Ballinderry v Banagher
Tomorrow, Celtic Park, 5.45pm
Referee: Brendan Quinn (Ballinascreen)
Had somebody suggested a month ago that Banagher would be in the Senior County Championship football semi-final, and on merit it must be added, their punditry qualifications would have been seriously questioned.
They have come from nowhere to deservedly book their place in the last four and for certain Ballinderry will not take them for granted!
They now face the holders for a place in the final but that looks to be a very tall order despite good wins in their last two games.
When their manager Paul Diamond stepped down, Eamon Lynch and George Murphy took over the management reigns and their immediate brief was to stop the team from being relegated. They did that with a bit of comfort though when they got a 10-point thrashing by Magherafelt in the first phase of the championship at Dungiven nobody was that surprised. Since then, however, there has been nothing but surprises.
Ballinderry have won all three games but in the last two they could well have lost. In the first round they hit a massive 4-22 against Greenlough and conceded just three points in return. Favourites for the championship, it looked as if the pundits had it right.
They had a late let-off in the next game against Kilrea which ended all square but in extra time they ran away with it as Kilrea crumbled with 14-men. They were expected to get an easy passage against Dungiven abut with a 0-11 to 0-6 lead going into the last quarter they seemed to lose their way before, in the end, scrambling home by two points after Dungiven spurned three clear cut goal chances.
After that miserable outing against Magherafelt the Banagher men must have been happy enough to be facing a young and inexperienced Steelstown at Glenullin. They looked far from happy when the city side went 2-11 to 1-06 in front ten minutes into the second half.
However Banagher then went for broke and hit 2-03 without reply to end up winners of an exciting contest by 4-09 to 2-11.
In their next game they faced Glenullin and few could have forecast them winning by 1-12 to 1-04 with the Glenullin goal coming from a late penalty. Banagher played their best football for years in that game but it was only the beginning.
In the quarter-final they easily disposed of a fancied Bellaghy team by 1-09 to 1-05 but they were more superior than their four point margin would suggest.
They will again go in as underdogs against Ballinderry who will treat them with caution. Even when they were going poorly they gave the Shamrocks a stiff test in the league at Shamrock Park.
Ballinderry always hit a top note when the championship final is in sight. They have a strong defence that has conceded just one goal in three games and a variety of experienced midfielders like Enda Muldoon, James Conway, Kevin ‘Moss’ McGuckin and Martin Harney.
Conleth Gilligan has been struggling with injury and missed the Dungiven game. He had scored 2-09 in the first round against Greenlough. Currently Colin Devlin is the man in form up front and he is the man that the Banagher defence must watch if they are to cause another shock.
Sean Marty Lockhart in his latest comeback looks as if he never was away and he has been rock solid at full back. Paul Cartin, Mark Lynch, Michael Anderson, PJ McCloskey and Eunan Murphy have also been impressive.
Nine of the Banagher team played against Swatragh in the county hurling final last Saturday and with just a week to get over their disappointment they will find it hard to raise themselves for this game.
Ballinderry may not have been at their best in the last two games but with their title on the line they should step up a gear and reach another final.