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Joe Kernan has plenty in reserve to counter Connacht strike threat in final showdown

By John Campbell

Two of the best full-backs in Ulster are hopeful of enhancing their status in tomorrow's inter-provincial football championship final against Connacht at Tuam Stadium (2.30pm).

Yet there is no guarantee that Tyrone strongman Conor Clarke or Cavan's tenacious Rory Dunne will get game time against John Tobin's side.

That's because Ulster boss Joe Kernan appears to have an embarrassment of defensive riches – something he feels he will need, too, given the quality of finishing which Connacht displayed in beating Munster in their semi-final last Sunday.

Clarke was outstanding for Tyrone in their Allianz League victory over Mayo before sitting out Wednesday's Power NI Dr McKenna Cup final while Dunne played a major role in shackling the Red Hands attack for two-thirds of that contest.

Donegal's Neil McGee looks certain to retain the full-back berth in an Ulster side which embodies defensive resolve and considerable flair up front where Michael Murphy, Conor McManus and the very much in-form Eugene Keating are again expected to make their mark.

Keating scored six points from play against Connacht and followed this up with another spectacular flourish of scoring for Cavan against Tyrone in midweek, launching some majestic points from the most acute angles.

Kernan's desire to see Ulster make it a third inter-provincial title on the trot is palpable and he is hoping that his UUJ quartet – Colin Walshe, Mattie Donnelly, Ronan O'Neill and Chrissy McKaigue – report unscathed for duty following their exertions in the Sigerson Cup.

"It's very encouraging that we have options in defence in particular," observes Kernan.

"Connacht have forwards like Kevin McLoughlin and Seanie Armstrong who are well capable of doing damage if they get any sort of decent possession.

"We need to be as tight as we can because these players have shown that they can hurt you even on limited possession."

Mark Poland, so impressive for Down in their recent National League win over Armagh in which he grabbed two important goals, was given the role of playmaker in the semi-final and is likely to orchestrate matters again.

Poland and James Kielt will carry a big threat in the half-forward line although they will certainly be asked to carry out defensive duties in order to curb Connacht's penchant for breaking quickly from deep.

"Connacht have shown themselves to be very hard-working but that's not a surprise.

"I know their manager John Tobin and he has the knack of being able to get the best out of players so that means we are in for a tough test.

"But I still feel we have the players, the attitude and the confidence that can help to take us to victory," insists Kernan.

* DANSKE Bank MacRory Cup holders St Pat's Maghera sent out a warning that they are in no mood to relinquish their title after seeing off the challenge of St Macartan's Monaghan, 3-7 to 2-4, at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh last night.

The champions led 1-4 to 1-2 at the end of a scrappy first half.

MacCormack Cup winners St Macartan's opened the scoring through David McAlister before Maghera levelled matters with a Paul McAtamney free.

In the 12th minute St Macartan's were awarded a penalty when McAlister was fouled and Conor McCarthy converted.

Peter Hagan and Conor Convery helped close the gap to the minimum.

Aodh Curran lifted the siege for St Macartan's with a well taken point but it was Maghera who finished the half the stronger.

With it slipping into injury time a shot for a point from Paul Gunning eluded keeper Caolan McGee and sailed all the way to the net.

Danny Tallon then followed that up with a successful "45" to give the holders a fortunate two point interval advantage.

Whatever was said to Maghera at half time certainly had the desired affect as they dominated the second period.

Tallon and Paul McAtamney tagged on points before Gunning scored a superb goal.

The Monaghan lads lost two players to black card offences before Tallon ended the game as a contest when he scored a penalty.

St Macartan's got a late goal via Daithi Colton but it was only a consolation at that stage.

FIXTURES: Tonight: Sigerson Cup Final: UUJ v UCC (The Dub, 6.45pm)

Tomorrow: Inter-Provincial Football Championship Final: Connacht v Ulster (Tuam Stadium, 2.30pm).

Allianz Hurling League (All games at 2.00pm): Division 1B: Limerick v Antrim (Gaelic Grounds, Limerick); Division 2A: Westmeath v Derry (Cusack Park, Mullingar); Division 2B: Down v Wicklow (Ballycran); Fingal v Armagh (Swords); Division 3A: Fermanagh v Louth (Brewster Park, Enniskillen); Roscommon v Monaghan (Athleague); Longford v Donegal (Pearse Park, Longford).

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