In years past this was a ‘derby’ game of genuine value, two teams of equal strength, of equal ambition, of equal passion.
More recently Kevin Lynch’s have had the edge but, as always, Banagher have reserved the right to be ‘party pooper’s’ when least expected.
Four championship campaigns without a victory is too long for Banagher but five years on from their last final appearance, they have another chance to buck the trend as Banagher stand in the way of their fiercest nemeses’ quest for 10 finals in a row. Denying that would be a real feather in Banagher’s cap!
Lying in wait is Derry captain Kevin Hinphey - in his 11th season for the Lynch’s senior side - and who was there when the historic run began.
“2003 was my second year in the team so I was there when we got to that first final and that was something special,” said Hinphey, “It’s great to go on that run we’ve gone on, you want to be winning as much as you can. But, listen, we’re in no final this year. We haven’t mentioned anything else other than Banagher and if we looked past that, we’ll be beaten easily.”
Hinphey has learned the lessons that an intense rivalry with their neighbours can throw up. In 2005, he watched on as the maroon shirts collected silverware after Banagher stole the game at the end with a contentious goal. In 2006, he soldiered on for 40 minutes with a broken bone in his leg as the Lynch’s earned redemption.
“I think, looking back at 2005, Banagher were probably lucky enough but they’d have said the same about us the next year. That was the thing with those matches, they were good, tight games and I’d expect no less on Sunday. I mean, the Roes are still around and Peter O’Kane was still there at that stage so they have that bit of experience to go with the young boys that have come through.”
That injection of youth and enthusiasm is something Ruairi McCloskey has grown up with as a way of life at Fr. McNally Park. He has seen young blood coming to the fore in recent years, he has been that young blood, but he has too often witnessed inexperience edging out talent.
Now, he reckons that it is high time that Banagher rediscover some championship pedigree.
“I think, if you look at the team sheets from those finals in 2005-2007, it’s almost completely changed,” explained McCloskey, “So I think, from that viewpoint, it was that long ago now that there won’t really be a sense of revenge or anything about the last two finals, it is just a championship game for us to win. God knows we’re well overdue a win in the championship.
“You can talk all you want about the league but the championship is where you want to be and I think you can use Kevin Lynch’s as a prime example of doing it well. I mean, their championship record speaks for itself. And it’s the same story every year, it doesn’t matter how poorly they do in the league, they’re always there or thereabouts when it really matters.
“I always remember the crowds back for those finals and the buzz around the affair but, since then, I think Lynch’s have beaten us every time since and Lavey seemed to pick up the rivalry where we left off.
“It would be good to renew that rivalry that we had before and I suppose it would be good for hurling in the county in general but, to do that, we have to start being competitive again.”
He added, “It hasn’t been ideal having to train with only those who play hurling but Banagher are in the same boat with the football. It’s been good this week to get the full squad back at training and there’ll be a bit more of a buzz around the place and it will start to feel more like championship now.
“I think it will have helped us a wee bit having played Slaughtneil already and having that game under our belts but there are only six teams in the championship and there is nothing to separate any of us.
“This is a championship semi final, it’s a local rivalry and, make no mistake about it, Lynch’s will be mad keen to beat us so we have to be ready for that.”
Paddy McCloskey remains the biggest absence ahead of the clash and he deals a huge blow to the Lynch’s setup. Meanwhile, Paul Cartin looks set to make himself available for selection as both sides prepare with a relatively clean bill of health to choose from.
“Everybody seems to have come through the football okay at the weekend and nobody seems to have picked up any niggles so we’re looking at a fully fit squad really. Hopefully we can make our youthfulness and energy count,” added McCloskey.
“We have young Shane Farren who is playing well. He’s just out of minors last year and this will be his first proper championship game but he’s good enough to do damage. But we’re not just reliant on Shane, we have other boys that we can look to as well. It definitely helps having the young boys coming through but that needs to be blended with experience as well.
“We’re looking forward to giving it a good rattle but, as I say, we know the task that lies ahead of us and we know how tough the opposition will.”
Kevin Lynch’s have the experience but Banagher would love nothing better than spoiling their ten final in a row ambition!