| 3.8°C Belfast

Calling the shots


Jerome Johnston

Jerome Johnston

�INPHO/Matt Mackey

Jerome Johnston


KILCOO (Down) v NAOMH CONAILL (Donegal) (Tomorrow, Healy Park, 2.00pm)

Now, now, now. Whatever happens on Sunday, the scenes will be something else.

Will it be Kilcoo, who have treated this past decade as some ultimate crusade to sit atop of the Ulster pile, this little outcrop of land in the Mournes?

Or can Naomh Conaill of Glenties manage it, 14 years on from their very-first Donegal Championship?

The fact that there will be first-time winners will add a great deal to the occasion. Within their own confines, Naomh Conaill had three attempts at knocking Gaoth Dobhair off not only their Donegal perch, but that of Ulster as well.

That leaves a team battle-hardened and, despite their little wobble against Castlerahan, brought on by severe fatigue, they sailed through that test a couple of days after finally getting past Gaoth Dobhair.

They delivered a much more complete performance against Clontibret in the semi-final. The Monaghan men were frustrated that they could not put their stamp on that game, but the truth is that the Naomh Conaill game plan never let them come up for air. In the end, they didn't even need a man-marking job on Conor McManus, concentrating instead on starving the supply of ball inside.

And that's their secret. Well, it's really no secret at all; they have been playing this way since 2005 and their first title, coached at the time by Jim McGuinness.

Both sides will play plenty of numbers back, and try to force the turnover. Glenties gain something in the region of 40% of their scores from frees, so discipline in the tackle is key for Kilcoo. The deciding factor will be how they manage their transitions. Kilcoo will like to find Conor Laverty and Jerome Johnston in space before running up in support. In order to frustrate that, Naomh Conaill repeatedly fouled high up the field so that they could set up their defensive wall, which has kept clean sheets in their last five Championship games.

If referee Sean Hurson is wary of this and punishes with a few yellow cards, then the game could open up. Naomh Conaill have a more athletic midfield, with Ciaran Thompson and Leo McLoone, and further ahead have spritely forwards in Eoghan McGettigan and Brendan McDyer.

The suspicion is that they might have too much for Kilcoo.

VERDICT: Naomh Conaill


GALBALLY (Tyrone) v MAGHERACLOONE (Monaghan) (Today, Athletic Grounds, 7.00pm)

Galbally's manager John Moylan put it in the starkest terms this week when he considered the prospect of today's Intermediate final.

Simply put, Magheracloone will be the strongest side they have faced all year. The Monaghan men had been operating at senior level for over two decades when relegation hit them in 2018. The year before, they had actually been in the senior county final.

In being able to bring Tommy Freeman back at 38, but still in magnificent shape, they have an added attacking thrust.

Galbally have been brewing a successful underage team into a successful senior team, and have been working hard under Moylan, and the teams' strength and conditioning work has been handled by Aidan McCarron.

It might be a bridge too far.

VERDICT: Magheracloone


MEATH v ANTRIM (Today, Navan, 2.00pm)

The Darren Gleeson era begins in Antrim hurling as the former All-Ireland winning goalkeeper takes charge of the Saffrons for their first competitive game.

Antrim will take part in both the Kehoe and Conor McGurk Cups in an effort to give as many squad members game time ahead of the National League campaign. For a county that has always struggled to get many competitive games without travelling significant distances, it is a clever move by Gleeson.

The Dunloy players have only hooked up with the panel in the last week, and they have only dipped their toes into strength and conditioning work. The result is irrelevant, behind getting players active again.



ARMAGH v LONGFORD (Tomorrow, Clones Peace Link, 2.30pm)

Padraig O'Connor's side get up and running for the year.

They had a strong showing in a difficult Division 3A last year, missing out on promotion with a league final loss to Roscommon, and will have designs of getting up this time round. Longford were operating a division lower in 2019 but will be joining Armagh in 3A after beating Sligo in the league decider.

Armagh may just be a little better prepared at this stage of the year.


Belfast Telegraph