Senior Football Championship
Portglenone v Lamh Dhearg
Saturday, Creggan, 5pm
John Finucane says that Portglenone deserve full respect in this weekend’s Antrim Senior Championship semi-final.
In the same week that the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast was nominated as a candidate in a possible Westminster election, he said the only thing on his mind is Saturday’s Championship.
Finucane said that he and his team mates have some concerns about their opponents Portglenone, who surprised Creggan in the last round.
“I didn’t see their first game but I saw their second. I thought they were very dangerous. They are young, and they are fast, and they move the ball well. They are hungry. Out of the four teams in the semi-finals, they are the ones who have not won the senior championship in recent years. So we are up against it. It is going to be a tough game for us.”
Lamh Dhearg pulled off a big win in the last round, beating a strong Creggan team by 1-13 to 0-11.
“I thought that at times we were very good. I think we have struggled with consistency this year.
“Against Creggan we were smarter. We are trying to get that consistency in the 60 minutes or so of every game.”
Preparations for Lamh Dhearg have involved getting themselves in the right mindset to take on a Portglenone team who turned over Creggan.
“I said last year that I thought that Antrim was as open as it has ever been, but this year is even more open. At the start of the year I thought there were six teams who would have looked at the championship and thought that they had a chance.”
Portglenone have had the very worst news in the aftermath of their Quarter-final replay win over St John’s. Key player and captain Niall McKeever may not be able to play against Lamh Dhearg this weekend after aggravating an injury.
And he is not the only one who is missing.
Vice captain Michael Hassan is also out, as is Paddy Graffin.
The only positive news is that Corey McLaughlin is back in training, though it may be too soon for him to feature this weekend.
Portglenone manager Barry Dillon believes that it was the 3G Pitch at Colaiste Feirste which they played on in the last round that may have been the issue. He says that the players feel that their injuries were aggravated by playing on the surface.
“Niall McKeever is looking doubtful for the game. It is serious, but I am hoping that he can make it. He is very important to this team. He is the captain. And we have lost Michael Hagan as well, and he is the vice captain. They will be massive losses.”
Portglenone qualified for the semi-finals after a quarter-final victory over St John’s that was a bit of a surprise. They controlled much of the first game, but somehow allowed the lead to slip, and St John’s forced a replay. However, last Wednesday night, they got the job done.
Ronan Kelly and Conall Delargy were the lead scorers, and Niall Delargy was the chief attacker in their transition play.
“I was happy with the big win.” Dillon said.
“It was important because a lot of people didn’t expect it.
“They were two tough, physical games.
“Fair play to St John’s, they had to play a hurling match. But they had a good go at it. Both teams are the same.”
Next up for Portglenone is Lamh Dhearg, who were champions in 2017.
“Lamh Dhearg have got that experience of winning championships. Our boys are not as experienced.
“But they are improving. They brought Cargin to a replay last year. So you can see that they are improving. They have matured.
“We have beaten Lamh Dhearg twice in the league this year, but they had players missing in both games. We will have to improve.
“Lamh Dhearg have got championship pedigree and they have the men there who can win games.”
Senior Football Championship
St Gall’s v Cargin
Sunday, Corrigan Park, 3.30pm
Cargin manager Damian Cassidy believes that this weekend’s clash with St Gall’s will teach his team a lesson about themselves.
Cassidy told Gaelic Life that it is only when teams are put in pressure situations that their true character emerges.
Even though Cargin are the defending champions, and have already played and beat O’Donovan Rossa in the last round (1-14 to 0-12) Cassidy felt that there is still more to learn.
“Until you are in the game, you won’t know how the players will react. We won’t know how good the team are until they are in that situation. The feedback you want is from the opposition, and how they play.”
They did react to the situation well last year. They beat St Gall’s in the semi-final, and then beat Creggan in the final.
But it is a new year and there have been changes.
Cassidy says that he has drafted in more new players.
“Most teams have a nucleus of players who have been there and done it. We are at the stage where we are gradually bringing in new players. We have brought in two or three players to freshen things up. They have come in and joined the team. That is the natural process. We have to ensure that there are new players.”
Players like Ciaran Bradley, Pat Shivers and Jamie Gribben are the new, young blood on the squad that have added enthusiasm.
Is it a risk though, trying out younger players in tough games like this one this weekend?
Not according to Cassidy.
“Not if you are bringing in one or two. It might be if you are bringing a whole lot of players for a big game.”
In the last round, those younger players played their part as Cargin beat Rossa despite having lost a man to a red card. They led from start to finish. Tomas McCann was their scorer in chief for much of that game.
Tony Scullion played a leader’s role until he went off with a black card.
Cassidy said there were improvements needed from that game.
“We have only had 13 days since the last game. There’s not a lot you can do. But we have been trying to work on things that we felt didn’t work. But an awful lot of it comes down to what we know about our opposition and how they will play.”
And they are playing St Gall’s, the team that they beat in last year’s semi-final. That was one of the most exciting championship games of the year in Antrim.
Cassidy said what he thought of St Gall’s, from what he has seen of them this year.
“They are the same as they were last year. They have had an injection of a few young players, but they have a year of experience behind them.
“They also have experienced players. They have a lot of players who are good decision makers on the ball.”