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Coleraine will attempt to register a first league win over Ballinderry when they travel to Shamrock Park.
With the championship approaching, this game sees two of the leading contenders clash. League meetings between the two always go in favour of the Shamrocks but the Eoghan Rua famously defeated Ballinderry in the 2010 championship final and also eliminated them last year.
Ballinderry have been moving up the table in recent weeks and as they gear up for the big one they will be getting closer to full strength. Coleraine seem content to win enough league games to stay above the waterline. They have introduced some new players this year, like the promising Jack O’Doherty, in an attempt to strengthen what is a relatively small playing panel.
Ballinderry with home advantage and loads of experience are likely to pick up both points. They had a good away win at Bellaghy last Sunday while Coleraine were well beaten at home by title chasing Ballinascreen and could struggle without their senior county players.
Verdict: League win for Shamrocks.
Newbridge v Slaughtneil
Two defeats in four days will not have helped the Newbridge confidence, shipping a total of 9-23 against Banagher and The Loup.
Slaughtneil thumped Banagher by 21 points last Sunday and the same Banagher defeated the ‘Bridge by nine in mid-week. This has been a testing campaign for Dermot Dougan’s Newbridge and Dougan will be pitting his wits against his former county manager, Mickey Moran.
Slaughtneil, after an uncertain start, have been pushing up the table and are within sight of the leaders Magherafelt. With Patsy Bradley poised for a return and the injured duo of Gerald Bradley and Paudie McGuigan not far away Slaughtneil are looking ominously strong. Newbridge do not possess the depth of players that Slaughtneil have. They have been getting decent enough scores but not keeping the opposition out at the other end. Slaughtneil are the second highest scorers in the division and the likes of Paul Bradley, Christopher Bradley and Shane McGuigan should be too accurate for the O’Leary’s
Verdict: Only one winner - Emmet’s!
Ballinascreen v Swatragh (Saturday, 6.00pm)
Two wins in their last two games against Bellaghy and Kilrea have marked Swatragh as a team on the rise but Ballinascreen were impressive in defeating Coleraine by eight points last week.
Liam Donnelly has tightened up the ‘Screen defence and they are now second in the league. They have been conceding just over 10-points per game while Swatragh, despite their best league run in years, have been conceding an average of 15 per game but are also one of the highest scoring teams.
Swatragh have some strong men in the middle third with Ruairi Convery, Michael Friel and Conor McAtamney. They have a great target man in Francis Kearney, a young player of great promise.
Ballinascreen tend to build from the back in quick counter attacks and they are likely to indulge in a lot of wing play to bypass the imposing Swatragh midfield where young Patrick Kearney has been excellent for a 19 year old. Ballinascreen have a number of young players brought into the team this year with Barry Grant very impressive. The more compact looking Ballinascreen will be favourites.
Verdict: ‘Screen are favourites
Greenlough v Loup
Not so long ago this game would have been seen as a stroll in the park for Loup but the scenery of Derry club football is undergoing a slight change.
Greenlough have pushed every team they’ve met to date and dad Enda Lynn been fit they would have been further up the table. Despite having just seven points, they’ve scored three points more than they have conceded but Loup are well placed in the top third. They did surprisingly lose away to Claudy recently so that will give the Clady men an extra bit of confidence.
Loup’s away form might be a slight worry and they will have noted that Greenlough hit 3-16 in their last home game against Kilrea. Anthony O’Neill has been hugely impressive in the Loup attack and he could be the man to open up the well organised Greenlough back six.
Verdict: Not easy but Loup win
Kilrea v Claudy (Sunday, 1.30pm)
Kilrea lost heavily to Swatragh last Sunday, a team Claudy have drawn with. Things are seldom that straight forward but in-form Claudy look to have good chance here.
Had this game been played a month ago Kilrea would have been hot favourites but their early season form has dipped badly and Claudy, with recent wins over The Loup and Magherafelt and a draw with Lavey, are bouncing with confidence. They are fit and fast and the Pearses could struggle in that aspect as speed is not one of their outstanding attributes.
If Kilrea can get quick ball to their inside men they can punish the smallish visiting defence but they will have to be strong at midfield to do that. Michael O’Kane has worked wonders with Claudy in his second year. They are on six points despite never having their strongest 15 on duty due to injuries. Kilrea have not been at their best recently but they will regain a lot of that form if they get a victory here to get out of the rut.
Claudy play with a lot of freedom and with James McClay and Aaron Kerrigan ever dangerous up front it looks to be a 50/50 game.
Verdict: Too close to call.
Glen v Magherafelt
Magherafelt are the league leaders but in recent games they have been slightly below par. Both teams may be without their county players but that should balance itself out.
In any event the Rossas will be without full forward Emmett McGuckin who was red carded against Greenlough. Glen have a team of generally young and talented footballers but they lack experience in some areas. Magherafelt will travel the six mile route as favourites but when Glen hit their best form they are hard to tie down.
If Emmett Bradley is missing due to county duty it will leave them weak at midfield where Bradley has been in fine form all season. The Watty’s are short of tall players for that vital areas. Magherafelt have a good panel of players and they might just have enough to hold on to their top spot in the table.
Verdict: Tight but leaders edge it.
Lavey v Bellaghy
Bellaghy come into this game on the back of defeats by Swatragh and Ballinderry while Lavey have been a bit ‘hit and miss’ all through the league.
Bellaghy, looking sharper than they were last year, will not want to lose to their neighbours who could be missing Cailean O’Boyle through injury. Bellaghy play their traditional short passing game which suits their smallish squad of players. Fergal Doherty is easing his way back after missing most of the season with a long term injury. He came on as a sub against Swatragh but will take a few more games to get to his sharpest. He finished the Swatragh game at full forward and scored goal. Bellaghy could well use his power and high fielding ability in this position again.
Lavey have a good mix of youth and experience but consistency has not been their forte. They lost to Ballinascreen before travelling to Glen and winning comfortably. Bellaghy look safe on nine points and apart from a heavy defeat against Coleraine, they have never been far away in their other games.
This is a hard to call and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a draw.
Verdict: Cancel each other out!
Banagher v Dungiven
Both teams are too close to the bottom for comfort and following heavy defeats in the last round this is a vital game.
Banagher lost by 4-14 to 0-5 at Slaughtneil while Dungiven got well beaten at home by Glen on the score of 3-8 to 0-5. This is a ‘four pointer’ for both teams who are second and third from the bottom. They have been keen rivals for generations. With Derry playing next week, both could be missing players and that may have a big effect on the outcome.
Dungiven made a poor start but picked up for a spell and got a few results that has kept them off the bottom. Banagher have not been playing well with just two wins in 10 games. Notably their two wins, both of a high scoring nature, were gained against Claudy and Newbridge - both in the lower regions of the league.
Dungiven have a number of new players in their team. With Conor Murphy and Ryan McElhinney strong in the centre of the attack, they look to have the scoring edge but Eugene O’Kane and Shane Farren are dangerous for Banagher. Visitors to edge it.
Verdict: Crucial Dungiven win!