in his kick outs Cargin came strong as Justin Crozier, who gave a splendid performance on the night, came forward to deliver for John Carron to grab a super long range point.

The St Mary’s men were on the back foot as their opponents ruled the central sector and centre back Crozier rose highest to fetch and deliver to Paul Mc Cann to send his sibling Tomas away on the left, but the corner-forward was denied by a superb save by Aghagallon net-minder Gavin O’ Neill who dived to his left to tip the leather over the bar .

The defending champs had opened a 0-06 to 0-02 lead and appeared to be on their way to the semi-final stages, but St Mary’s began to show some resistance as they slowly got back into the game, and a foul on the strong running Dessie Marshall was sent over the Cargin bar by free taker Gareth Magee.

Cargin  seemed to lose their way as the opening period progressed as unforced errors and wayward finishing was costing them scores and opened the way for Aghagallon to reduce the deficit further in the 25th minute when Ruari McCann eluded his marker to fire over. Mc Cann was the obvious focus for the Aghagallon attack with early deliveries at every opportunity and he was to have an enthralling battle with his opposite number, Kane throughout the hour.

Kieran Close ended a barren spell for Cargin as his 27th minute free yielded a point but it was to be St Mary’s who were to dominate the remainder of the period and as the Toome men spurned several opportunities in the latter stages their opponents were proving more economic in front of posts.

Des Marshall added a 30th minute point and when Oisin Lenehan followed with another super effort from long range in time added on to leave just a point between the sides at the short whistle.

The raging hot favourites were at 0-07 to 0-06 and looking less than assured as they trooped off to ponder on deficiencies whilst Aghagallon must have been buoyed by their performance

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The second half was in its infancy when the St Mary’s men strode forward and although Cargin net minder John Mc Nabb denied Ruairi Mc Cann with a fines save, corner forward Ciaran Brady was on hand to gather the rebound and fire to the net.

An upset was most certainly on as the ‘no hopers’ held a two point lead at 1-06 to 0-07 and the champions appeared to be in some trouble. The Erin’s Own men had looked out of sorts for much of the opening period and needed inspiration as they looked to find a response.

Aghagallon were not about to stand back and admire any such renaissance and strong in the challenge the St Mary’s side saw three of their number booked  in the next few minutes as Oisin Lenehan, Des Marshall, and Pat Brannigan entered the ref’s notebook from the 35 to the 38th minute.

Brannigan’s indiscretion to halt the progress of Tomas Mc Cann was well punished when the latter dusted himself down to plant the resultant free between the posts, and when he followed suit following a foul on replacement Jamie Gribbin in the 40th minute Cargin had drawn level at 0-09 to 1-06.

The reigning champs having looked at the exit door were fighting for survival and if inspiration was the requirement such was about to be delivered as the veteran Tony Scullion entered the fray. Scullion was soon in the thick of the action with his strong runs forward and his arrival ignited of the blue touch paper to see the Cargin men explode into action. Tomas Mc Cann, who had an inspirational game split the posts three times in a five minute spell and with Kieran Close bagging another the reigning champions were four points clear as the game clock showed 54 minutes.

There was to be no way back for the Lough Shore side with Cargin now in control, and although the gallant St Mary’s men had certainly not given up the ghost the die was cast. Tomas Mc Cann added a 56th minute long range point to his ever increasing personal haul and although Paul Mulholland replied from a ‘45’ for the challengers it was Tony Scullion who raised the biggest cheer of the evening with a  superb finish a minute later and that was that. A Shane Russell pointed free followed  in time added on to complete the Aghagallon total with the last mark made by the hugely impressive Tomas McCann as his 45 metre effort which punished a foul on Tony Scullion saw Cargin breast the line at 0-16 to 1-08 and move onward to a place in the 2017 semi finals.

