Glenullin will start favourites as they travel to Glack at the weekend.
SENIOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP, ROUND THREE
THIS is the last of the ‘warm up’ rounds before the knockout stages begin, so the teams will hope to be at their strongest before the real thing begins.
Eight games will take place over the Saturday and Sunday with most looking evenly balanced.
Banagher v Magherafelt
Referee: JJ Cleary
In the semi-final last year a Mark Lynch free came close to earning a draw against the eventual champions.
In their two games so far, Lynch has not figured on the Banagher team due to work commitments.
Rumour has it that he is back training with his team-mates and that will be a boost after heavy defeats from Glen and Ballinderry.
The champions had a comfortable win over Ballinderry and a three point defeat to Glen, the team they beat in last year’s final.
If they are to retain their title they will need to be more productive in attack.
They scored just 1-5 against Glen and 1-11 against a moderate Ballinderry team.
The addition of Ryan Ferris, Peter Quinn, Jack Barton, plus the return of the injured Michael McEvoy, has left the Rossas with a very strong panel, particularly in terms of defence, but they will be hoping for a better attacking return.
Banagher have not been able to repeat their form of last year when they bowled out Bellaghy and Swatragh, but if Lynch is back, they can lift their game.
They can get scores if the ball is played in quickly to the Moore brothers and Conor Feeney but, overall, the Rossas, with the deadly accurate place kicking of Shane Heavron and a strong defence, should see off what can be a stiff enough challenge by Banagher.
The Feeny men are having home advantage for the first time in three games and no doubt planning to serve up a shock.
Ballinderry v Glen
Referee Harry Tohill
Unbeaten Glen make the trip to Shamrock Park as favourites but mindful of Ballinderry’s championship pedigree.
The Shamrocks hit 4-10 against Banagher in round two with Gareth McKindless and Ryan Bell both outstanding.
Glen manager Jude Donnelly, who saw his team fall just a point short in the final last year, is working with a very strong panel.
He has brought in outfield player Connlan Bradley as his new keeper to improve on the kick-out situation and so far it has been working.
Ballinderry do not have the overall balance of past years but they do have a lot of experience and some fine individuals.
When Ryan Bell is on his game he is unstoppable. He scored 2-7 against Banagher in round two.
Ben McKinless is a fine goalkeeper and Conor Nevin a rock at full back.
However, they are not so strong on the wings and here the speed of Glen can be a deciding factor.
Alex Doherty, the Glen full forward, has been a bit off his game in the first two and if he has a good day it will spell more trouble for Ballinderry.
Former players Niall and James Conway are in charge of the Shamrock’s and they have been getting a good return from their players so far.
Glen are many people’s favourites for the title and this could prove to be another step in the right direction!
Beating Ballinderry at Shamrock Park is a test for the best.
Dungiven v Claudy
Neutral Venue 6pm Saturday
Referee: Cyril Hargan
Dungiven’s continual slide has seen the O’Cahan’s slip lower in each of the last four years and struggling to avoid relegation until it finally came at the end of last season.
A disagreement in the camp sees a number of players step aside, leaving manager Stephen O’Neill with a very inexperienced squad, but they have shown promise despite defeats by Swatragh and Ballinascreen.
Claudy gave a good account of themselves against Ballinascreen and even better against Swatragh when they held one of the ‘big guns’ to a draw.
They are now in the unusual situation where they are actually favourites to beat Dungiven!
The return of Ryan McElhinney will help Dungiven’s attack but they are somewhat lightweight in defence and lack experience.
Ironically, the Claudy manager is Emmett McKeever, younger brother of Dungiven chairman Kieran McKeever.
Claudy, beaten in the intermediate final last year, have shown a lot of spirit so far and their running game will cause problems for the young O’Cahan’s defence.
Aaron Kerrigan is deadly from frees while veteran Marty Donaghy is a real goal getter. Paddy Hargan is another useful forward.
Based on the results either had against Swatragh the more experienced Claudy will be slight favourites.
For Dungiven a first championship win in four years would be very welcome.
Newbridge v Bellaghy
Referee to be confirmed
In the past, these were the greatest rivals in Derry football but, in recent years, Newbridge would have been playing a lot of their football at intermediate level.
Both have beaten short handed Foreglen comfortably in their games to date.
Bellaghy have drawn with Loup who just edged past the ‘Bridge by a point.
That all points to a very close game now that Newbridge are on the rise again, led by Conor Doherty and the McGrogan clan.
They also have a rising star in teenager Conor McAteer who kicked 1-4 against Loup.
Bellaghy’s new manager John McKeever has loads of talent to work with and indications are that they are moving in the right direction.
They may be physically light in places and not commanding enough at midfield but it will take time and patience and they will get there.
Newbridge look to have every opportunity to get a rare victory over the ‘old enemy’ in what looks to be one of the games of the day.
Killian Conlon has taken over the ‘Bridge management role and he will be pretty pleased with the progress so far.
Michael Bateson, whose career has been dogged by injuries, is going well again in the Newbridge defence and his experience is vital with so many young players around him.
