AIB Ulster Intermediate Championship
Naomh Éanna vs Bredagh (Down)
Saturday October 26
Throw In: 2:30pm
Ref: Aidan Ferguson (Erne Gaels, Fermanagh)
By Brendan McTaggart
One more step. Naomh Éanna are one more step from another Ulster Final. The Hightown Road side are on a roll and their journey is a short one on Saturday. A short trip to Hannahstown for a provincial semi-final and a meeting with Down champions, Bredagh.
It’s a short journey for both sides, Bredagh residing from south Belfast and they too have had a good season. Plying their trade in Division Three of the Antrim leagues, Bredagh showed signs of challenging for promotion. Keeping tabs with the Gorts for the majority of the season but their form tailed off, losing four of their last five league games. Their win coming against the men from Turf Lodge on a night when the Gorts could have taken the league crown.
Their route to Saturday’s match saw them safely negotiate the Down championship, despite needing another hour before seeing past the challenge of Carryduff in the final. Bredagh had 10 points to spare over Clonduff and Carryduff in the group stages before seeing off their neighbours under the lights at The Dub 2-13 to 1-8.
In their last match, the Mourne men saw off the challenge of Monaghan champions and last years Ulster Junior champs, Castleblayney. Four points to spare over the side who narrowly defeated Cushendun in the provincial junior championship last year.
For all the brilliance Naomh Éanna have shown in achieving promotion to Division One, they ground out a major result and performance in the Ulster quarter-final. Naomh Éanna showed more grit, determination and heart than pure skill the last day out. But when the chips were down, the Antrim champions had men who stood to be counted. Leaders. Ruairi Donaghy and Cormac Ross helped to turn the screw at the death while the introduction of Cormac Jennings off the bench into the attack gave them an edge.
Banagher looked to have their number until Philly Curran’s 52nd minute goal. It gave the Hightown Road men the sniff of an opportunity they needed and like all good teams, they took it with both hands. The Derry men fancied their chances of going the whole way and their performances in the championship to claim the Intermediate crown would have backed that claim.
It was more than just a win for Naomh Éanna. They dug deep, deeper than they have ever had to in the past. In a quagmire of a pitch and in horrendous conditions, Naomh Éanna kept the dream alive. If they are going to make the final, they will have to negate the dangers Bredagh possess. Donal Hughes is their playmaker from centre half while Niall McFarland will be their man from frees. They’re captained by Ian Galway, a strong midfielder while Sean McGourty is another forward Naomh Éanna will have to keep tabs on, normally lining out around the three quarter line. The Down champions will be without the services of Mark Patterson for the semi-final, they appealed his red card in the quarter-final win over Castleblayney but it was reduced to one game from the initial three.
The frost in recent nights will help to harden up the ground which you would imagine will play into the Naomh Éanna’s hands. They like to play a fast and direct brand of hurling and the wide pitch in Hannahstown will be perfect for them. Their defence were immense against Banagher but they went 25 minutes without scoring. It’s not common any team would do that and come away with a win, that shows the magnitude of the performance from the Naomh Éanna defence. ‘Sambo’ and his management team will be hoping for an improved attacking performance from their side. It was a rare off day for John McGoldrick, he missed more frees in Owenbeg than he had in the rest of the year combined. His accuracy is spellbinding and to see at all was such a shock to anyone who has watched him play in recent times. He and the rest of Naomh Éanna will be hoping that it was a one-off. Killian Jennings was well marshalled by Banagher but showed glimpses of what he can do. Those moments of magic will be required in Hannahstown.
Naomh Éanna start as favourites but Bredagh will come with hopes of causing an upset. A final place beckons, next stop – Hannahstown.