Kilrea v Slaughtneil
Tomorrow, Celtic Park, 4.00pm
Referee: Dessie Loughery
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 70% of the play.
Kilrea have a strong squad and they 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 defeat.
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 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 then 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, a wall-to-wall thriller under the Bellaghy lights and 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 opening half at Celtic Park and with a six point lead, Kilrea looked to be cruising. However, James Kielt had to go off injured early in the second half and they simply lost their way before losing Eamon Morgan to a second yellow card. The Kilrea player lost his appeal against the second yellow card but will now be available.
However his brother Paul will not be available for goalkeeping duties as his suspension will not be up until next Wednesday,
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. Chrissy McKaigue has blossomed into a very good full back on his return from the 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 he is expected to return. 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 load 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.