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City clubs targeting All-Ireland final berths

St Gall’s ace Tómas Ó Ciaráin, pictured in action against Keady in the Ulster final, is a doubt along with Sean Burke for Sunday’s All-Ireland IHC semi-final clash with Oranmore-Maree in Parnell Park St Gall’s ace Tómas Ó Ciaráin, pictured in action against Keady in the Ulster final, is a doubt along with Sean Burke for Sunday’s All-Ireland IHC semi-final clash with Oranmore-Maree in Parnell Park
By Paddy Tierney

All-Ireland Intermediate Club Football semi-final
Naomh Éanna) v An Spidéal (Sunday, 2pm, Navan, Live on TG4)

NAOMH Éanna’s senior footballers are just 60 minutes away from a place in the All-Ireland final and manager Frank Fitzsimons believes it will take a fine performance from An Spidéal at Navan on Sunday to deny his men.

Having already annexed the Antrim and Ulster Intermediate titles in 2018, Naomh Éanna are two wins away from All-Ireland glory.

While the Hightown men were strongly fancied to win their county title, their surge through Ulster surprised many, but not their management team.

Wins over Doohamlet (Monaghan), Tattyreagh (Tyrone) and Mullahoran (Cavan) saw Naomh Éanna become the first Antrim team to win the Ulster Intermediate Football Championship and Fitzsimons feels that his side is progressing with every game.

“The experience I’ve had with the county teams over the years, you know talent when you see it,” said Fitzsimons.

“I’ve said to the boys before that talent alone isn’t enough, but the guys have worked so hard from the start of the year. You just knew they had something special about them and it was going to take some team to stop them.

“They beat quite a few good teams along the way. They seem to have grown with every game. After we beat Gort na Móna (in the county final), we were back training two days later.

“James McAuley, Peter and Kristian Healy, Philly Curran – those boys are all driven. They are a dogged team and they never give up and it will take a team to deliver one hell of a performance to beat them.”

Fitzsimons has every reason to feel confident in his side’s ability. Their stats from their Championship campaign will make grim reading for the An Spidéal management team.

During their seven-game Championship campaign, Naomh Éanna amassed an impressive 13 goals and 89 points – an average of just over 18 points per game.

While the likes of the Healy brothers, Eoin Nagle, Ruirai Scott and Odhran Eastwood have garnered the headlines, not to mentioned towering midfielder Joe Maskey, their defensive stats are just as compelling.

On average, they’ve conceded less than 10 points per game, while they conceded a meagre seven points in their victories over St Paul’s, Davitt’s and Moneyglass.
“They take pride in their defending,” stated Fitzsimons.
“To me, a turnover is as good as a score at the other end. You put them on the backfoot and panic can set in.

“Everyone is going to be physically fit, but it comes down to whoever makes the least mistakes.”

Fitzsimons has close to a full panel to select from ahead of Sunday’s showdown.

Midfielder, Philly Curran was a late withdrawal from the Ulster Final against Mullahoran with a thigh muscle injury, but he has resumed training in recent weeks, as has fellow midfielder Niall McKeown as he continues his comeback from a cruciate injury.

However, it is likely that Ethan Gibson will continue his partnership with Maskey at midfield with Donal Walsh, Ryan Kennedy and Ciaran O’Neill among those vying for the final starting berth.

No matter what team plays on Sunday, Fitzsimons will have every faith that his men can deliver a performance to book their place in the decider.

All-Ireland Club Intermediate Hurling semi-final
St Gall’s v Oranmore-Maree (Parnell Park, Sunday, 2pm)

ST GALL’S will bid to reach their second All-Ireland Club Intermediate Hurling final when they take on Galway kingpins Oranmore-Maree in Parnell Park on Sunday.

The Milltown Row men famously reached two All-Ireland deciders in 2010 with the hurlers losing out to St Lachtain’s of Kilkenny by 3-17 to 0-10.

Just a few weeks later, many of the club’s dual players returned to Croke Park and ended up on the right side of the result by defeating Kilmurry Ibrickane 0-13 to 1-5 in the All-Ireland Club Senior Football Championship decider.

However, their quest to reach another All-Ireland final could be undermined by injuries to two key players, namely Tómas Ó Ciaráin and Sean Burke.

St Gall’s boss, Mickey Culbert remains hopeful that both players will be available to play some part, but admits time is not in their favour.

“Tómas (Ó Ciaráin) is a great lad and is one of our best players, but he is carrying a knock,” revealed Culbert.

“He has to make a call on it as we’ve to submit a team sheet during the week.

“Approaching All-Ireland semi-finals can have miraculous powers of recovery on players. Everybody wants to play in an All-Ireland semi-final.

“At this stage, I’d say he is doubtful, but I sincerely hope he is available for selection.

“Sean Burke has been carrying injuries throughout the campaign. We’ll monitor his fitness and see how he is, but we’d be hopeful it will clear up. It is the kind of game he’d play on one leg if he could!

“They are honest enough to tell me how they are in terms of fitness. They aren’t kids, they are mature players and they’ll make that call.”

If the experienced duo are ruled out, it would be a body blow to Culbert and St Gall’s.

Throughout their Championship campaign, Ó Ciaráin has been a model of consistency while Burke, when he has been fit to play, has provided a much-need physical presence at centre-back.

Even at full strength, Culbert appreciates the size of the task facing his men.

St Gall’s were routinely favourites throughout the Antrim IHC and, as Antrim representatives, carried the burden of favouritism in their Ulster clashes with Lisbellaw, Swatragh and Keady.

For Sunday’s last four tie against the Galway side, St Gall’s are 9/2 outsiders.

With 2017 Hurler of the Year nominee and All Star Géaroid McInerney in their ranks along with fellow Galway star Niall Burke, Oranmore-Maree will provide St Gall’s with their sternest test to date.

“There’s no doubt about it, we need all our clogs clicking this weekend to get a victory,” added Culbert.

“I’d say these Galway boys will be quite confident. They’ll have their homework done on us. We need everything working for us to win on Sunday.

“We wouldn’t bother going down if we didn’t think we could win. Antrim teams don’t go down there to lie down so we’ll be doing our best. In a 60-minute game anything can happen.”

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