Back in 2001, Craigbane defeated Monaghan champions Inniskeen to win the provincial Intermediate title at the first attempt and now they are within touching distance of another Ulster title with several players seeking a second medal.
Seamus Mullan reports
The ‘Lily Whites’ will make the relatively short trip to Healy Park, Omagh tomorrow evening to take on Culloville Blues, a chance for a Derry’s Ulster adult club title at this grade since Eoghan Rua, Coleraine won this Championship four years ago.
However their hopes have received a huge blow this week with the news that Adie McLaughlin will miss the game with a Grade 3 tear of his hamstring which will rule him out for six to eight weeks. This injury was confirmed after an ultra scan in Belfast. It is a massive blow to the club ahead of the weekend game in Omagh.
A decade ago when this was an unofficial competition, Craigbane proved to be the best in Ulster but this one is for real and a victory would open the door for an All Ireland semi-final.
Craigbane will be happy enough with the venue, as will Culloville, as both played their semi-finals in Omagh with the South Armagh team having to go to extra time to get the better of Antrim champions, All Saints, Ballymena.
The Orchard County side are managed by former Crossmaglen and Armagh All Ireland medallist John McEntee, twin brother of current Crossmaglen manager Tony, and he has been impressed by Craigbane.
“They play football with the intensity of a good senior side,” explained McEntee, “They are in your face, they bring an aggressive approach and they close you down quickly.”
McEntee is aware of the task his team faces.
“I know it won’t be easy. We’ve had a lot of luck in our Ulster run this season. We’ll need it in the final again but anything can happen.”
Tenacious Craigbane corner back Damian McGinty is expecting a battle from the Armagh side.
“McEntee will have them well drilled. I saw a bit of their game with a big, strong Ballymena side, so they won’t be fearing anyone,They’ll be up for the battle.”
It has been a relatively comfortable ride for the St. Joseph’s to the final. They had home advantage against Kilclief of Down in thier opening fixture and it was little more than shooting practice as they hammered the Mourne men by 2-18 to 0-6 though their task was made easier when the Down champions had two players sent off in the first half.
In the semi-final at Omagh it was a 1-14 to 0-9 victory over Carrickmacross of Monaghan and this time the losers went down to 14 players midway through the second half but at that stage Kevin Moore’s outfit had one foot in the final.
Culloville defeated St. Naul’s of Donegal in the quarter final in a low scoring encounter by 1-8 to 0-6 but they met stiff opposition in Ballymena and after extra time won by 2-11 to 1-12 but Craigbane could prove to be their stiffest test to date.
Cullaville Blues are situated in the parish of Lower Creggan in South Armagh. They are one of four clubs in the parish with Crossmaglen being the major player and they will hope to kick-start a double-double at the week end as Crossmaglen play Burren in the senior final on Sunday. Not alone will they be aiming for a double Ulster win for the parish but they will also be hoping for a family double with the McEntee brothers both seeking Ulster success.
Gaelic football was first played in Culloville as far back as 1888 when a team named Culloville William O’Brien’s emerged just four years after the GAA was founded. Football came and went in the area until 1916 when the present club Culloville Blues came into being.
They actually play their football in the Armagh first division where they have just won four out of 13 games but in all Armagh competitions their record stands up a bit better with 10 wins in 18 games.
Culloville have proved to be fast starters and Craigbane - normally the opposite - will have to guard against the pace and accuracy of ex-Armagh player Kieran Hatzer and Seamus Watters in the full forward line. Fergal Rowland, Padraig McGeeney, Johnny McGeeney and John Kingham are strong around the middle third and Kieran McMahon has proved to be an excellent goalkeeper. The names of Rowland and Watters provides about one third of their panel and the man with the biggest test is full back Darren Rowland who will have the unenviable task of marking Craigbane’s very capable full forward Lee Moore.
In their win over Carrickmacross, the Craigbane side lost two of their key players, centre-half Ruairi Moore and midfielder McLaughlin with injuries and the large Craigbane following will have to wait until the last minute to see if Moore is available.
Craigbane have loads of experience with Lee Moore, Kieran McElhinney, Gavin Conwell and Fergal Crossan either past or present county players. Ruairi and Ryan Moore were Derry minor players this year and outstanding midfielder Blain Gormley is a former county minor and under 21 player. Cathal O’Kane is the holder of an All Ireland minor medal and has played at under 21 level for his county and was in the senior panel for a period.
Craigbane prefer to play their football the straightforward way and that is to get the ball in quickly to players who can score and they have no scarcity of them. The experienced Conwell will drift out from the left corner to make space for Lee Moore who is deadly from both play and frees.
Blain Gormley can kick long range scores from midfield while the powerful runs of Cathal O’Kane can expose the chinks in any defence
After those two comfortable wins over Kilclief and Carrickmacross, where they amassed 3-32 and conceded just 0-15 Craigbane will go in as slight favourites but no doubt manager McEntee will have his plans laid to counter Craigbane’s attacking threat though his defence will be at full stretch to stop all the Craigbane danger men.
With promotion back to Division One and the Derry Championship already under their belts Craigbane will be all out to make it a tremendous treble by adding the Ulster title and on the evidence of the provincial championship to date they have a very big chance, although the absence of midfield powerhouse Aidy McLaughlin will make it a lot more difficult.