Celtic PARK will be a particularly busy venue on Sunday afternoon when three teams will attempt to secure promotion with one trying to avoid relegation.
First in action at 2.00 p.m. are Limavady, who will be defending their Division Two status, and Ardmore who will be attempting to gain promotion from Division Three.
That enticing game will be followed by the mouth-watering clash of Intermediate champions Craigbane, who will be trying to add the league title - and promotion back to Division One - to their Championship success and a Steelstown side that has been knocking at the Division One door for two or three years now, but have yet to make the breakthrough.
Craigbane have hit top form at just the right time, defeating Swatragh in the Championship final and then again in the League semi-final, before cruising past Down champions, Kilclief, in the Ulster Club Championship.
Their manager, Kevin Moore, father of Lee, Rory and Ryan, said after the Kilclief game that had they lost the Championship Final to Swatragh, their promotion ambitions would have been put on hold but that win, and their provincial victory, have fuelled their promotion aspirations.
He commented: “We know that we have good players. But this is the place that we don’t want to be. We do not want to be playing Intermediate football. We want to be playing Senior Championship football in Derry.
“We want to be contesting Senior Championship games. Apart from two or three players we have a relatively young squad,” added the Craigbane manager.
In Gavan Conwell, Damian McLaughlin, Martin McGinty and Cathal O’Kane they have players with plenty of experience, while Adie McLaughlin and Blain Gormley are a dynamic midfield pairing to complement the hugely talented Moore brothers.
Struggle for Steelstown?
Steelstown appear to have struggled slightly this season to get a consistency into their play but they came good in the closing games of the League to finish in the top four, although they needed a late brace of points to see off the gritty challenge of Foreglen in the semi-final.
The high profile city side have injury worries before Sunday’s game with Aidan Cleary, Liam Heffernan, Tony Ling and Neil Forrester all on the doubtful list, while Paul O’Hea could also be an absentee.
At full strength Steelstown would give Craigbane a real tough challenge, especially with a scoring forward like Stephen Cleary up front.
Yet Craigbane have a scoring threat right across the attack - and at midfield- and they will be fancied to complete the Championship and League ‘double’ and return to Division One.
Limavady had to overcome a stiffish challenge from another city club, Sean Dolan’s, before running out narrow winners, the victory sending the Piggery Ridge team back to Division Three for another season and giving themselves this life-line of a relegation eliminator against Ardmore who lost the promotion play-off to Pearses, but won the Division Three title against Magherafelt Thirds.
The Wolfhounds will not want to go back to Division Tjree after sweeping all before them in that division in 2010.
They will also be hoping to get the proposed four week suspension on Eoin Kelly from the Dolan’s victory rescinded so that he can play in this particular game.
Limavady boss, Hugh Mulholland, commented: “We are a club, as far as I’m concerned, which is moving forward. Since the start of the season we have been training with 25 players on the field each night that we’re out. We’ve been training with the same intensity and the same numbers as clubs involved in Ulster Club Championship games.”
Ardmore manager, William McLaughlin, was just happy that the memory of the Championship and promotion play-off defeats against Doire Trasna had been washed away with the victory over Magherafelt Thirds in the title play-off.
He said: “We were very disappointed at the Championship defeat, to go out the way we did, to a last minute penalty in the semi-final, was devastating. It was a lacklustre display against Pearses in the promotion final. They were the two worst performances of the season.
“But that display produced against Rossas will give us a lift for the promotion play-off.”
Yet it’s hard to see Ardmore overcoming the “Wolfhounds,” especially with Eoin Dooher and James Cruickshank likely to be ruled out due to injury.
Eoin McLaughlin and Michael Higgins should give Limavady the edge at midfield, with John Deighan, Sean and Conor Forrest considered key players in their attack.
Ardmore are pretty solid at the back with Anthony Hargan, Barry Gavin and Karl McLaughlin in the full-back line, while Damian Magee is playing well at midfield.
Up front much will depend on the scoring return from players such as Barry Gormley, Peter McLaughlin, Danny Gavin and Eddie Bell.