Sarsfields start favourites but Carey will be confident they can upset the odds

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By John McIlwaine

Sarsfields go it into Saturday’s Intermediate Hurling final as hot favourites after a season that has seen them show the kind of form that we expect from such a club. Admittedly they have been playing their hurling in a division below Sunday’s opponents Carey but after a slow start in Division 3&4 they have steadily improved and now sit top of the table with games in hand on all of their opponents. In the early days of the league their involvement in the football league meant there was early fixtures that they were unable to fulfil, but when the early pace setters in the league began to slip up, the Paddies carried on their unbeaten run and though they still have a few game to play they are assured of promotion and are almost certain to go up as champions.

The Faughs on the other hand have gone the other way, all be it in a much tougher league. Narrow defeats in the opening two games left them with a mountain to climb, but after successive wins over Glenariffe and Cloney Gaels they appeared to have found their form and looked set for a good campaign. However home and away defeats to neighbours Armoy was a bad blow and though they bounced back from that second defeat to the Glen Rovers with a big win over Tir na nOg in mid August, a bad defeat at the hands of champions St John’s at Corrigan Park last Sunday saw the trap door open and they dropped to Division 3.

Luckily for the Faughs their Championship form has been much better and after a very shaky start in their quarter final against Glenariffe they produced a brilliant comeback to beat the Oisins convincingly and book a semi-final spot. In that semi-final they were dealt a blow when they had midfielder Patrick Butler sent off in the opening minute, but they played some great hurling to see off the challenge of Tir na nOg. They were brilliant during the first half of that game as they opened up a seven point lead by half time, a lead they maintained to the end of the third quarter. However Tir na nÓg’s extra man began to tell and with the Randalstown men improving by the minute they were relieved to hear the final whistle with two points to spare.

Sarsfields started their championship campaign with a win over Belfast neighbours St Gall’s at Rossa Park in a game that had been delayed for two weeks because of a bereavement in the Sarsfields club. Despite the fact that St Gall’s had been playing their hurling in a higher division this season the Paddies held the upper hand for most of the game and though they won in the end by five points the win was even more convincing than the scoreboard suggested. Because of the delay in their quarter-final they were back in action just three days later against St Enda’s in the semi-final at Corrigan Park. An early scrambled goal put the Paddies in the driving seat and with the McKernans, Kevin, Daniel and Donal all to the fore they booked their final spot with a bit to spare.

Saturday’s showdown will depend a lot on the key men on each side and how they perform on the big day. For Sarsfields county players Niall McKenna and Daniel McKernan have been the driving force, as indeed has Kevin McKernan who has showed the kind of form which made him an automatic choice on the Antrim team just a couple of years ago. McKenna picked up a bad hand injury a few weeks ago and is still a major doubt, but I will be surprised if he doesn’t make an appearance at some stage.

Carey will look to the likes of former county player James McCuaig, Sean McBride and his brother John in defence. James ‘Rocket’ Black has been brilliant at midfield in their two previous championship games and when he is on form there is no finer player in this division. His tussle with Kevin McKernan could be crucial. Up front the Faughs will look to the likes of Fiachra McVeigh, Cathal ‘Doog’ McAuley and the mercurial talent of Shea Hunter for the scores. Hunter only came on in the final minutes against Tir na nÓg because of injury but still got a vital score to seal the win at the end. While last week’s heavy league defeat, and the subsequent relegation, will have knocked Carey back on their heels it will all be forgotten come Saturday when the men from Ballyvoy will take inspiration from their championship run so far. Both good wins against good opponents, and both in Armoy. They will be back there again on Saturday and though their opponents look strong, and start as favourites, I see this being a much tighter game than a lot of people are predicting. It could all come down to the free taking of Sarsfields Daniel McKernan and Carey’s Doog McAuley to decide the destination of the trophy.

 

