Ulster Club Championship: Rooney and Mac in a duel for glory
Two players who have experienced rather contrasting fortunes to date this year, are set to have a considerable input into what is being billed as the most attractive Club Championship fixture in Ulster for many years on Sunday.
While Burren’s Declan Rooney played a key role in Down’s dynamic renaissance under James McCartan, Crossmaglen Rangers’ strongman David McKenna saw his season blighted by injury.
But when the duo go head-to-head at Casement Park in a bid to bring their team into a provincial final meeting with either Naomh Conall or Coalisland, it will be very much a case of a level playing field.
Former Down skipper Rooney who has served a term at full-back with his county before being converted into a dynamic wing-back by ‘Wee James’ this year, lines out at midfield for Burren and its in this capacity that he will confront the considerable bulk of the rangy McKenna.
It is an accepted fact that major matches — indeed most matches – are won and lost in midfield. Primary possession tends to be paramount in the creation of scores and that’s why Rooney and McKenna will find themselves in pivotal roles.
Rooney is in no doubt that Crossmaglen will provide Burren with their biggest challenge for a long, long time.
“We knew we had it in us to get a win over Coleraine in the quarter-final but now we are looking for an even bigger win.,” says Rooney.
“They come no better than Crossmaglen, that’s for sure. We were maybe fitter than Coleraine but we know that on Sunday we are up against a side who are experts at grinding out results even when the pressure is on.”
It’s an assessment that will brook no argument in the Burren camp. While manager Frank Dawson was pleased with his team’s performance against Coleraine, he knows better than anyone that the defensive nous of Daniel McCartan and Kevin McKernan; Rooney’s combative midfield qualities and the scoring thrusts of Eamon McGovern, Sean Murdock and Eamon Toner will be essential ingredients if victory is to be achieved.
“This team has set their stall out to do the best they can and it is a case of so far so good. No team will admit that they actually relish going in against Crossmaglen
Rangers but we are certainly delighted to be playing club championship football in November. I think the players will respond to this challenge in the best possible way,” insists Dawson.
And while Rooney and his colleagues get primed for battle, McKenna will carry an added burden of responsibility at midfield for Rangers now that his usual partner Johnny Hanratty misses the match through suspension.
But the tall, lean McKenna is unfazed by the task ahead of him – indeed, he is looking forward to it.
“I have had a couple of injuries this year but it’s a great feeling to be going into an Ulster semi-final. Having said that, we could hardly ask for tougher opponents than Burren. They have come through strongly this year and will take big support to Casement Park,” says McKenna.
He will be surrounded by old hands such as Paul Hearty, Aaron Kernan, Francie Bellew, John McEntee and Oisin McConville and exuberant youngsters like David O’Callaghan, Kyle Carragher, Stephen Finnegan and James Morgan in a team that has blossomed under joint-bosses Tony McEntee and Gareth O’Neill.
In overcoming reigning Ulster and All-Ireland champions in the quarter-finals, Rangers left no one in any doubt that an eighth provincial crown in 13 years tops their shopping list right now.
And McKenna believes that, even though they will be without both Hanratty and the enigmatic Jamie Clarke on Sunday, this is still very much within their compass.