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Ballinderry v Glen (Sunday, 3.30pm)
A good game is in prospect at Shamrock Park and it could go either way.
Ballinderry lost their first two and won their next two against Dungiven and Greenlough.
Glen have had a mixed bag with two wins, one draw and one defeat. That defeat came last Friday at home to Ballinascreen where they lost by 2-8 to 1-6 and that 1-6 represents their lowest return in a game for a long time.
Ballinderry’s James Bateson has been to the fore in the Ballinderry attack so far this year and he is the man that the generally young Glen defence must keep tabs on though there is no shortage of potential match winners among the Ballinderry panel.
Glen have a lot of pace but maybe not a lot of height in some areas.
Last week was a setback as they had started the season well and this is a chance to show it was a blip rather than the bursting of their bubble.
Ballinderry have been rebuilding under Martin McKinless who will be looking to get his panel ready for Championship but they will be slight favourites to make it three victories in a row, especially with home advantage which could be the deciding factor.
Verdict: Second win for home side
Ballinascreen v Banagher (Sunday 3.30pm)
Traditionally, Banagher give Ballinascreen tight games but this one looks a tall order for the St Mary’s.
They will travel through the Sperrins hoping to get a first win in the league after narrow defeats by Bellaghy and Kilrea. They did score well in both these games but were struggling a bit in defence.
However, Banagher are one of only two teams yet to pick up a point, the other being Dungiven, and there is a danger of being cut adrift if they don’t start picking up points soon.
Ballinascreen have won two from four with their defeats both by a point against the unbeaten pair of Magherafelt and Kilrea. ‘Screen need to get an increased scoring threat from their attack if they are to make the breakthrough but if anyone can get the best out of them it is their top class manager, Liam Donnelly.
Form suggests Ballinascreen but Banagher really need a win and, if they can give Mark Lynch a bit more support, it could be a tighter finish than the table suggests.
Verdict: ‘Screen favourites
Coleraine v Loup (Sunday 3.30pm)
Last week, Coleraine lost to Magherafelt by 17 points and Loup defeated Bellaghy by 15.
However, a closer look will show that Coleraine were minus the likes of Sean Leo and Colm McGoldrick, Niall Holly and the Mullan brothers, Ciaran and Declan. If they are to get the better of Loup they will need to have some of these players back and in decent form.
Loup have won two games from three and are building nicely under former star player, Johnny McBride. They will make the long trip to Agherton as favourites to keep pace with the leaders.
Coleraine won their first three against Bellaghy, Claudy and Greenlough but this may represent a step up and depends a lot on personnel available,
Loup have a lot of pace and work well as a unit. If they run at the Eoghan Rua defence, they can get enough scores to keep up their challenge for league honours but a full strength Coleraine are difficult to defeat at home.
Traditionally defensive, Eoghan Rua will look to contain the visitors but, if not at full strength, they may not have enough.
Verdict: Loup, if Eoghan Rua minus stars.
Lavey v Greenlough (Sunday, 3.30pm)
Greenlough will make the short trip to Gulladuff hoping to have some of their injured men back.
Despite playing without a third of their strongest team, they have been very competitive, giving teams like Ballinderry and Coleraine plenty to think about. Joe Cassidy and Oran O’Kane have the Clady men flying fit for this local derby.
Lavey have been doing enough to keep out of the bottom region with two wins from four games and they will be favourites to increase their points tally in this game. If Greenlough were at full strength they would have a decent chance of success but currently they have to play with what fit players they have.
Lavey are maturing well under Jude Donnelly. They look a bit stronger in attack and should win, especially if they start well.
Verdict: Home win for the Lavey
Bellaghy v Slaughtneil (Sunday, 3.30pm)
Bellaghy will be smarting after that 15-point defeat at Loup in round four and they could have got a much easier ‘bounce back’ game than facing county champions, Slaughtneil.
After an opening day defeat by Lavey, Mickey Moran’s men have got the better of Dungiven and Claudy with a minimum of fuss.
Bellaghy will provide stiffer opposition but, still, Slaughtneil will be favourites.
They are undoubtedly building for the Championship, aiming to join the three-in-a-row club but winning league games builds confidence in some of the younger players they have been bringing through.
Bellaghy haven’t been impressive at the back and, if they leave gaps, the likes of Chrissy Bradley will be there to exploit them.
Verdict: Have to fancy the Champions!
Claudy v Dungiven (Sunday, 3.30pm)
Even allowing for their injury problems, Dungiven’s form this season has been too bad to be true.
They had been beaten by Loup, Slaughtneil and Ballinderry prior to last Friday when they entertained Swatragh in a game they were expected to win. Instead, they suffered a six point defeat and are currently bottom of the table.
Their trip to O’Neill Park could make or break their faltering season.
Claudy have drawn two of their four games and, like Dungiven, have had their injury problems. They have been more competitive than the O’Cahan’s and will fancy their chances of a first league win. Dungiven have been weak in attack due to missing key men. Claudy drew away to Swatragh and Swatragh beat Dungiven at home. That form would suggest a Claudy win but things do not always work that way and Dungiven will have it marked as one to win.
Claudy have a decent chance of getting something from this game. Dungiven, alongside Bellaghy, have the worst defensive record in the top flight and Claudy have forwards like Aaron Kerrigan who can punish teams. This will be tight
Verdict: Close, but Claudy get nod
Kilrea v Newbridge (Sunday, 2.00pm)
When Paddy McNeill took over as Kilrea manager, many thought he would be the captain of a sinking ship. However, the Pearses have been the surprise of the league with four straight victories.
With wins over Ballinderry, Lavey and Ballinascreen, they have been very tight in defence and have conceded just one goal so far. They entertain Newbridge at Drumagarner and will be fancied to stretch their winning run to five.
Newbridge ran Lavey close last day out but have just one point to show for their three games so far. That came with a high scoring draw away to new boys Claudy.
Paddy McNeill Jnr has been the man in form for Kilrea in the attack and the Kielt brothers, Charlie and James, have been bossing midfield exchanges. Newbridge have been battling against the drop in the last two years but their impressive spirit has kept them up. They pick from a small area and, if they have a player or two injured, they are not blessed with ready replacements which means they struggle at times.
Newbridge always give Kilrea plenty to thing about and this game could be a lot closer than form suggests.
Verdict: Home win for Pearses
Swatragh v Magherafelt (Sunday, 3.30pm)
The Davitt’s will face one of the big hitters in the league in leaders Magherafelt who have been in superb form to date this year.
Swatragh enjoyed a good away win against Dungiven last Friday by a considerable six point margin and that was a very significant result as the Dungiven men are now bottom of the table.
Magherafelt have a talented team with some very good forwards. They have been scoring freely and scoring important goals regularly. On form they look to be hot favourites but Swatragh are a dogged team who will always make it difficult for the opposition.
Last time out, the Rossa’s had it all their own way against a badly under-strength Coleraine and this will be a tougher test for the leaders who are one of only two teams, Kilrea the other, to have four wins from four games.
Swatragh are a coming force but their progress looks set to be halted by the inform Rossa’s who should remain top this weekend.
Verdict: Leaders to win again