Meet the Paddies

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Name David Ward
 Age 35
Height 5″ 10′
Weight 14 Stone
Position Goalkeeper
Name Peter Corr
Age 27
Height 5″ 10′
Weight 12 St 7lb
Position Corner back
Name James Cunngham
Age 27
Height 5″ 11′
Weight 13 Stone
Position Full back
Name Jack Daniels
Age 22
Height 6″ 0′
Weight 12 Stone 3 lbs
Postition Corner back
Name Mick Callaghan
Age 24
Height 5″ 10′
Weight 13 Stone
Position Half-back
Name Caolan Mervyn
Age 23
Height 6″
Weight 14 Stone
Position Half-back
Name Kevin McKernan
Age 26
Height 5″ 10′
Weight 12 Stone
Position Midfield
Name Darragh McGuinness
Age 24
Height 5″11′
Weight 12 Stone
Position Midfield
Name Gary Lennon
Age 24
Height 5″ 11′
Weight 13 Stone
Position Wing forward
Name Niall McKenna
Age 23
Height 6’
Weight 13 Stone
Position Half forward
Name Daniel McKernan
Age 23
Height 5″ 10′
Weight 11st 5lb
Position Half forward
Name Mark Rea
Age 28
Height 6ft
Weight 14 Stone
Position Half forward
Name Jim McKernan
Age 36
Height 5″ 11′
Weight 12st
Position Corner-forward
Name Donal McKernan
Age 19
Height 6’
Weight 12 Stone 5 lb
Position Corner forward
Name Paul Carson
Age 20
Height 6″ 0′
Weight 12 Stone
Position Plasterer
Name Gerard McBride
Age 24
Height 6″ 1′
Weight 14 Stone 5lbs
Occupation Farmer
Name Tommy Doherty
Age 35
Height 6’
Weight 12 Stone
Position Midfield
Name Cannice McKavanagh
Age 40
Height 6″ 3′
Weight 12 Stone 11lbs
Position Half back
Name Daniel McBride
Age 19
Height 6″ 3′
Weight 13 Stone
Occupation Student
Name Gerard McKernan
Age 27
Height 5″ 11′
Weight 14 Stone
Position Full forward
Name Kevin Ward
Age 36
Height 6″
Weight 11 Stone
Position Corner back
Name David Johnston
Age 23
Height 5″ 9′
Weight 11 Stone 5lbs
Position Corner back
Name Niall McDonald
Age 22
Height 6’
Weight 11 Stone
Position Corner forward
Name Ryan Hughes
Age 18
Height 5’ 10”
Weight 12 Stone
Position Half forward
Name Joe McGurk
Age 28
Height 5’ 9”
Weight 10 Stone
Position Corner forward
Name Jim O’Connor
Age 27
Height 5’ 10”
Weight 13 Stone
Position Mascot

 

 

Sarsfields management have high expectations

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Sarsfields manager Kevo McKernan

By Brendan McTaggart

Having secured promotion to Division Two in their last match against Rasharkin, Sarsfields are on the crest of the wave.  With the footballers also going well in the championship and also gaining promotion, it has been a stellar year for the Paddies.

Under the astute guidance of Kevo McKernan, Sarsfields have had the perfect season.  An unbeaten run in Division 3&4 means a win against Naomh Éanna in their next league match and the league title will be going back to the Bear Pitt.

Larry Scullion has been assistant to McKernan this year and he told us that they have had high expectations from the word go in 2017: “At the start of the year we had our eye on the championship but to be honest this year has been all about getting out of the league and play at a higher standard of hurling next year.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had aspirations for the championship as well and now we’re this length the belief is there that we can win this.”

Cannice McCavanagh makes up the trio with Scullion and McKernan and the Paddies assistant manager told us that the Paddies squad has been in good condition throughout the year and praised their attitude when he continued: “The three of us got together at the start of the year, around October time and we knew that the ability was there within the squad.  It was up to us to get the lads fit and get a style of hurling that would get us out of Division 3/4.

“There were times throughout the year when it was tough to keep the lads from getting complacent or losing focus but we have a panel of 25 or 26 players this year and we haven’t had that for easily ten years.  We’ve been able to use matches to give all the lads plenty of game time and it has paid off.

“We were in this league for a reason at the end of the day and it’s the vast majority of these boys that got us into the Division but the way they’ve went about their business this year has been a credit to them.  The way they’ve applied themselves in training as well has matches has shown a maturity and at the end of the day it’s still a young squad.  The average age is about 25 or 26 but they’ve matured this year and reaping the rewards.”

Sarsfields have been hugely impressive in their run to the final but as Scullion told us that they weren’t looking beyond their opening round tie against St Galls: “St Gall’s was the game we were focused on.  They beat us in the senior championship not that long ago and I thought on the night we were brilliant.  I think they only scored one point from play, 1-9 from frees and it was after that match that the lads started to believe that they could win this championship.

“Naomh Éanna was always going to be a tough match but we came into the tie knowing that if we hurled to our ability then we wouldn’t be far away.  We drew with them in the league and beat them by six points but the first half performance we put in had the game won.  I think Daniel McKernan hit eight points and kept the scoreboard ticking along in the second half but we knew we had the game won at half time.”

