Glen and Rossa set for surprise duel
No county football championship in Ulster has created quite the same impact, fervour or intrigue as the Derry flagship competition.
As it has unfurled, shock results and sporting romance have gone hand in hand all along the route to the stage where O'Donovan Rossa, Magherafelt and Glen, with their headquarters on the outskirts of neighbouring Maghera, are poised to do battle in the final.
If both teams have more than deserved their share of the spotlight over the past month, then Glen soared to a new peak yesterday when they conquered fancied Slaughtneil by 3-7 to 1-11 in a pulsating semi-final in front of 6,095 fans at an emotionally charged Owenbeg.
In a team of heroes, Glen trio Jack Doherty, Cathal Mulholland and Emmett Bradley hit the Slaughtneil net, Alex Doherty stood tall by sweeping over two majestic points while the side as a whole shared in closing out the game in a briskly efficient manner.
Ronan Bradley pilfered Slaughtneil's goal and both Christopher Bradley and Cormac O'Doherty strove desperately to keep the side in contention, but Glen were imbued with hitherto unimagined belief on this occasion and were not to be denied their place in the sun.
If Slaughtneil's demise came as something of a shock to the system, then the spirited Championship surge by O'Donovan Rossa, Magherafelt has been akin to a bolt from the blue.
Having terminated the title ambitions of Bellaghy and Swatragh - this in the role of red-hot underdogs too - the Rossa outfit were expected to find fellow surprise packet Banagher a bridge too far in the first of the semi-finals but instead they showed tremendous resolve in chiselling out a 1-10 to 1-9 victory.
A Conor Kearns goal helped to cement the Magherafelt team's 1-9 to 1-4 interval advantage with Niall Moore registering Banagher's goal but in the second-half it was the north Derry outfit who exerted a stronger grip on proceedings.
They hit five points with Mark Lynch (2), Tiernan Moore, Shane Murphy and Ryan Feeney all on target and looked as if they might squeeze past their opponents but Shane Heavron added his sixth point to ease O'Donovan Rossa over the line.