WE enter the semi-final stage of the Ulster Club championship this weekend with two more fascinating games in store.
Let’s not beat about the bush. Most people in Ulster at the very start of this competition expected the final to be between Kilcoo and Glen and very little has changed since then.
Both of these heavy hitters are strong favourites this weekend but the strange thing about the Ulster club is that you just never know what could happen at any given day.
Glen and Kilcoo will be seen as certainties to navigate their way through the respective semi-final matches, but I’m sure Enniskillen Gaels and Cargin have plans and aspirations to upset that theory.
Having played against Cargin, and when you look at how they came through their last match, self-doubt or fear is just something that is not in their DNA, so they will travel to play Glen fully expecting to win and that makes them a dangerous opponent.
Given their run of success in Antrim over the last 10 years, they have been in and about this competition year after year so they’re comfortable playing here. With the massive win against Donegal champions Glenties, I’m sure the Cargin camp will be in high spirits.
In the opposite dugout, Glen seem to be improving game after game and they just look so dangerous and so well structured all over the pitch.
The problem facing the Cargin management and players this weekend is that Glen have so many match winners spread all over the pitch that it’s virtually impossible to tie them all down so it will be interesting to see what kind of approach they take to the game.
I expect Cargin to make a dog fight of the game early doors, but my expectations are that Glen’s power and pace – coupled with their accuracy – will see them stretch into a four or five-point lead towards the end and take their place and this year’s decider.
On the other side of the draw, Down kingpins Kilcoo will also be expected to ease their way back into the final and, for me, this might just be the case.
There is something about this Kilcoo team. Much like Tyrone teams of the past, they almost need to be insulted in order to click themselves into gear.
And, with the shenanigans last time out about Jerome Johnson leaving the Ballybay set up, I think that it just fed energy into the Kilcoo camp and they have that grit between their teeth again.
There is no doubt that Kilcoo were sluggish in Down earlier on this year but, much like Glen, they seem to be improving game on game and I think that this is another gamew where they will take things up a notch or two.
The dangerous and most impressive thing about this current crop of Kilcoo players is that they realise the opportunities they have at the moment. They understand that when a special group of players come together it’s about maximising your returns with that group because there is no guarantee that the next group coming behind you will be as good or as successful as you were.
I am 100 per cent certain that the likes of Conor Laverty and the Branagans will be driving this home every night at training.
The message will be to gather every piece of silverware humanly possible while they still can and that insures that the hunger never wilts.
I think you will gather from my words that I expect Kilcoo to run out comfortable winners this weekend to set up the perfect final here in Ulster, one which the whole of Ireland will want to watch.
Before I finish, I would like to pay tribute to my former team mate Michael Murphy on his surprise retirement during the week.
I fired Michael a text to congratulate him and to tell him that the one thing I admired most about him was that when he arrived into our dressing room as a 17-year-old, he wasn’t happy to sit on the bench and bide his time.
He knew he was good enough and he grabbed that jersey, and with his approach and his performances in training he made himself an automatic starter and I always loved that about him.
He was Donegal’s greatest, there is no doubting that.