Carey Faughs stand between Sarsfields and a perfect season.  Scullion told us that they are weary of the threat that the Ballintoy side will bring on Saturday, despite their woes in the league: “We know they’re a good side.  We watched them against St John’s and although they got beat, the conditions were awful so we didn’t learn too much about them.  We watched them against St Gall’s over in Milltown as well and they have some very, very useful hurlers.  They have our full respect, at the end of the day their record stands for itself.  It’s something like four finals in the last eight or nine years.”

County star Niall McKenna is still a major doubt for the Paddies but Scullion stopped short of ruling him out of the final completely: “We’re giving Niall as long as we can.  He still hasn’t held a hurl yet but he’s probably 50-50.  He’s champing at the bit to get going but we’re not putting him under any pressure.  If he’s fit then happy days, if not then we’ll have to deal with it.”

Scullion did rule out Mark Rea (shoulder injury versus St Galls) and corner back Peter Corr after his injury in the semi-final win against Naomh Éanna.  Donal McKernan has been suffering with a dead leg but the Sarsfields management are expecting him to make a full recovery.

Heggarty hopeful but he knows a tough task awaits

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By Brendan McTaggart

Defeat at the hands of Division Two champions St John’s on Sunday last condemned Carey Faughs to relegation.  A sour ending to a fascinating campaign in his first year of management for Michael Heggarty, the Carey man just hung up his hurl in 2016 and is joint manager with Martin McAuley this year but as he told us, it was a campaign that could have gone very differently for his side: “We were very disappointed but at the same time, Division Two was super competitive.  Outside of the top two, there wasn’t much between the six below them and that showed with the league standings.  We only beat Clooney Gaels by a point twice and they finished bottom.  It’s been different to previous years where you might have had a couple of handier matches thrown in but it hasn’t all been bad.  We’ve had some good performances without getting the results.  In our first match we travelled to Portaferry and were only beaten by three points.

“The campaign was tough and difficult but it was an enjoyable one.  At the end of the day league tables don’t lie and we weren’t good enough to stay in the league but as I say, there was no weaknesses or easy games.”

The Faugh’s have the unwanted tag of ‘always the bridesmaid’ when it comes to the Intermediate championship.  Four final defeats in 11 years is a record that the Ballintoy men will want to ditch and Heggarty told us that they are eager to do so at the earliest opportunity: “It’s not a tag that sits well with us to be honest.  You get what you deserve in this game and maybe we didn’t do enough in those games but look, we aren’t the first team to have had a run like this when you look at Loughgiel and the run of final defeats they had before they found that winning feeling again.  It’s up to us as a management team to get the lads right on the day to make sure we can leave that tag behind us once and for all.”

Having defeated Glenariffe with a superb display in their opening match, Carey gained some form of revenge on Tir na nÓg for their defeat in the 2016 quarter-final but McAuley told us that revenge wasn’t in their thinking in the run up to the semi-final: “That match was never about revenge if I’m honest.  It was a championship game of hurling that we needed to win and that was that.  We knew with the matches we had with Tir na nÓg in the past that it was going to be a tough match and with the early sending off it made things harder but the lads pulled together and got over the line in the end.”

The Faugh’s will be without the services of influential midfielder Patrick Butler for the Final.  Despite their attempts to have his red card in the semi-final overturned, Butler must sit this one out: “We’re gutted that Patrick’s going to miss the final.  He’s a massive loss for us in midfield and we’ll certainly feel his absence.  It’s up to the rest of the lads now to step up again.”

Heggarty was full of praise for the Faugh’s final opponents and told us that he sees them as big favourites to take the Intermediate crown to the city: “Sarsfields have had the other side of the coin compared to our season.  They’ve been on a run and racking up big scores.  It’s easy to see why they are favourites in many people’s eyes.  They pose a massive threat and all year they’ve shown that they have a ruthless edge to their game.  To come through the half of the draw they have shown enough if you ask me.  Anyone could have come through that half it was that tight.

“They beat St Gall’s handy in the opening round and we couldn’t get near them twice so we know we’re up against it.”

With a small squad at their disposal, Heggarty told us that the Faugh’s have been counting the costs of a bruising league campaign but they should have a clean bill of health for Saturday’s decider: “We have a couple carrying knocks and niggles but apart from Patrick’s suspension, we’re confident that we’ll have a fully fit panel.”

Carey are hoping to bridge a 15 year gap from the last time they claimed the Intermediate crown and Heggarty told us that it would certainly put a silver lining on a dull season for the Ballintoy side: “It would be an unbelievable but there’s still 60 plus minutes of hurling to go through before I even contemplate that.  This championship has been unbelievably open from the first game with any number of teams having high hopes of winning it, especially from the Sarsfields half of the draw.  We know we’re up against it and they will start the match as favourites but our boys are as confident as they can be and are looking forward to getting going on Saturday.”