With two groups providing the four Masonite Senior Championship Semi-Finalists this year, youd be forgiven for thinking that old friends are best, particularly when you recall that all four teams have a history with each other in the recent past. Champions Glencar/ Manorhamilton went within a point of dumping Melvin Gaels out of this years competition in the Group stages while Bornacoola had a two point win over Carrigallen in their first game.
With so many predicting a first ever all-north Leitrim final, both Bornacoola and Carrigallen will, for various reasons, be quietly confident of spoiling that scenario.
And it is previous championship encounters that will inform most of the debate about the semi-finals.
Glencar/Manor swamped Bornacoola to lift the title last year while Carrigallen staged a spectacular recovery in 2007, coming from five points down in the last quarter to sneak a 1-9 to 1-8 victory against the Gaels.
Carrigallen are desperate to reach their Senior Final since 1992 but so are the Kinlough men who havent been in the Senior Final for quite a while also, having lost the 2002 to Allen Gaels.
It is different for Glencar/ Manor and Bornacoola – the north Leitrim men are driven to become the first team since Allen Gaels to retain the Fenagh Cup yet they will be all too aware of the attrition rate of defending champions since then.
The Champions will also take note of the fact that the Bornacoola are more than capable of avenging last years heavy defeat, that revenge and redemption are powerful motivations.
Both Melvin Gaels and Bornacoola have over-come steep obstacles this year, suffering morale sapping losses before turning in tours-de-force in the quarter-finals, so much so that both are heavily favoured for the semi-finals.
But anybody who starts dreaming of the Final, before they are actually in it, is in line for a rude awakening in what promises to be two very tight semi-finals. Below we take a look at the Semi-Finals:
Glencar/Manorhamilton v Bornacoola
As a repeat of last years Final, this game needs no introduction as Bornacoola could gain a measure of revenge for their loss last October. Glencar/Manor may believe that they have the indian sign over Bornacoola but there will also be a good deal of wariness there as they are just one step from defending their crown.
The Champions have been quite impressive so far, over-coming some teams with ease and others with a good deal more difficulty but they have done what nobody else left in the championship has done – they have won all their games.
Many might expect that from champions but the Manor men have undergone a radical over-haul this season with Shane Sweeney, Paddy Maguire, Colin Ryan, Aaron Hickey and Brian McDonald all coming in to cement places in the starting line-up.
The new blood has settled in seamlessly and, perhaps, made the team even better. James Glancy & Adrian Croal are garnering most of the attention for their excellent attacking play but Glencar/Manor possess the tightest defence of the four teams still in action, conceding just 2-19 or just over eight points a game so far.
They will naturally be concerned over the status of Adrian O’Flynn who had to go off in the quarter-final. Manor rely on the County player to hold their centre together and provide the leadership in the defence.
Midfield will also be an area of concern for Manor as Bornacoola, with Michael Duignan, Colm Farrell and David O’Connor, are quite strong in that area and they will need Fintan McGourty and Darren Sweeney to step up quite a bit.
Bornacoola will be quite happy coming in under the radar but the manner of their performance against Mohill has definitely raised their profile. The Bors tore into Mohill and had four points on the board before Mohill knew what hit them and they will be looking to repeat that sort of start next weekend.
Where Bornacoola do enjoy a clear advantage is in physical dimensions – there are few teams with their size in all areas of the field and they demonstrated that quite effectively against a smaller Carrigallen earlier in the campaign. Glencar/Manor are not as light but the south Leitrim side would appear to have an advantage.
Michael Duignan remains the key figure – his leadership in the quarter-final was outstanding and his absence from the team against Aughnasheelin illustrates just how much he brings to the table. Duignan again shoulders the burden of leadership but the continuing emergence of David O’Connor will lift that load.
Some will claim that O’Connor takes too much out of the ball but he is capable of delivering in pressure situations and Manor will be onÓguard against his powerful runs from deep.