Cargin: John Mc Nabb, Donnach Mc Keever, Marty Kane, David Johnston, James Laverty, Justin Crozier (0-01), Ronan Devlin, John Carron (0-01), Gerard Mc Cann, Paul Mc Cann, Kevin Mc Shane, Kieran Close (0-03), Michael Magill, Tomas Mc Cann (0-10) Subs:Jamie Gribbin for M Magill, Mark Kelly for P McCann,Tony Scullion (0-01) for R Devlin

Aghagallon: Gavin O’ Neill, Paul Mulholland (0-01) Dan Donnelly, Ryan O’ Neill, Michael Mc Stravick, Pat Brannigan, Jack Lenehan, Caolan Farr, Oisin Lenehan, Shane Russell (0-03), Gareth Magee (0-02), Des Marshall, Mark Mc Kenna, Ruairi Mc Cann (0-01), Ciaran Brady (1-00) Subs: Adam Shanks for M Mc Stravick, Aidan Mulholland for P Brannigan, Niall Mc Shane for C Brady

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Lamhs battle back to beat St Gall’s in thrilling quarter-final

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Northern SwitchGear Antrim Senior Football Championship Quarter-final

Lamh Dhearg v St Gall's - 123

Two goal hero Conor Murray gets above St Gall’s Colin Brady to palm the ball past goalkeeper Chris Kerry in first half injurty time Pic by John McIlwaine

Lámh Dhearg 3-14-2-13 St Galls

By Kevin Herron at Corrigan Park

Lámh Dhearg recovered from a nightmare start which saw them trail by 2-1 to 0-0 after just three minutes to record their first championship win over St Gall’s in 25 years in Friday evening’s quarter-final of the Northern SwitchGear Antrim Senior Football Championship at Corrigan Park.

The game was billed as a tie of the round between two clubs that are no strangers to each other, and it turned out be just that as both teams gave everything they had in an absorbing contest. The Lamh’s hopes of causing an upset appeared to be scuppered before they began as St Gall’s made a lightning start, but slowly the Hannahstown men clawed their way back as a goal from centre forward Ciaran Flaherty and two from Conor Murray helped them stage a remarkable comeback and book a place in the semi-final in four weeks’ time.

St Gall’s came flying out of the traps early on and within two minutes Niall O’Neill got in behind the Lámh Dhearg backline and rifled past John Finucane to give his side a dream start.

The Lámhs defensive frailties would come back to bite them again and with just three minutes on the clock they found themselves 2-00-0-00 down after CJ McGourty placed his low shot into the corner of the net past Finucane and the Milltown men were in firm control.

Thing go worse for the Hannahstown outfit when Mark Cummings hit Gall’s first point shortly after and it took six minutes for Lámh Dhearg to respond through Conor Murray who made an instant impact on his return from almost two months out injured.

Niall O’Neill and Ryan Murray traded scores but corner-forward Brendan Bradley split the posts to give his side a 2-03-0-02 lead with ten minutes gone.

Within a minute of Bradley’s score Lámh Dhearg found a lifeline however, Michael Herron won a turnover for the Red Hands and his long ball picked out half-forward Ciaran Flaherty who burst through and fired low past Chris Kerr make it 2-03-1-02.

Paddy Cunningham converted a free shortly after to put three between the sides at the midway point, but Mark Cummings hit his second of the evening to make it a four-point game once again.

The sides traded scores again through Cunningham with a converted free, though CJ McGourty replied instantly and after the usually reliable free taker sent one of his efforts wide; Bradley took responsibility for the next and conjured up another point to make it 2-06-1-05 with half-time looming.

There was to be a late sting in the tail however in first-half injury time as Domhnall Nugent’s attempted point was punched to the net by Conor Murray to make it a one-point game. St Gall’s were able to see out the remainder of the half and led 2-06-2-05 at the interval.

Lámh Dhearg levelled proceedings within two minutes of the restart through Paddy Cunningham’s third converted free of the evening and a minute later from the same scenario Cunningham brought his personal tally to four and gave his side the lead for the first time, 2-07-2-06.

