The Michael Murphy Sports intermediate championship is down to the last four and the cream has come to the top.
Both semi-finals are being played on Sunday - at Fintra and O’Donnell Park - at 1 pm and 1.45 respectively.
This week Gerry McLaughlin spoke to the four managers to get updates on injuries and hopes for the two games.
Aodh Ruadh v Naomh Columba
Fintra, Sunday 1 pm
Aodh Ruadh manager Barry Ward has perhaps best summed up this year’s Intermediate semi-finalists by stating that his club had no particular preference for meeting any of the remaining contenders.
For while most pundits have predicted a Cloguhaneely and Aodh Ruadh final, Ward believes that the difference between any one of the four teams is wafer thin.
And he points to the high quality scores in the quarter-finals and the quality of the fare as evidence of just how tight the closing stages could be.
His own Aodh Ruadh powered past Naomh Muire in the second half after playing into a strong breeze in the opening half, a display that generally pleased their boss who says that injured full-back Sean Taylor is not ruled out for this weekend’s crunch clash with the Aaron Doherty inspired Naomh Columba.
Taylor went off injured in an earlier thriller against many people’s favourites Cloughaneely and that had a considerable bearing on the outcome.
“Yeah it did and we also lost David Dolan and that was a big blow to us as well.”
Turning to the quarter-final on Saturday last, Ward said that giving away a soft goal into the breeze meant they trailed by two points at the break.
“But we got going well in the second half and kicked over a few points and were very happy with the second half display”.
Opponents Naomh Columba and Aodh Ruadh are capable of playing attractive attacking football, but the quality will not unduly concern the pragmatic Ward.
“When you get to any semi-final it is always about getting over the line, how you get over that line it does not matter.
“Weather can affect it too and there is a lot of other factors.”
Ward admitted that Aaron Doherty will be a major threat to Aodh Ruadh but they also have some “other good forwards who will also take some watching.”
“You can’t just concentrate on one guy, they are a good footballing outfit and we will be keeping an eye on them all”.
Injury wise he said that they “were not ruling out anyone”.
He added: “The appeal of a county semi-final is a great motivation for any player”.
Barry admitted that the loss of Taylor and Dolan were huge loss in their eventual defeat to Cloughaneely in an entertaining tussle in Ballyshannon.
“It is great to have David back and we also have David McGurrin, so he is in Limerick and he is travelling up and down and he is a great addition to have and a fantastic footballer.
“Philip Patton has been exceptional all year and has knocked up some great scores with his right and left foot and his work rate has also improved immensely.”
Aodh Ruadh are also expected to have Johnny Gallagher back this week as he missed out last week due to illness. They have been very close to winning the county championship in the past few years, losing to Glenfin in the final two years ago and just edged out after a marathon affair with Cloughaneely last year.
“We are not too far away, and the top four got through and there will be very little between the teams in these Intermediate semi-finals.”
“People were asking which team would you rather get, but each team will bring their difficulties.
“I was not too concerned who we were meeting and you saw the huge score Buncrana put up at the weekend.
“We have to make sure we are ready, and you can win any game and that is the way we are going into it and on the day we will be ready for it.”
Meanwhile Naomh Columba manager Pauric O’Donnell is glad to welcome back his inspirational team captain Michael Maguire for Sunday’s big clash with Aodh Ruadh.
Michael was unable to tog out in their victory over Malin as his father-in-law had just passed away.
But the good news for Glen is that he will be back at the heart of the defence.
“Michael will be back and was unable to be there due to a sad family bereavement.
“But he is very important, our team captain and a great leader and we are glad to have him back.”
But he is under no illusions about what to expect from Aodh Ruadh.
“We know what to expect from Aodh Ruadh and they probably are the best footballing team in the competition.
“Cloughaneely are a good team too, probably more physical than Aodh Ruadh.
“Aodh Ruadh are very quick and have great ball skills and some very good footballers and we will have to be at our best to stay with them.”
The game is in Fintra, a venue that will suit Naomh Columba.
“It will suit us this time, but the last time we played Aodh Ruadh in a semi-final it was in Tirconaill Park, Donegal Town”.
Once again Glen will be looking to the very gifted Aaron Doherty who has really stepped up his game this season.
“He is a good lad, and everyone knows the talent he has and we are just trying to make sure that he gets as much help as possible and we are not putting too much pressure on him as he is still only very young.
“Aaron is just coming 21 but he has been making the headlines for a good while at this stage and we are lucky to have him.”
He added: “Aaron is enjoying his club football at the moment”.
Other than that, Glen will be hoping against hope that the powerful Ryan and Philip McNern will be able to start as they were out injured last week.
“This has been a tough physical championship, so you always pick up knocks but we do have Kevin McNern who is a strong athletic player.”
When asked to assess Aodh Ruadh, he said they had threats coming from all over the team.
“It’s from all over the field, a top-class goalie in Peter Boyle who is very good from kick-outs and they have powerful players like Eamonn McGrath and David Dolan around the middle.
“And,as a unit, they probably have the six best forwards in the competition with all of them capable of scoring and that is the biggest threat they will bring to us.”
