Dean McGlinchey Park in Ballinascreen is the venue for Sunday’s intriguing head-to-head battle for GBS Scaffolding Intermediate Football Championship title between Foreglen and Swatragh,
Arguably the two best teams at this grade - they are also first and second in the league - have made it through yet both were considered by many second favourites in their respective semi finals, Foreglen against Slaughtmanus and Swatragh against Castledawson.
However the O’Briens vintage of 2012 has a more clincical look than recent seasons and it is an approach that could yield rich rewards as Foreglen manager Paddy Downey stated after they upset St. Mary’s last weekend.
“Nobody gave us a chance against Newbridge and nobody gave us a chance against Slaughtmanus but we have 30 boys who know now what it takes to win football matches,” explained Downey.
“That’s changed from what it was in the past. They’re a group of winners now, they’re a group of boys who want to be winning and they’re a group of boys who aren’t scared to win. We’ll be going in as underdogs, nobody will give us a chance but, I tell ye, we’ll enjoy the moment.”
“I think we proved in the Newbridge match that and there was a 10/15 minute spell against Slaughtmanus at the end of that first half - and I’m not just saying it because I’m Foreglen manager - but you will go a long way to see better football played anywhere in Ireland. The passing, the movement, the support, everything was there and I’m just overjoyed and delighted to be a part of it.”
Now Foreglen face a Swatragh team that had to battle to the final whistle to overcome a Castledawson team that started brightly in Celtic Park on Wednesday night with two points inside three minutes but trailed 0-06 to 0-03 at half time.
Ruairi Shivers put Castledawson 1-05 to 0-06 up early in the second half but they then went 30 minutes without scoring until Shivers scored his second goal.
However, by that stage Swatragh were almost out of sight, Michael Kirkpatrick’s goal the centre-piece of a 1-11 to 1-06 advantage.
Swatragh manager Artie Kearney is certainly not a fan of Castledawson’s tactical football as they brought numbers behind the ball, with Ciaran Lavery and Declan Lavery ‘double-marking’ Ruairi Convery throughout the first half until he moved to midfield to boost a Swatragh midfield that was struggling for control.
“WE went out to play football and get the scores,” stated the Swatragh manager after securing thier place in Sunday’s final, “Fair play to the lads they worked hard.
“We knew that we had to turn the ball over in their half of the field because that was the key to undoing them. We did get caught there at the end with the second goal and it left it a bit hairy in added time. Castledawson have good forwards and Shivers will hit the net if you give him space.
“We did get caught a couple of times but there’s always going to be a wee lapse in concentration somewhere along the way. All 19 players that we used there tonight showed 99% concentration. We’re in the final and we’re happy. We have the final of the championship and we’re in the league final, and the hurlers have won the championship.
“We set out at the start of the season to win the league and championship and we’ve come out of the semi-final without injuries. We wanted to keep everybody injury free and it has worked out that way. We’re happy but we want to progress.”
The Swatragh manager agreed Foreglen would pose a different set of problems from Castledawson.
“Foreglen are not as physical a team as Castledawson, Their forwards are very fast but their midfield would not be as mobile or get about the field as much.”
When it is suggested the O’Breins are very strong in the air, Kearney retorts immediately, “We’re pretty strong in the air at midfield too you know,”
They are with Derry county star Michael Friel, the very talented James Kearney and Conor McAtamney working as a unit.
Yet Foreglen have probably the Intermediate player of the year, Darren O’Kane, in that sector alongside Mark McCormick who is very strong in the air and uses the ball well and the Swatragh manager recognised that the O’Brien’s will be formidable opposition.
”They are second in the division. They’re in the final of the championship, so they’re no bad team. You never get away from Foreglen handy. We’ll look forward to the game. The boys will be up for it.”
“That was a big game for us there tonight (referring to the Castedawson victory). That was a big hurdle, massive! Castledawson played a bit more open football than they’ve been doing.”
In fact Castledawson were forced into playing more open football in the second half when Swatragh scored the second goal to go ahead when after being three points down at half time, 0-06 to 0-03. They failed to score from the 33rd minute when Ruairi Shivers put them 1-05 to 0-06 up after a three minute scoring burst until 63rd minute when Shivers scored a second goal as they trailed by five.
“Well, that was always the game plan, to force them into a situation where they had to come out and open up the game. That was then going to open it up for us then. We have players who can move with the ball and can take scores,” explained Kearney.
This Sunday Ruairi Convery, at full forward, could be key to unlocking a Foreglen defence that is built around Oisin Duffy but Kearney was delighted with his team’s own efensive display on Wednesday night.
“Our defence stood up well to what Castledawson put in front of us. It’s a hard thing to do, to mark space for periods and then to meet players coming at speed. We had players who had to mark fresh air for big periods of the game and then start defending against the runners. They did the business. If we were able to turn the ball over in their defence it was always going to be hard for them to play football the way they like to play football.”
Swatragh will face a Foreglen side that will run at them with pace and who have forwards like Kevin O’Connor, Niall McFeely, Ciaran McFeely and Nigel Bradley who can score freely if given enough ball.
When asked if it was a worry that, after putting in such a big shift against Castledawson, that it was only four days to the final the Swatragh manager retorted quickly, “Not at all. Them boys are up for it now.
“The adrenaline is flowing and the boys will be ready. I wanted Sunday to be honest, not the Wednesday night. Wednesday night is great but not for a final.”
With the Senior Hurling trophy already in the cabinet at Davitt Park Swatragh will be keen to complete the double. However Foreglen manager Paddy Downey will be just as keen to take the cup back to O’Brien Park and, if they can get a foothold at midfield, they have the forwards that can do serious damage.
An intriguing battle for sure!