Danske Bank Rannafast Cup final: St Patrick’s, Dungannon v St Patrick’s, Maghera (tomorrow, Athletic Grounds, 12.30pm)
ULSTER Council’s decision to fix the Danske Bank Rannafast Cup final as the first game on the Ulster senior club football final programme should filter the crowd in early enough to the Athletic Grounds.
When these teams met in the early rounds of the competition, St Patrick’s, Maghera beat St Patrick’s Academy on a 4-13 to 1-8 scoreline, a bit of an upset considering that the Derry side had not featured prominently in this year group through the school.
By contrast, the Academy are the holders of last spring’s Danske Bank Brock Cup, beating St Patrick’s Cavan in the final, a Cavan team that had won the previous season’s Corn na nÓg.
Cavan took the Abbey to extra-time 10 days ago in the Rannafast Cup quarter-final and then, on Wednesday, Abbey fell by 3-13 to 3-5 in an emphatic semi-final win for Dungannon.
Maghera reached the final last Friday, beating St Michael’s, Enniskillen by 2-14 to 1-8 in Derrytresk, this being their lowest score line from their six-game run to the decider.
Beaten by Dungannon by the margin of a point in last season’s Brock semi-final, Maghera are fielding a fairly young team with seven of the starting 15 eligible again next season.
However, both top scorer Alex Doherty and captain Conleth McShane were in last year’s MacRory Cup-winning squad and their experience could be crucial if the game is in the balance nearing the final whistle.
In the league game with the Academy, Maghera’s half-back line of Eunan Mulholland, Cathair Glass and Seamus McKenna impressed, as did JP McGuigan, Enda Downey and Doherty up front.
Some of the Killeshal players didn’t feature in that league game – Matthew McCann, who would be likely to pick up Doherty, and the excellent Louis Conlon. So the Academy should be stronger as they head to the Athletic Grounds.
Michael Conroy is a key player for them – 0-10 in the quarter-final and then 2-3 on Wednesday against Abbey – while Clarke’s players Kevin Barker and Patrick Keogh have also been very influential in recent games.
The Academy have a lot riding on this game after their league defeat. They will be up for the challenge, while Maghera are out to prove that they have the firepower to take them out when it really matters.
A decisive factor may well be the early arrival of the Slaughtneil contingent for the match after. If Maghera’s play can woo this vocal support and the team start scoring, the Academy could well be under the cosh.
Published in the Irish News 26/11/2016