But Glen have scoring threats in Ryan Gillespie and Lanty Molloy has been finding the target regularly.
“They are still fairly young, but we have a very experienced goalie in Gerry McGill, and we are lucky to have him.
“He came back last year, and he had forgotten what it was like to be playing for Glen and he wanted to give it one last go.
“We will keep him as long as we can”.
Verdict: If Aodh Ruadh can curtail AaronDoherty then I give them the vote
Cloughaneely v Buncrana
O’Donnell Park, Sunday, 1.45 pm
Cloughaneely had very little respite between their marathon semi-final clash with Aodh Ruadh and the county final against St Naul’s last year.
Some felt it was unfair on Michael Lynch’s boys, but while there is a bit of a sense of unfinished business, it is by no means the overriding factor.
“Yes, there is a sense of righting a wrong but St Naul’s were worthy winners and proved that in this year’s (senior) championship and we are very aware of the huge task we face against Buncrana.
“People are saying we are favourites and maybe that is understandable but Buncrana have won all their group matches and they have been racking up huge scores.
“Darach O’Connor scored 3-5 against Fanad Gaels and he scored three goals in the previous game and they are a big strong youthful side who will present a major threat.
“Then everyone knew Glen and Aodh Ruadh were also threats and maybe the beaten finalists are always favourites”.
He added: “There is nothing between the four teams and it would be a very brave man who would guess who will be in the final.
“It will be all on the day”.
Cloughaneely have already had a big win away over Aodh Ruadh in the group stages which stands them in good stead.
But they will be very wary the scoring threat of O’Connor and his physically powerful comrades who are good at winning possession.
“Jigger has been very unlucky with injuries, but he has always had the potential to put up big scores.
“Bruce Waldron is a very good centre back and Caolan McGonagle, Jack O’Loughlin and John Campbell are also powerful figures and then you have runners like Jigger and Oisin Hegarty coming off at their shoulders.
“Odhran Doherty is a great scorer for them still.”
Cloughaneely have great physique too with the Maguires, Darren McGeever, Kevin Mulhern, the returning county star Jason McGee and scoring full-forward Paul Sweeney.
“Paul took a knock at the weekend, so we are kind of sweating on him and Jason McGee is not able for 60 minutes just yet.
“Jason got two points and that was his first big game and he is finding his way back and he might be good for 20 minutes.
“He is a great player but they have Caolan McGonagle who is a powerful player for Buncrana.
“The Maguires are still big players and John Fitzgerald is a good man to get scores and we do have good forwards.”
So can Cloughaneely win?
“You would like to think so and if you did not think you could beat them then you would not be going out at all.
“It will be a very close game and that is for sure”.
Meanwhile it is all systems go for new Buncrana manager Gary Duffy.
He is enjoying a new lease of life back among his own and his very happy with the attitude of this essentially young team.
“We are playing fluent football and creating scoring opportunities and ‘Jigger’ is certainly making the most of those chances.
“He is in form and has really knuckled down and is fully focused on the club this year and is injury free after being hit by some really lengthy niggling injuries in recent years.
“He is getting back up to championship pace and Darach O’Connor is one of those lads who just wants to get better”.
So is he not too far off the county squad?
“That has been mooted around the Scarvey all right and he does get a lot of attention and focus and he has to deal with that too which can be challenging.
“But his focus is solely on his club and the championship and whatever comes out of that Darach will be happy to step up to that as well.”
He added: “The Covid was a nasty virus but it was helpful to Darach, as he needed the break to recover and rest.
“We believed that it helped him a lot both physically and mentally to get back to doing what he is good at”.
Gary has a lot of power and pace in his side as well.
“Physicality won’t beat Buncrana as we are a pretty strong side.
“A few years ago we fell into junior football but we are not just happy to win a junior title, we want to put a lot of wrongs right and work hard for it.
“They are a team that is working hard, willing to learn and very keen to go on to the next level.
“And we have a lot of leaders”.
Buncrana also have a very good hurling team with some outstanding dual players like Jack O’Loughlin in particular.
“Tom Clare, the hurling manager and I have a very good understanding.
“We have the fitness with the football and the stickwork with the hurling and it is a good mix that is working well, and it builds up the spirit of the club.
“So far so good.”
Opponents, Cloughaneely are a “top team and beat us in the final in 2014 and they have quite a few of that side still around.”
“They are favourites, but we are going to relish playing them and apart from John Fitzgerald for scores, they have a lot of physical power and experience.
“There are a few minors that I worked with like Kevin Coyle and Sean Curran who are very promising.
“They have some good young players and Jason McGee came back and he turned the screw for Cloughaneely against Red Hughs so he will be a major threat too.
“It could be a big battle between himself and Caolan McGonagle in midfield.”
So, can Buncrana pull off a “shock.”
“If we perform to the best of our ability we will not be far away.
“There is a great atmosphere and positivity and things are going very well and nothing gives you greater pleasure than managing your own club.”
Verdict: The last time Cloughaneely won the Intermediate title was in 2014 and they beat Buncrana and should advance by a few points to spare.
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