Kieran McGourty landed an equalising score for St Galls, but Cunningham restored his sides lead with his third converted free in the space of six-minutes.

Jackson McGreevy hit back for St Galls and after Cunningham spurned the opportunity to restore his sides lead St Galls turned defence to attack and CJ McGourty split the posts with a wonder score to give his side a 2-09-2-08 lead.

St Gall’s potent corner-forward then converted a free as the pendulum appeared to have swung back in his sides favour, but midway through the second-period Domhnall Nugent landed a superbly struck 45’ to register his first score after a month and a half our injured before Paddy Cunningham atoned for his earlier miss as he landed another placed ball to tie things up at 2-10 apiece.

St Gall’s edged ahead for the second-time in the half through points from CJ McGourty and Michael Pollock to give them a 2-12-2-10 lead with seven minutes remaining.

At the same stage of their previous encounter against Portgleone St Gall’s were about to embark on a sensational turn around to win the game, there was a roles reversal on this occasion however and just when it looked as though Domhnall Nugent would spurn an opportunity to narrow the margin with a shot that was dipping short into the hands of Kerr, Conor Murray rose highest and bundled the ball into the back of the St Gall’s net to put his a point ahead, 3-10-2-12.

Murray’s brother Ryan would claim his second point of the evening under intense pressure shortly after and with little under two minutes remaining Paddy Cunningham put a goal between the sides with his fifth converted free of the half.

St Galls now needed a goal to keep their championship hopes alive but as the Milltown men drove forward in waves they couldn’t find an opening and instead had to make do with a converted McGourty free. The veteran Cunningham, who had never played on a winning championship team against St Gall’s in his sixteen year career, saved his best point for last with a superb effort from an acute angle to put three between the teams three minutes into injury-time. St Galls threw everything into attack looking for the goal that would bring the game to extra time but they were caught out as the Lamhs broke away and Ciaran Flaherty hit the insurance point with the final kick of the game to seal a semi-final place on a scoreline of 3-14-2-13.

Lámh Dhearg: J Finucane, C Nolan, A McAufield, M McGarry, D Lynch, M Herron, B McComb, P Fitzsimons, D Nugent (0-01), E McKeown, C Flaherty (1-02), C Murray (2-01), P Cunningham (0-08,0-07f), R Murray (0-02), K Quinn. Subs: B Rice for E McKeown (46 mins), T McCrudden for D Nugent (60 mins). Black card substitution: P Larkin for M McGarry (32 mins).

St Galls: C Kerr, T O’Ciarnan, R Irvine, J McGreevy (0-01), R Wilson, C Brady, M Kelly, S Burke, M Pollock (0-01), T O’Neill, K McGourty (0-01), N O’Neill (1-01), B Bradley (0-02,0-01f), M Cummings (0-02), CJ McGourty (1-05,0-02f). Subs: E McCabe for M Kelly (40 mins), S Kelly for M Cummings (50 mins), K Niblock for C Brady (54 mins), C Quigg for T O’Neill (60+2’). Blood sub: S Kelly for M Pollock (22 mins).

Referee: Sean Laverty (Moneyglass)

Senior Football Championship Continues This Weekend

Senior Football Championship (Qtr Finals)

The quarter finals of the senior football championship are down for decision at the week-end at venues in both South and South West Antrim and with a spell of good weather forecast sizeable attendances at the various venues are anticipated.

 

Senior Football Championship

Friday 1st September

St Gall’s v Lamh Dearg (Corrigan) at 6.00pm

The opening game  features former champions, and last year’s beaten finalists St Gall’s, who had to work hard to make progress over Casement’s in the opening round set to cross swords with Lamh Dearg who were not troubled in their opening round game against St Paul’s.

St Gall’s did have to come from behind and the unerring accuracy of CJ Mc Gourty from placed efforts to gain a 1-14 to 1-12 victory over the Bannsider’s whilst the men from the Hannahstown hill ambled over the winning line with a ten point margin, 1-14 to 0-07 in their opening round assignment with the Shaw’s road men.

