Kilrea v Slaughtneil
Tomorrow, Celtic Park, 7.30pm
Referee: Dessie Loughery (Limavady)
Slaughtneil were caught out last year by a late Kilrea goal but this time they look very solid and have been giving away few scores.
In three games they have just conceded 2-20. The slight worry for manager Damien Barton is that they are not scoring enough for the possession they win.
They hit 1-12 against Coleraine, 0-16 against Glenullin and 0-13 against Lavey. Decent enough scores you might think but in all three games they had about seventy percent of the play.
Kilrea have a strong squad and have the potential to win a championship sooner rather than later. They tend to play in spells and if they can be on the front foot for the full hour they will be a very hard team to beat.
After a slow start against Lavey they pulled away in the second half with the best attacking display of the championship so far to emerge 2-16 to 2-7 winners. Next up it was a repeat of last year’s final against great rivals Ballinderry. Kilrea should have won this game but young Paddy McNeill missed a golden opportunity to seal the game and Ballinderry pushed it into extra time at Ballinascreen.
The dismissal of Eamon Morgan proved to be a huge setback. The busy half forward got a second yellow and Ballinderry made good use of the extra man to win easily by 0-19 to 1-10 in the extra 20 minutes.
There was also extra-time in their next game and in a wall-to-wall thriller under the Bellaghy lights, Kilrea - with James Kielt superb - came out on top by 0-18 to 0-15 but it proved to be a costly victory as both goalie Paul Morgan and Jack Kielt got straight red cards.
The cards went the other way in the quarter final against Magherafelt as the Rosas had two players sent off near the end of the first half at Celtic Park and, with a six point lead, Kilrea looked to be cruising. James Kielt had to go off injured early in the second half and from there they simply lost their way and then lost Eamon Morgan to a second yellow card which means will miss this semi-final. His appeal against the second yellow was heard on Tuesday by Derry Hearings Committee but it was unsuccessful.
For most of the second half Kilrea lost their shape and gave away a litany of frees that could have cost them the game. A Charlie Kielt point 27 minutes into the second half was their only score of the last half hour and they struggled home by 1-8 to 0-9.
If they are to reach a second successive final they will have to be at their best in all sectors. Their defence must get closer to the opposing forwards and it will take James Kielt to be at his best to put pressure on the powerful Slaughtneil duo of Patsy Bradley and Paudie McGuigan.
The Pearses have some very good forwards like Lee Kennedy, Paddy McNeill and Tiernan Rafferty but they must be more consistent. Slaughtneil have a very mean defence which has conceded very few scores from open play.
Chrissy McKaigue has blossomed into a very good full-back on his return from Aussie Rules. He is good in the air and an excellent distributor. Conan Cassidy and Barry McGuigan will give little space to the Kilrea attack.
Paul Bradley, a key cog in the Slaughtneil attack, has missed the last two games but is expected to return for this one. Chris Bradley and Se McGuigan have been great additions to the Emmett’s front line and along with Jim Kelly they look to have enough firepower to get to the final.
Slaughtneil have loads of experience and have Jim Kelly, Paul Bradley, Patsy Bradley, Francis McEldowney, Micheal Kelly, Padraig Kelly, Conan Cassidy, Fergal McEldowney and Danny McMullan from the team that took their one and only title in 2004.
However Kilrea look like a team that means business and they will not be easily overcome. This one will go down to the wire.