NA MAGHA face the first of two Championship finals in the space of eight days tomorrow when they meet Eoghan Rua, Coleraine in the Derry Intermediate Hurling Championship final in Kevin Lynch Park, Dungiven (throw-in 1.45pm)
Michael Wilson reports
Tomorrow’s decider is the first part of a double bill which culminates in next Sunday’s Ulster Junior Championship Final against Bredagh in Casement Park, not that Na Magha manager Dee Doherty nor his players can afford to look that far ahead.
“Our boys have trained well and with a lot of intensity over the past few days,” explained Doherty, “Straight after the Ulster victory over Strabane last week we said Bredagh was two weeks away and our focus immediately shifted to Eoghan Rua because this will be our toughest test of the season so far but we are well up for the game.
“There is a fair bit of history between the two clubs, even if we tend to give them more respect than perhaps they give us but if you’d asked us who would like to play in the final it would be Eoghan Rua. I believe the two teams are at a similar level so it will be a very close game.”
The game had originally been scheduled to throw in at 12.45pm but with senior football trials also taking place in the morning the hurling final was put back an hour to allow Eoghan Rua players to make the final, something Doherty says he has no problem with.
“Everyone is fit and ready from our point of view and, to be honest, we are just waiting to get the ball thrown in now. I know they had a few problems because of a clash with the trial but I’m glad that has been sorted out. We would prefer to play them with a full team, it should be a good contest.”
After a season bereft of fixtures, Na Magha’s year has really taken off in the past fortnight with Ulster Championship victories over Clontibret and Strabane Shamrocks as well as a win against Ballinscreen in the Derry semi-final. Those results, Doherty believes, have come about as a result of a stronger panel at the progressive Ballyarnett club.
“The main change from a club perspective is that we have a whole panel of quality hurlers to select from this season. The days of throwing boys in just to make up the numbers are over. The difference that the boys coming through from the minors has made has been great. This season we are able to send out quality hurlers from 1-15 with another eight ready to come off the bench. If anyone is having an off-day there is a man ready to step in and take his place which is great.
“We are confident and expect to get a result this weekend but we won’t be taken anything for granted because if we’re not at our best Eoghan Rua will punish us. They will be expecting to win the game as well so it could come down to whichever team wants it more and we have to be ready to scrap for every ball.”
With the Coleraine men getting the fixture pushed back an hour both Sean Leo and Barry McGoldrick should play although there is a slight doubt over Anton Rafferty who broke his thumb recently. Tomorrow’s meeting is the third between the team in recent seasons with one win each and no love lost so Doherty is expecting another feisty encounter in Kevin Lynch Park.
“The two teams know each other well so I’m not expecting any real surprises but, at the same time, I won’t be setting out a team to nullify any particular opposition player. We concentrate on ourselves but, if during a game, something needs changing then we do it. We know Eoghan Rua are a good side but I have confidence in my players.”
With both sets of forwards capable of being match-winners on their day, midfield is likely to be the pivotal area with county star Alan Grant a key man for Na Magha.
“Yes, midfield is going to be key and we have to at least break even on the puck-outs - both theirs and ours - so Alan will be important in there for us. If we can hold our own in that area, we have the forwards to hurt any team. All six of the boys playing up there can take scores for us. If any team tries to single out any player in particular that should free up one of the other forwards.
“Alan is always a big player for us though he’s not always the one people notice. He gets through a tremendous amount of work and is one of those players that you only really appreciate if you’re playing with him. I don’t really have to say anything to Alan, he gets on with it, drops back in when we need him and is capable of taking scores from 70 or 80 yards,” added Doherty.