Derry clubs back in action as league (and spectators) gets under way
H&A Mechanical Leagues Preview
Football starved fans will chuck their money into the biscuit tin at the gate without complaint on Sunday as a degree of normality returns to the local GAA scene.
It’s going to be a strange league this season with no promotion or relegation but Derry CCC have done the right thing. How could teams like Slaughtneil, Glen, Dungiven, Ballinascreen, Newbridge and Magherafelt be expected to go into a cut throat league minus the core of their teams who are in the isolation of the county football and hurling squads.
In all divisions, teams will all be glad to return to regular football and tune up for the championship. Indeed, over the next week, some 1,200 footballers and hurlers will sample the action as between senior and reserve football, more than 70 adult teams are in action. Add in all the under age competitions, including ladies and camogie and that participation swells to around 2,500.
A former County Chairman no longer with us once quoted: “A good year is not about silverware but the number of people you have playing the games.” In a cramped season the teams will get more than 20 games which after the past 12 months is a victory in itself.
H&A Mechanical Division One
Magherafelt v Swatragh
New Swatragh manager Kevin Madden faces a stiff test with his young team at home to Magherafelt who have a have large panel of quality players. Individually Swatragh have very good players but collectively they do not gel as well as they might. Both teams will be short key men who are in the county panel but the experienced visitors’ midfield of Jarrad Monaghan and Danny Heavron should be the difference.
Eoghan Rua v Newbridge
The two Seans are now 18 seasons in charge and will be hoping to see their team improve on last year when they were not helped by long term injuries. They entertain an up and coming Newbridge. Coleraine will be without county player Ruairi Mooney but the absence of fellow county men, Padaig McGrogan and Conor Doherty, is likely to hinder the visitors even more.
Slaughtneil v Claudy
Under normal circumstances this would have been a breeze for Slaughtneil but with most of their team tied up between the Derry footballers and hurlers it will now be a more level playing field. Slaughtneil have strong resources but Claudy are with every chance of a shock.
Lavey v Bellaghy
These two former All Ireland club champions never take a backward step when they meet, no matter what is at stake. Both have an abundance of young talent coming through but they would still lag behind the likes of Slaughtneil, Glen and Magherafelt. Lavey with home advantage get the nod.
Glen v Ballinascreen
With seven players in the county squad, Glen, under the management of the excellent Malachy O’Rourke, will be using games like this to strengthen their squad for the championship. Ciaran McElroy, the former Fermanagh player, is the new man at the St. Colm’s club and both sides here will look to experiment with their line-ups.
Loup v Ballinderry
This lough shore derby should be a lively affair with Ballinderry appearing to hold all the aces. Paddy Bradley will have his Loup boys well tuned but they might not have the midfield power to overcome the Shamrocks. Both clubs have slipped down the club ladder but a victory for either would be a real confidence boost.
H&A Mechanical Division 1B
Banagher v Steelstown
This looks the best game in the division and one in which Steelstown need to lay down a marker. The city slickers have a lot of talent but have not been able to make the expected breakthrough. Banagher are tried and tested and always a handful at home. They have a lot of experience and will fancy their chances at home. Steelstown’s ace forward, Ben McCarron, will be a miss as he’s in the Derry panel but Hugh McGrath is back as manager and usually gets the best out of them.
Dungiven v Castledawson
The only two teams who play in black and white meet at O’Cahan Park. County hurling calls will weaken Dungiven but they still have a strong enough team. The O’Cahan’s were relegated back in 2019 for the first time in a generation but are working hard to get back to the big time again. A victory here would be a step in the right direction. There are no shortage of players in Dungiven and they should win.
Lissan v Drumsurn
Drumsurn showed their wellbeing with victory over Claudy in the Dr. Kerlin Cup and they will travel confidently to Tullynure. Lissan’s young squad are on the way up and this will be a good test of their credentials. In past meetings Drumsurn have held the upper hand and that trend should continue. Drumsurn have a new manager in Sean Brady installed and the Ballymaguigan native will keep them fired up!
Kilrea v Greenlough
Intermediate champions Greenlough travel to Kilrea without the services of county forward Niall Loughlin. They face a young Kilrea team bidding to get back to the upper echelons of Derry football. The ‘Lough still have Enda Lynn, their key man over the past dozen years but if they are to win, he will need support.
Glenullin v Slaughtmanus
Slaughtmanus will be first to admit they could struggle in this division. The realignment of the leagues, allied to Covid-19 curtailing last year’s programme, has left them higher than they would like. With some of their long serving players retiring, they are not as strong as in the past. Going to Glenullin with Liam Bradley back at the helm in Glenullin, a home win looks likely.
Foreglen v Faughanvale
If Oisin Quinn and Jordan Curran have recovered from the injury, the ‘Vale could be the team to fear in this division. They may need a bit more scoring power in an attack largely dependent on Paddy O’Kane and Kevin Martin but it has emerged that former Derry U21 and Doire Colmcille player Dean Curran has joined up with Faughanvale after moving to the area and that could bolster their attack big time.
Foreglen are hard to beat at home but they will do well to take something from this game. They still lean a lot on the services of stalwarts Kevin O’Connor, Mark McCormick and Oisin Duffy.
H&A Mechanical Division Two
Ardmore v Naomh Cainneach
The new team in this division is St. Canice’s, Dungiven who, like Bellaghy, now have four adult teams and they could well field one of the strongest outfits in this division. They start away to Ardmore who have a splash of youth in their ranks for this year and wth Anthony Hargan back, they look set for a big improvement. The new boys should win but in the Neal Carlin Cup this new look Ardmore team gave Magilligan a stern test.
Moneymore v Limavady
This game will be played a day earlier than the others. In 2017 these teams met in the junior final with the Wolfhounds winning comfortably. With Karl Diamond at the helm, Limavady could well top the division. Moneymore have a few good individuals but not enough of them.
Sean Dolans v Glack
Glack team will be fancied to win at Sean Dolans but in the past they’ve struggled to get the better of the Creggan men. With Odhran McKane, Dolans will always get goals, even if he has been seen at centre-half recently. Glack will be missing injured midfield ace Martin McGonigle but should have enough.
Craigbane v Doire Trasna
Craigbane have a huge injury list and with a clutch of good young players coming through, the White Rock men will need the ‘old hands’ to lead. Pearses need an injection of youth but with their new playing facilities almost complete they are an attractive proposition. This could go either way.
Ballerin v Drum
With Richard Ferris in charge, Drum will not lack fitness but the loss of several key men to emigration has seen them struggle. Ballerin have a lot of improving to do. They do have pace and good forwards in Gary Keane and Paul Ferris. Forward play is a problem for the Gortnaghey men who only managed 0-8 against Dolan’s recently. The odds favour the home team.
Desertmartin v Doire Colmcille
A long journey for the city men and no great prospect of any joy at the end of it. Still, Colmcille’s gave the St. Martin’s a stiff test in the championship last season. Desertmartin are awaiting Craigbane in the final of last year’s unfinished junior championship and will be anxious to get into a winning run, which they should on Sunday.