This one has all the hallmarks of a draw!
Foreglen v The Loup
Referee: Gavin Hegarty
Intermediate champions Foreglen have been finding the going tough at the higher level but it is hardly surprising considering the loss of so many players who are now on foreign shores.
On top of injuries they have lost two key defenders - Ruairi and Shane Duffy - who have transferred to a London club where they are working.
Australia and New York has also gobbled up a few more.
For the past few seasons they have had players driving from Dublin and flying from London for games but that is impossible for a small club to keep up.
They will not be expected to overcome unbeaten Loup but, at home, they will not be blown away.
Apart from the émigrés, they also had a number of injuries but they will be hoping to field stronger this time now that some of the injured are expected back.
They are strong enough at midfield through Ruairi Duffy and the imposing Mark McCormick.
Kevin O’Connor leads a young attack which is full of promise but maybe not yet ready for this level of football.
Paddy Bradley, now managing Loup, returns to familiar territory against a team he played against many times.
Anthony O’Neill, who scored 2-3 against Newbridge in the second round, is the key man in a lively attack.
In midfield, experienced ex Derry player Terence O’Brien teams up with the speedy Paddy Coney.
Behind them is a solid and experienced defence, backboned by Aidan McAlynn at centre half.
Loup will not get things their own way but their speed and team work should see them through.
Lavey v Slaughtneil
Referee: Barry Cassidy
Unbeaten Slaughtneil should keep up that form after this relatively short trip to Guladuff where they take on Lavey who have had a victory and a defeat so far.
They lost Coleraine by three and beat Kilrea by four.
Slaughtneil have beaten Eoghan Rua and Kilrea with plenty in hand despite the absence of key defender Karl McKaigue and a number of other regulars.
Slaughtneil have been breezing along.
Apart from the injured McKaigue, they have not been at full strength for either game, but could afford to bring players like ‘Sammy’ Bradley off the bench.
Shane McGuigan, their very talented full forward, has totalled 1-15 to date.
Dynamic midfielder Padraig Cassidy is struggling with a groin injury and is likely to be saved until the knock-out stages.
Antoin McMullan is back in goals after a season out with injury and Paul McNeill has recovered from a shoulder injury which kept him out all last season.
Barry McGuigan has come out of retirement while 38-year-old Francis McEldowney shows no sign of slowing up in the half back line.
Lavey have a team with plenty of pace but lack a bit of physicality in places.
Conor Mulholland is rock solid at full back while, in attack, Cailean O’Boyle and Derry player Niall Toner have been getting scores.
So far in the two games they have registered 3-13 between them.
Slaughtneil are not as likely to get it as easy as in the first two games but it will be a surprise if they do not come back with two more points.
Kilrea v Eoghan Rua
Referee: Brendan Quinn
The Coleraine team has been a bit of a conundrum in their two games so far.
They have fielded half a dozen relative newcomers leaving one to wonder if they are saving some of the more experienced men for the knockout stages.
Their clash with Declan Bradley’s young Kilrea team at Pearse Park Drumagarner might answer a few questions.
Kilrea have lost both to date but they gave an encouraging display against Lavey in their last game where they lost by 3-9 to 0-14.
In that game young Paddy Quigg scored four point from play wile the trusty left boot of James Kielt recorded eight. They look to have worries at the back having conceded five goals to date.
Liam McGoldrick has been the stand in goalie for Coleraine as he nurses a slight injury but he is likely to be outfield for this one. Some of the newcomers like Dara Mooney have shown a lot of promise. His big brother Ruairi is also expected to return shortly.
There is not likely to be a lot between them but Eoghan Rua might be stronger in the key areas. Kilrea will view it as an opportunity to get rare win over the north coast men.
Swatragh v Ballinascreen
Sunday 6.30pm, Magherafelt
Referee: Anthony Campbell
Liam’Baker’ Bradley has steered Ballinascreen to a brace of opening victories against Claudy and Dungiven but Swatragh will be a much harder proposition.
That said, a talented looking Swatragh team has yet to play to their potential.
They had an uneasy win over struggling Dungiven and were held to a draw by Claudy.
In that game it took an injury-time point from Jude McAtamney to get them a share of the spoils.
They are well represented in family terms with four McAtamney brothers and four Kearney brothers. They also have two McWilliams brothers and two Dillon brothers.
Getting the blend right will be the main focus of manager Enda McGinley, a Tyrone man with three All Ireland medals.
It will be a poignant return to football for Swatragh following the death of former player and staunch club man Roddy O’Kane.
For Ballinascreen, the loss of club sponsor Hugh McWilliams will be sorely felt. His son Carlus is a key defender on the team.
If the Davitt’s are to be considered serious challengers they need to be winning games like this but it will not be easy.
Ballinascreen have a new look team with Benny Heron and Shane Mulgrew scoring freely.
They have lost the services in the short term of the young Logan brothers through injury but so far they seem to have found able replacements.
Ballinascreen may have the edge in pace but Swatragh have big and powerful athletes from midfield up.
