Ulster Club Senior Football Championship Preliminary Round
Kilcoo v Clontibret, Sunday, 3.30, Newry
Monaghan champions Clontibret travel to Páirc Esler to take on Down standard-bearers Kilcoo in Sunday’s Ulster Club SFC opener.
Clontibret caught out defending champions Scotstown with a strong finish to the county final to win their sixth title since the turn of the century, having earlier seen off Monaghan Harps, Latton and Ballybay.
After topping Group A of the Down SFC in style with wins over Mayobridge, Rostrevor and Tullylish, Kilcoo still had to beat Clonduff and Mayobridge again to reach their county final, where they ran up an impressive 4-12 tally to put Burren to the sword. The Magpies, who have incoming Down manager Jim McCorry at the helm, beat Ballybay on their way to the 2012 Ulster final, where they lost to Crossmaglen. Kilcoo saw off the Armagh kingpins after a replay in an epic battle last year, only to lose to eventual winners Ballinderry in the semi-finals. Only Crossmaglen figure ahead of Kilcoo in the odds for this year’s Ulster title, with the three-in-a-row Down champions next up alongside Ballinderry.
Kilcoo have scored a huge 14-76 in their six championship games so far, giving them an average of 19.67 points, with their 7-40 conceded working out at just over 10 points per game. Clontibret’s 4-52 in four matches gives them a 1-13 average and they have conceded 4-35, which is 11.75 points per game.
Clontibret, of course, have a real ace in their pack in the form of Conor McManus, who is on top of his game at the minute and is capable of kicking any kind of score. The 2013 All-Star has the full repertoire to his name in 2014; frees, from play, penalties, ‘45s and even sideline kicks. Conor Boyle, Colum Greenan and four-time All-Star nominee Dessie Mone have been in good form in the Clontibret defence, with Vincent Corey a driving force from midfield. The O’Neills will need their other forwards to step up in support of McManus if they are to turn over another fancied opponent.
Kilcoo have a potent attack which features Conor Laverty, Ryan and Jerome Johnston and Paul Devlin, while another Down senior, half-back Darragh O’Hanlon, is a threat from play and especially from frees. Niall McEvoy anchors a defence which also includes Aidan, Niall and Daryl Branagan.
Neither Down nor Monaghan can boast of a strong record in this competition. No Monaghan club has won it since Castleblayney in 1991 and the county’s last final appearance was Clontibret’s loss to Bellaghy in 1994. Down have to go back even further to 1988 for their most recent victory, although that year’s winners Burren have contested two finals since that, as have Mayobridge, with Downpatrick and Kilcoo getting to one decider each. Clontibret were knocked out in the first round of their last Ulster tilt in 2010, a year after they beat Dromore, only to lose to St, Gall’s in the semi-finals.
These teams have not crossed paths at senior level, although they did meet in the Ulster Club Minor Football Championship in 2010, when a Kilcoo team featuring the likes of Ryan Johnston, Darragh O’Hanlon and Daryl Branagan defeated a Clontibret side that included Conor Boyle, David Savage, Ryan McGuigan and Brian and Fergal Greenan, as well as substitutes Aodh Curran and Conor Lavelle.
It’s the biggest test yet for Clontibret, who will need to be at the top of their game to claim a first Monaghan win in the Ulster Club SFC since Latton beat Glenswilly in 2011.
Eurotech Junior Football League Semi-Finals
Aughnamullen v Toome, Sunday, 2.00, Aughnamullen
Blackhill v Killanny, Sunday, 3.00, Blackhill
The JFL semi-finals are down for decision on Sunday afternoon.
Aughnamullen have home advantage against Toome, who have already beaten the table-toppers twice this year. Aughnamullen, who were relegated last from intermediate last year, lost just three times on their way to finishing first in the league, but they saw Toome do the double over them. The Sarsfields suffered a surprise defeat against eventual winners Drumhowan in the JFC semi-finals, while Toome managed to beat Drumhowan in the preliminary round, only to lose to Blackhill and Scotstown.
Aughnamullen will be looking for big performances from Pete and Sam Dooney, Colin Clerkin, Colm Flanagan and Shane Conlon, while Toome will need Gary Wilson, Gavin Flanagan, Liam McCooey, Mattie O’Reilly and Jason Murphy on top form.
The other semi-final sees Blackhill host Killanny.
Blackhill suffered another heart-breaking defeat championship final defeat, but they have regrouped to win their last two league games and secure a home semi-final for the second year in a row. The mid-Monaghan side were beaten by Seán McDermotts at this stage last year, but they go into this game on the back of their reserves winning their league last weekend. Killanny set the pace in the JFL for much of this year, but they won just once in their last five games, which saw them drop to third, and they also had an underwhelming championship campaign.
Ryan and Dónal Courtney, Michael Geehan, Colin Woods and Dermot Daly are among the main men for Blackhill, who may be without JFC Final goal-scorer Ciarán Courtney due to an ankle injury he sustained in that match. Peter Dooley, Eddie Markey, Cian Wakely, Daryl Traynor and Rónán and Tiernan Duffy should be to the fore for Killanny, along with experienced player-manager Andy Callan.
The penultimate round of the County Monaghan Group of Credit Unions Senior Football League starts on Saturday evening in Inniskeen, when Castleblayney can secure a semi-final place if they beat Magheracloone. There are local derbies between Ballybay and Latton and Truagh and Monaghan Harps on Sunday, while the relegated teams, Doohamlet and Currin meet. Clontibret’s Ulster Club match means their game against Scotstown has been postponed.
It’s also crunch time in the Monaghan Electrical Intermediate Football League, with semi-final places and relegation to be decided in the last two rounds. Championship winners Inniskeen travel to Tyholland looking for a win to boost their double hopes, while beaten finalists Donaghmoyne are away to Seán McDermotts, who can secure their intermediate status if they win. A defeat for the Seáns would open the door for Cremartin to take a step towards a late escape if they can turn Carrickmacross over, while current joint-leaders Clones are away to Emyvale.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Clontibret’s camogie team are in their Ulster Club Junior Championship Final, while Donaghmoyne, Monaghan Harps and Aughnamullen all have Ulster Club Ladies semi-finals.