DERRY JFC FINAL: Faughanvale v Drum (Saturday, Owenbeg, 5pm: Referee - Anthony Campbell)
Drum midfielder Ryan O’Kane remains a major doubt as Drum and Faughanavle move to ‘Chapter Five’ of their season long saga in Saturday’s Derry Junior Football Championship final replay.
The St. Colm’s midfielder was injured in an innocuous looking clash with ‘Vale player-manager Joe Gray during the early stages of last week’s meeting and despite, soldiering on for a period, was eventually forced off after 15 minutes.
O’Kane is a big loss but Marc McLaughlin proved a very able deputy last week and will be expected to assume a midfield berth this weekend.
“(He’s a) massive, massive loss,” explained joint Drum manager Kieran O’Kane after last week’s 0-7 to 0-7 draw, “Ryan’s a good player, strong and hard. He’s just made for playing against Faughanvale, they love the big hits and Ryan’s a bit like that too but the biggest plus we’ve had all year has been our panel. We’ve used 21 players and we’ve had chaps that are 17, 18 coming on and doing their bit. We’re going the right road.”
With Rory O’Reilly also struggling with injury and Kevin O’Reilly most probably out, Drum will go into the replay as bigger underdogs than they were in the first match but that won’t worry them.
If anything, last week’s drawn game highlighted how little there was between the teams despite Vale’s dominance of Division Three. On clear cut chances, Drum shaded it but Vale will also be better for the experience of last week’s game.
For many of the young St. Mary’s team, last week was their first taste of a Championship final and all the trimmings that go along with it in the build up. With those distractions behind them, they will be better prepared for the intensity of the day, something which looked to have caught them slightly last week as Drum finished both halves the stronger team.
“You never know how players are going to react until they are actually in that position,” explained Joe Gray last week, “These boys have no fear; they came out and gave everything they have. One thing is for sure, they’re an honest group of lads and they’ll always give me everything. They came out, did well and that will stand them in good stead for the next one because they’ll know what to expect.”
The truth is both teams know what to expect. Barring any radical redeployment of personnel, the players know each other well and each manager knows the other side’s strength and weaknesses. It was that scenario that created last week’s stalemate and this weekend will be just as close.
Drum’s sluggish start last week probably cost them as dearly as their missed goal chances. The Drum game-plan is based on defending a lead but St. Colm’s never put themselves in a position to do that. Faughanavle controlled the opening quarter without much fuss because Drum were guilty of over-thinking the situation and consequently complicated their play needlessly.
Michael McLaughlin was excellent at midfield last week and will be a key figure once again for St. Mary’s. McLaughlin and Oisin Quinn get through much of the spade work that allows their player-manager to flourish and it often goes unheralded.
James McCartney and Marc McLaughlin perform the same role for Drum and who manages to win that middle third battle will be key because each midfield is the launching pad for their attacking catalyst. For Drum that’s Donal Brolly; for ‘Vale it’s Gray.
During last week’s opening exchanges, Drum couldn’t get Brolly on the ball and they suffered for it. As soon as he began to find those pockets of space he operates in, the entire team improved. Likewise with Gray. When the Vale player-manager drifted out of the game (or was well shackled by Niall Burke) ‘Vale lost impetus and Drum dominated.
Both are the heartbeat of their respective teams and whoever is the bigger influence over the course of the 60 minutes at Owenbeg will probably decide the game.
But there is also more to come from the respective forward lines than we saw last week. ‘Vale’s Eunan Murray is a real handful but only showed it in glimpses while Kevin Martin is another who can raise his game beyond what we saw last week.
For Drum, the fitness of Rory O’Reilly is a real concern. He was nowhere near 100% last week. Had he been he would not have passed up a couple of very scorable frees but such is his importance that you have to expect Drum to take a chance on him.
Both defences are tight, especially as they are supplemented with extra numbers so expect another counter-attacking game. Goals will be crucial and that might come down to which team is brave enough to commit an extra man to attack.