 

St Gall’s having dominated the Antrim scene in championship fare for some time saw their extended reign ended by Cargin in 2015 when the Toome men proved too strong in the second round and the Milltown Blues endured a similar fate last term when the Erin’s Own men prevailed in the decider.

Former player Sean Kelly has taken on management this year and the cultured defender who still pulls on a jersey at times will look to lead his charges back to the podium.

They have looked good in league offerings and although far from impressive in the opening round only a fool would dismiss their chances.

Although only called on as a replacement in their opening round affair, CJ Mc Gourty concluded with a hefty personal haul of 0-09 in the opening round will most likely spearhead an attack which will also include Kevin Niblock, who needs no introduction, as well as the pacy Brendan Bradley and Michael Pollock.

Sean Burke and Niall O’ Neill are the likely central partnership, with Jackson Mc Greevey, Ruairi Wilson, Andy Mc Clean and new boy Eoghan McCabe in a strong defensive unit in front of Chris Kerr.

Lamh Dearg have threatened to make the breakthrough for a time and the Hannahstown men made it to the decider in 2015.

They did not fire in the league in the early stages but they do seem to have peaked at the right time and a home win gained over Cargin preceded an easy passage gained over St Paul’s in the opening round.

The Lamhs who will feature the Murray brothers, Conor and Ryan in a pace laden forward department in which Domnaill Nugent and Paddy Cunningham are also likely to figure will most likely employ Gerard Walls and Pearce Fitzsimmons in the middle with Marc Mc Garry, Christopher Nolan, Declan Lynch and Brendan Mc Comb employed in the rear guard.

This one could go either way and will attract a good crowd to the West Belfast arena on the Whiterock road.

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Erin’s Own Cargin v St Mary’s Aghagallon (Ahoghill) at 7.30

This all South West affair brings together the reigning senior and intermediate champions at Clooney as Cargin who impressed on their first step in defence of their title in a convincing 3-15 to 0-06 win over Rossa seek to move onwards at the expense of a talented Aghagallon side which gained a 3-10 to 2-12 win at the expense of St Teresa’s in round one.

Cargin have already secured both the division one league title as well as the O’ Cahan Cup are on the trail of three in a row and those who would make odds on them to make such ambition become a reality have installed the Toome men as firm favourites.

Some had suggested that although Cargin claimed the league title they had failed to impress in the latter stages but when John Brennan’s men ascended the championship trail there was no mistaking their intent.

The Erin’s Own men do have a strong panel at their disposal and although neither Tony Scullion or Kevin O’ Boyle figured in their opening round victory both may well lay claim to start berths this time in a defensive unit to include Justin Crozier, Marty Kane, James Laverty and John Mc Nabb.

John Carron and Gerard Mc Cann will most likely man the middle but Kevin Mc Shane is also a contender with the Mc Cann brothers, Michael, Tomas, and Paul likely included in a forward line up in which Kieran Close, Ciaran Bradley, Michael Magill, Benny Laverty, Jamie Gribbin, Michael Clarke and Keir Johnston may also be in contention.

Aghagallon had to dig deep and come from behind to gain access in the opening round against St Teresa’s but the reigning Intermediate champions are on a learning curve and with youth very much a companion they will gain from that experience.

Ruairi Mc Cann looks an excellent target man and more than capable of causing problems in an attack force which may well include Shane Russell, Oisin Lenaghan, Des Marshall and Gareth Magee.

Magee hoisted a half dozen white flags in the win gained over St Teresa’s in the opening round while Russell weighed in with 1-03.

Having sustained a broken ankle in round one the St Mary’s men will miss the high fielding Eunan Walsh in this one with a new partner for Caolan Farr sought for the central role.

The Aghagallon defence is packed with pace with the half back department which may well include Pat Brannagan, Ryan O’ Neill, and Paul Mulholland always ready to stride forward at the drop of a hat.