If Swatargh are to win they need to improve in terms of their team work in attack.
INTERMEDIATE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Glack v Glenullin
Referee: Mark O’Neill
Glack conceded their round two game to Steelstown due to the unavailability of a number of their players. They had lost their opener to Limavady after holding their on for three quarters of the game.
Glenullin suffered a heavy defeat against Steelstown but a second half resurgence against Limavady showed that they still have a lot to offer.
They have a number of players out with injuries including Diarmuid McNicholl, Neil McNicholl, Gerard O’Kane and Niall O’Kane but they will still be favourites to overcome a Glack team that is more at home in the junior ranks.
No doubt the two Chrissy Dempseys will be in action from the start this time. They added a bit more urgency into the Glenullin play when they came on against the Wolfhounds.
The Glack defence must be wary of Glenullin full forward Dermot O’Kane who scored ten second half points against Limavady.
Now that they have regained their confidence Glenullin will be favourites but Glack are a spirited outfit and with home advantage and can make it difficult for the visitors but their staying power may be a problem.
Limavady v Steelstown
Referee: Terence McGilligan
Limavady were left to ponder how they let victory slip against Glenullin. Poor marking and switches that did not work came back to haunt them.
Steelstown looked mighty impressive against Glenullin but they did not have a round two game after Glack conceded.
It should be a high scoring affair as both teams prefer the attacking game with the odds firmly stacked in favour of the city visitors. While Steelstown looked to be the real deal against Glenullin on the opening day it must be noted than Glenullin were pretty woeful!
The Wolfhounds are not short of talent but they need to slow the game down at times when they are under pressure. Oisin Hassan is a real quality player and one of the best corner forwards in intermediate football. Harry McLaughlin can match the best at midfield and goalie Oran Hartin is county quality. They struggle at the back when teams run at them. If they are to test Steelstown maybe they should go for an old fashioned sweeper.
The city slickers have top class players like Neil Forrester, Ben McCarron, Eoghan Concannon, Eoghan Bradley and Mark Foley.
They look to have a better balance to their team and will be favourites to top the group.
Greenlough v Castledawson
Bellaghy 4pm Saturday
Referee: Alan Nash
This is a clash between two of the top contenders and it will give an indication as to who has the better chance.
New ‘Dawson manager Niall Jackman seems to have installed a bit of belief in his players who have demolished the challenges from Slaughtmanus and Ballymaguigan,the two weakest teams in the group. Greenlough have also beaten this pair but not so convincingly.
For example, Castledawson beat Ballymaguigan by 19 points and Greenlough had six to spar over the loughshore men.
Joe Cassidy is back for a second spell with the Clady team but, so far, he has been unble to avail of the services of Enda Lynn who has not fully recovered from knee surgery. Lynn has been the key man for Greenlough in the past decade. This has left the scoring pressure on Niall Loughlin and he has responded well. Loughlin was badly missed during his spell in Australia
The towering Rian Connery can give the Broagh men the upper hand at midfield and get the ball through to an attack that has scored an impressive 8-28 in two games. However, they will be facing a Greenlough defence that is a lot more solid than anything they have faced so far.
Doire Trasna v Drumsurn
Referee: Peter O’Connor
Doire Trasna are a hard team to beat at Lisnagelvin as Drumsurn will find out on Sunday. Drumsurn were given the points when Lissan withdrew in round one. In round two they lost to Faughanvale by a point and they had every chance to get at least a draw.
The Waterside men will have a marked physical advantage in the central areas but the villagers will have the edge in pace. Notably, in their defeat by Faughanvale, the Trasna side started each half well scoring three points in each of these spells. In the second and fourth periods they just managed a single point and looked to be struggling. They did improve their scoring ratio when beating Lissan by 1-9 to 1-6. Next year will be a new era for the Pearses. They will be playing on their new grounds at Gobnascale and will become the last club in the county to open their own playing facilities.
They will need to be better up front to win this game. Michael McNaught and Colin Murray cannot always keep doing it on their own.
Drumsurn have Harry Foster, Pearse McNickle and Tiernan McHugh in a full forward line capable of getting goals.
Ballymaguigan v Slaughtmanus
Sunday 2-30pm at Dungiven
Referee: Dan Mullan
Both are in need of a morale boosting win after two opening defeats so it is unlikely to be classic. Ballymaguigan did put up a decent show against Greenlough but were trounced by neighbours Castledawson in round two. It was not much better for the St. Mary’s who lost to Castledawson by fifteen points and Greenlough by eleven.
If Slaughmanus are to have any advantage it is that they have two good forwards in Conor McGee and Gavin McShane. They probably have a slightly better looking subs bench as well. Both are likely to empty those benches with virtually nothing at stake.
Forty something Darren Conway has been the St.Treas best forward so far so he can expect hail of high balls. It is hard to see much separating them at the end but a win for either would be very welcome. Ballymaguigan have been missing their injured top scorer Daniel Bradley so veteran Gary Burke has been the free taker to date. A win for either would be most welcome.