THERE’S A remarkable, almost symmetrical similarity between Sunday’s Derry Senior Football final in Celtic Park (throw-in 3.15pm) and that of last year at the same venue.
Twelve months ago an unheralded Coleraine came to the Championship altar with a swashbuckling sortie through the minefield that is Derry championship football.
Now a year later Kilrea are the latest side to try and lift the John McLaughlin Cup and, like Eoghan Rua, they are trying to win the title for the first time.
Kilrea have never been in a senior final before but meet a Ballinderry who have been there and done that, the past masters of Championship finals.
Championship runs are de rigueur for the Lough Shore side. You would not be too far wrong if you put the Shamrocks’ name in a semi final slot after the first round draw has been made, such has their level of consistency over the last 25 years.
They were championship favourites from the start of the season remain so. For their part Kilrea came through the minefield, buffeted like a dinghy in choppy waters, almost submerged at times but staying above water with the help of, at times good fortune. But then what side has reached a championship final in any grade in any county without Lady Luck smiling in times of need!
Kilrea and Derry defender, Brian Og McAlary is pragmatic about the final, looking forward to the game as another challenge in Kilrea’s progression along the path to becoming a team that can challenge for honours with the best.
“We have to realise we might never get to a county final again,” explained McAlary, “It’s taken us a long time to get to a final so we have to embrace the moment, relish it, look forward and take it as a challenge that’s been offered to us.”
The defender readily admits that, no team has ever won a championship without a bit of luck.
“I don’t think you could win a championship without some luck. We’ve had bits of luck in every single game. Magherafelt, Banagher, well, I’m not sure if it was luck against Slaughtneil, but the goals just came at the perfect times. They threatened to pull away and bang, goal, and then they’re on top again and bang, another goal. Against Loup, I thought playing into that wind and rain, it was just a toss of a coin.”
Whereas Kilrea will take inspiration from what first-timers Coleraine did last year, Ballinderry will also draw inspiration from that defeat. Kilrea will believe that they can emulate Owen Roes, Ballinderry will not want to experience the same pain of defeat two years in a row.
Kilrea may be outsiders but they have the nucleus of a side that can win the title for the first time, despite the vast experience that Ballinderry bring to the party.
For certain Kilrea will have no fear of facing Ballinderry, despite their loss to the Shamrocks early in the championship run. Kilrea know how to win close games, how to battle against adversity but can they do so in the pressure cooker cauldron of two sets of fiercely partisan supporters. Can Ballinderry’s ‘older brigade’ go to the well one more time and rouse themselves for a joust with a fresh and eager Pearses?
Ballinderry are the favourites but then so were Coleraine last year. Kilrea have had Lady Luck smiling on them all season and who’s to say she will look away now!