DIV ONE: Ballinderry can get up and running as Claudy visit Swatragh
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Ballinascreen v Kilrea
With back-to-back midweek wins over Ballinderry and Lavey, Paddy McNeill will take his Kilrea side to Dean McGlinchey Park for another stiff test.
They will face a good Ballinascreen outfit who have shown decent form even in a defeat by Magherafelt.They followed that up with a good away win over Loup while Kilrea shaded both their victories by a point. New manager McNeill is a stickler for fitness and it’s obvious they have been putting in the work over the winter.
New Ballinascreen manager Liam Donnelly has been successful at club and county level in is native Tyrone. He has an experienced squad to work with but Ballinascreen have not done as well as expected in recent seasons though Donnelly can get the best out of them. With Dermot McBride, Carlus McWilliams, Benny Heron, Brendan Herron Shane Mulgrew and the promising Barry Grant, the St. Colm’s can field formidable looking 15.
Wins bring confidence and Kilrea will be up for the task. Charlie Kielt is in top form, as is Paddy McNeill Jnr and Tiernan Rafferty in attack. These teams have finished level in the recent past and it could happen again.
Verdict: Looks a share of the spoils
Slaughtneil v Loup
Another top clash between teams that can make a serious impact this season.
Loup have been a pretty consistent league team over the past few years. They were a shade unlucky to lose to Ballinascreen on Sunday with the dismissal of key player, Aidan McAlynn, a setback. Slaughtneil, anxious to join the three in a row championship winning club along with Ballinderry and Bellaghy, will probably be keeping their powder dry for the championship. They have key men out injured so giving game time to some of the minor team that won the championship last season will be a priority.
Johnny McBride manages Loup and he will approach the job with the same determination as he did when he adorned his club and the Derry jersey with distinction.
Loup won the corresponding game last year and they will be confident of repeating the dose. It has all the ingredients of a low scoring game. If Slaughtneil can put a bit more pep into their attack they can nick the points.
Verdict: Emmets, but not by much!
Ballinderry v Dungiven
Ballinderry have a much changed team from last year and few will remember the last time they lost back-to-back league games.
Returning manager Martin McKinless has been giving youth a fling as he attempts to rebuild the Shamrock’s fortunes. Injuries to Conleith Gilligan and Colin Devlin left them a bit lightweight in attack when they lost by a point to Kilrea on day one.
Dungiven, under new manager Brendan Hughes, have a novel look about them also with six new players in the line up. Like Ballinderry, they have lost their first two. The return of Kevin Johnston has been quite a boost but judging by their display against Loup in their opener they could do with a bit more bite in attack. Conor Murphy is quite a talent in that area but others will have to step up to the mark as he has been lacking support so far.
Ballinderry will be stronger than they were in the opening two games and, with home advantage, will be fancied to finish in front. They have always found Dungiven a hard nut to crack though and will not be taking anything for granted.
Verdict: Shamrocks up and running!
Coleraine v Greenlough
Promoted Greeenlough, without the injured Enda Lynn, have shown enough in their first two games to suggest that they are a match for most first division teams. However they face a tough away fixture against a seasoned Coleraine team that is among the top four in the county.
Greenlough and Coleraine play a similar style of football so it should be an interesting game of counter attacking tactics. Coleraine do not often win by big margins but when they get in front they are hard to pull back. Niall Loughlin is the stand out forward for the Clady men but if they are to surprise Sean McGoldrick’s crew he will need more support. Given their excellent win over Swatragh, Coleraine will be wary of the well organised visitors but remain favourites.
Verdict: Leaders to win again
Swatragh v Claudy
Injury hit Claudy make the trip to Davitt Park Swatragh for what is a key game for both, even this early in the season.
Claudy, without several key men, have a lot of pace but not a lot of physique in the young ranks of their team. Manager Michael O’Kane got them up to the first division in his initial year as manager and believes in attacking football which allows his players to express themselves. They did get hit with an early blast of first division football at Coleraine when they were 1-4 to nil down in five minutes but recovered well and eventually lost by five points. On Sunday they drew with Newbridge while Swatragh were beaten by Greenlough,
Swatragh had an important away win at Newbridge and will start favourites to win this one. While the McGahon brothers, Shane and Eoin, form an excellent midfield duo for Claudy, the home team look better balanced overall and if they play as they can it will be a tough outing for Claudy. James Kearney is back to his best and with his twin brothers Patrick and Francis to assist it could be vital win for the Davitt’s but they will have to keep Aaron Kerrigan quiet.
Verdict: Davitt’s to earn vital win
Newbridge v Banagher
In a 16-team league there are teams who will struggle to land a place in the top half.
In this league, these two teams would be delighted if they could make the top eight but it will be quite a struggle for them.
Both lost on the first round while on Sunday Banagher lost at home to Glen while Newbridge picked up a point at Claudy. Bellaghy beat Banagher by a point and Newbridge lost 1-8 to 0-10 against Swatragh in the opening round.
It will probably just be a point or two that will separate these teams at the ‘Bridge. Neither team tends to score a lot but in attacking terms, Banagher with Mark Lynch, Shane Farren and Gavin O’Neill look slightly stronger.
Peter McGrogan is an excellent free take for the home team who have done well to stay in senior football this last few years given the small pick they have.
The accuracy and power of Mark Lynch might just swing it for the visitors but if either can get away to a decent start that can be the winning of this game.
Verdict: Lynch to lead Banagher to win
Lavey v Magherafelt
Two good teams cross swords at Guladuff in what looks to be the game of the round. Magherafelt will have Emmett McGuckin back from injury and that will give them a bit more thrust in attack. He is vital to his team as an attacking focal point but with two wins from two, they are in good fettle.
Lavey have had a mixed bag so far with a home win over county champions, Slaughtneil, and a narrow away defeat at Kilrea. Midfield is not the strongest area for either team so a lot will depend on the respective attacks. Niall Toner and the imposing Cailean O’Boyle will be the big threats up front for the home team.
The Rossa’s have a lot of talent and when they fully blend as a team they will be among the front runners for major honours. Daniel Heavron is a real quality footballer and will be the driving force behind the Rossas for the past five seasons.
There should not be much between them but Lavey are always at their best on home soil and might just squeeze home.
Verdict: How advantage to swing it!
Bellaghy v Glen
Last year Bellaghy defeated Glen in the championship but this time they will find a Glen team in more settled form. Enda Gormlay’s side had a good win at Banagher on Sunday while Bellaghy suffered a heavy home defeat to Coleraine. Glen have put in a lot of good pre-season work under Enda Gormley and Seamus Doyle but Bellaghy are in good nick under John Rafferty.
Bellaghy will be hoping to have Fergal Doherty back which could be bad news for the Maghera men. Glen may have the better players led by Emmett Bradley and John McCamley at midfield but Bellaghy are a proud lot. The Glen attack is relatively inexperienced while the Bellaghy defence has some tried and tested players. Glen have the confidence to come away from Sean de Brun Park with the points.
Verdict: Glen can build on great start