Brian Conroy, Philip Howard & Mark McCloskey make up a potent full-forward line, second with Carrigallen behind Glencar/ Manorhamilton in the Scóring charts. But the Bors also have conceded the most o the four teams left in the championship, an average of 11.33 points, surely an area of concern for the Bors.
Semi-Finals are notoriously cagey affairs as both teams can see the big prize just in front of them. Both these teams have potent forward lines but it tends to be defences that win championships, so Glencar/ ManorhamiltonÓget the vote.
Carrigallen v Melvin Gaels
Last year’s League Champions Melvin Gaels may be everyone’s favourites for this semi-final but nobody in the Kinlough club will need reminding of the danger posed to their dreams by a young Carrigallen team brimming with talent and the ability to knock highly fancied teams from their perch.
Back in 2007, Melvin Gaels were five points clear midway through the second half and well in control before a stunning Carrigallen come-back saw Enda Lyons convert a fifty deep into injury time to seal a sensational victory.
And earlier that year, Carrigallen defeated reigning champions Mohill in an epic encounter where they displayed their ability to win a shoot-out as well as grind out games.
A Semi-Final appearance, their second in two years, is a sign of great progress but there is a fierce ambition in Carrigallen to go much further, not to be content with just playing in semi-finals. And they showed against Dromahair in the Division Two League Final, they are more than capable of puncturing anyone’s dreams.
Much will depend on the availability of Noel Doonan and David Flynn – Flynn is awaiting to see if he will be suspended after his straight red card against Annaduff while Doonan only saw action for the last six minutes of the quarter-final. Both are key men for Carrigallen and it would be hard to see them advancing without at least one of them playing a key role in the semi-final.
Just as important is the form of Andrew McManus who incredible work-rate and drive marks him out at the heart-beat of this team. Stopping McManus will be crucial to Melvin Gaels game-plan and they would appear to have the system to do so, suffocating Kiltubrid in the quarter-finals, but the wily Carrigallen man won’t be easy held.
Carrigallen will also need a big performance from Gary Reynolds and Ciaran Flynn – the County man is the one player with the ability to drive through the heart of the Kinlough rearguard while the mercurial Flynn can score from anywhere, when on form.
That Melvin Gaels rearguard will be anxious to have James Phelan back in their midst – the former County stalwart was forced out of the win over Kiltubrid due to injury and although Melvin Gaels coped well, Fabian McMorrow moving to full-back, they would be far happier to have Phelan leading them.
The switch of Paul Brennan and Paul Og Ferguson to defence has tightened up their rearguard considerably as their added pace give the Gaels an extra edge. With the high energy defensive game they play, almost in the style of Tyrone’s famed “blanket defence”, the Gaels will be determined to keep the game tight and close, relying on their experience and know-how to get them through.
The Gaels will also be happy with the impact made by veteran subs Gareth Foley and Martin McCarron who helped steady the ship against Kiltubrid.
In attack, Daniel Branley remains the primary outlet for the Gaels as his pace and height make him a great target man.
However, Branley, who suffered a late injury against Kiltubrid, will need greater support as the Gaels rely on their ability to get up in support quickly as the primary attacking route, something made possible by the energy of Conor Sheridan, Paul McGurrin and Colin Regan.
The Gaels have the best goal-Scóring record for the four remaining teams but they also have the worst Scóring difference, so they wont be taking anything for granted in terms of relying onÓgoals to get through.
It is hard to know how this game will go – their semi-final win has seen many opt for Melvin Gaels but they only killed off Kiltubrid with 1-1 in the injury time. And the Gaels wont forget just how close they came to going out of the competition after their first two games.
Carrigallen showed just as much spirit to recover from a five point halftime deficit against Annaduff and when CarrigallenÓget on a role, few teams are able to stop them. Melvin Gaels wont make it easy for Carrigallen to get on that roll and it will come down to who holds their nerves in the final minutes.
It may seem like hedging one bets but Melvin Gaels get the nod but one would not be surprised if it went the other way!
This full report is available thanks to John Connolly and the Leitrim Observer
– its available in this weeks
03-Sep-09 by LeitrimObserver.ie