Derry duo bring a breath of fresh air to final four dates
The Derry senior football championship has suddenly acquired enhanced status as two particularly attractive semi-finals loom on the horizon next weekend.
Shock victories for Lavey and Ballinsacreen in the quarter-finals have added a fresh dimension to the competition and county board officials are predicting that the last four double-bill will prove a magnet for fans.
"We had some tremendous action in the quarter-finals last weekend and the stage is set for what we feel will be a bumper semi-finals package," declares chairman John Keenan.
"We would anticipate huge crowds and I think the standard of play in the championship to date underlines the desire of players to see Derry pride regained on the Ulster stage."
In overcoming Glenullin (2-14 to 2-12) in their clash, Lavey rapped out a defiant message that they are no longer in the doldrums and will now confront reigning champions Ballinderry in the semi-finals.
But if Lavey hit the high spots, then Ballinascreen turned the formbook on its head by the confident manner in which they destroyed a fancied Dungiven side, coming out on top by a score of 3-11 to 0-7.
If the match was a red-letter day for the team, it brought particular satisfaction for key forward Benny Heron.
Heron was in the Derry side that lost to Down in the Ulster championship earlier this year and subsequently had his summer disrupted by injury but he is now back to his best form as was evidenced by the 2-2 which he registered to send Dungiven hurtling into oblivion.
The quiet-spoken, unassuming Heron is taking nothing for granted as Balliinascreen now prepare to meet Coleraine Eoghan Rua who won the county senior title for the first time three years ago.
"We are every focused on the county title," confirms Herron, "While it was extremely satisfying to get past Dungiven, who appeared to have been strongly fancied going into the game, we know that Coleraine already have experience of winning the title and won't be fazed by having to confront us."
Heron's stunning opportunism allied to the marksmanship of Eunan Murray, Seamus Bradley and Kieran Conway proved instrumental in Ballinascreen's win over Dungiven.
"But we can't take anything for granted going in against Coleraine," warns Heron, "They will be ready for us although we are very focussed on our own game."
Derry manager Brian McIver is continuing his trawl for fresh talent and certainly found plenty of encouraging features in the various quarter-final ties.
Derry, of course, will play their football in Division One next season and McIver is anxious to have the strongest possible pool of players available to him as he prepares to bring even more significant success to a county which has to go back to 1998 for its last Ulster title.
County PRO Dermot McPeake says: "There would appear to be a new spirit of optimism within Derry and certainly Brian McIver's penchant for unearthing new talent suggests that the future could be very bright."