Cargin will most certainly enter the fray as warm favourites and they may well gain the day, but the youthful St Mary’s men will not make it easy.

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Sat 2nd September

Kickham’s Creggan v St Mary’s Ahoghill (Toome) at 6.00pm

This all country affair brings together Creggan and Ahoghill at the shore road venue in Toome and a big attendance is anticipated at the Cargin venue.

The Kickham’s men make their entrance into the championship this term as do the Clooney men and although Kevin Madden’s team will enter the fray as favourites this may well be close.

Creggan have been knocking on the door to success in both league and championship for a few years and many of those followers of the green and gold may feel this can be the year in which breakthrough is made.

Despite enduring the absence of several of their top players for much of the season the Kickham’s men acquitted themselves with credit again in league fare and if back to full strength they may well make another bold bid in thechampionship.

Strong at the back where the Maguires, Aiden and Sam will be prominent together with the likes of Charlie Bateson, Oisin Kerr, and Thomas Mc Cann and possibly Ricki Johnston will form a strong defensive unit.

Dermot and Conor Mc Cann may feature in the middle with the Small brothers, Kevin and Conor likely spearheading an attack force which will likely include Oran Mc Larnon, David Mc Guckin and possibly Fintan Burke.

St Mary’s Ahoghill struggled to make impact on the league scene this term and again the Clooney men may well have been hindered by the dual nature of their panel, with most if not all within mixing football and hurling throughout.

They were haunted by the prospect of relegation this season but with backs against the wall they came through that test with flying colours and a last gasp win secured over Aldergrove up at Crumlin underlined the character within the side.

The St Mary’s are a close unit with a strong family connection within and such ingredient has seen them stand tall in times of adversity.

The O’Connell’s, Neil, Sean, Stephen, PJ and James, the Grahams, Diarmud, Patrick, Bernard, Patrick, Gerard, Donal and Aiden, the O’Neill brothers Fionnbar and Danny, will figure prominently within the ranks and with the likes of Tom Mc Glone, Noel Crossey, James Magee and Eamon Brady in the mix they can come together to form a more than capable unit.

This one is certain to be keenly contested and little may separate them at conclusion.

 

St John’s v St Joseph’s Glenavy (Hannahstown) at 6.00pm

A town versus country affair in this one as St John’s cross swords with division two champions St Joseph’s Glenavy up at the Hannahstown arena.

It has been a while since the Whiterock road side ascended the podium in senior championship but Paddy Nugent’s men have hinted broadly at intentions to take that route in 2017 and performances to date have caught the eye.

The Corrigan residents have completed their league programme with a second place finish and brushed aside the Aldergrove challenge in their opening championship test with the minimum of fuss and they do look on track.

The Johnnies have built their team on the success of their under-age development and back to back under-21 titles and although they lost out to eventual winners Cargin in last year’s semis they may well have gained plenty from that one.

Strong at the back in a rigid defensive structure in which Aaron Douglas, Stephen Tierney, Jack Hannigan, Anto Press, and Patrick Mc Bride will figure the Corrigan men may post Ryan Mc Nulty and Matthew Fitzgerald in the middle with Luke Peden, Brian Neeson, Conor Johnston, and Conal Mc Glade based in attack.

Glenavy have also fared more than well in the league, albeit in the second grade and they may well provide a test for the Johnnies.

The Chapel Hill residents had the silverware secured in the race for the division two title a long ways out and they will be well prepared for the championship assignment.

The St Joseph’s men will be asked to take a step upwards in this one and with  the Gallagher brothers, the back bone of a side which will include such as Martin Clenaghan, Matthew Nelson, Ciaran Hamill, Neil Mc Cann, Michael Johnston, Ciaran Loney and Michael Mc Court they will give it a real lash.

St John’s will start in this one as short priced favourites and although Paddy Nugent’s men will not find it easy they should progress.