Ulster Club Championship: Title contenders warming to their task
A week is a long time in politics — but it can become a mini-eternity in a sporting context when a team is primed for battle only to have to retreat into the trenches.
Crossmaglen Rangers joint manager Tony McEntee admits that his side were fired up to face Donegal champions Naomh Conaill in the Ulster Club football final last Sunday only to discover 24 hours prior to throw-in time that the arctic weather had ruled out the tie.
“We were up for it, there’s no doubt about that,” says McEntee. “But we have spent this week keeping the players on their toes now that the game has been re-scheduled for this coming Sunday although in the current weather conditions this is not easy. There are limitations on what you can do in this arctic climate.”
McEntee’s thinking ahead of what Ulster Council officials are hoping will prove a final well worth the wait — assuming the St Tiernach’s, Clones pitch is playable, that is — is shared by Naomh Conaill boss Cathal Corey.
The Tyrone native resolutely believes that, if anything, his team’s appetite for success has become even sharper since last Sunday’s postponement.
“The players really believe that they can do it and they are not letting the postponement affect them. I said prior to last Sunday that we had been underdogs in virtually all our matches in the Donegal and Ulster championships to
date but that this would prove the spur for us. That still holds good. The mood throughout this week so far has been very upbeat, there has been no sense of frustration or annoyance,” says Corey.
While the Kildress man has unexpectedly been afforded extra time to nurture his team’s morale, he knows that players like Dermot ‘Brick’ Walsh, Leo McLoone and Anthony Thompson can spearhead the drive for victory over a Rangers side that Corey claims have “seen and done it all.”
Walsh in particular has been hitting the high spots with the side while McLoone’s versatility — he is at home either in midfield or attack — could prove a potent weapon against the Armagh champions who have rich selection options at their disposal.
Veteran John McEntee was deployed as a sub against St Gall’s and Burren and now craves a starting place, Jamie Clarke is returning from suspension, sharpshooter Oisin McConville is displaying greater accuracy than ever and Aaron Kernan is marshalling a defence noted for its frugality.
David McKenna will carry a big burden of responsibility in midfield for Rangers while Stephen Kernan’s head-to-head with Thompson could have a big bearing on the outcome.
Kernan is the axis around which Crossmaglen’s attacking strategy revolves and his passing and finishing could prove vital to his side. His brother Tony is in the full-forward line while a fourth member of the clan, Paul, will be at full-back.
Naomh Conaill are contesting their first Ulster Club final but they have the backing of the whole of Donegal in their bid to bring home the provincial trophy. Manager Corey agrees that the level of support his team receives could boost their chances of victory.
“We are going into what for us is fresh territory. Crossmaglen Rangers are well used to finals, they know the ropes. But I like to think that the experience which my players have gained during this Ulster Club Championship to date will stand to them.
“It will be a massive challenge for them but I am keeping my fingers crossed that the match will go ahead – after that, it’s a case of may the best team win,” says Corey.