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Naomh Éanna eyeing another Ulster title against familiar foes

Joe Maskey’s expected battle with Damien Casey could have a huge bearing on Saturday’s final Joe Maskey’s expected battle with Damien Casey could have a huge bearing on Saturday’s final
By David Mohan

IT is a rarity for teams who have already met in their domestic league will end up contesting provincial final, but that’s the task for Naomh Éanna and Dungannon’s Eoghan Ruadh this Saturday when they meet in the Ulster Club Intermediate Championship final at Owenbeg (throw-in 4pm).

The Glengormley men overcame their Tyrone rivals twice in Division Two on their way to the league title, but both those encounters were highly competitive affairs and Saturday’s final promises to be a similar scenario.

Terence McNaughton’s side has enjoyed a remarkable year where they broke new ground by securing Division One hurling for the first time ever and then added a maiden Intermediate crown, so they will hope that year of firsts continues with the Ulster title this weekend.

“It’s been a great journey for them and no matter what happens on Saturday, it’s been a great year,” said McNaughton.

“Obviously, you don’t want this to be it as you like to see how far you can go, but Dungannon’s going to be a tough nut to crack.”

While Antrim teams will usually be taken to overcome Tyrone opposition in hurling, the Ulster Club Championships have proven to be a great leveler and this Dungannon side has proven its worth this year with a fourth-place finish in Antrim’s second tier.

They have some outstanding hurlers including Damien Casey who has the ability to terrorise any defence, so the onus is on the Naomh Éanna defence to get to grips with the towering forward.

He is likely to come into direct contact with Joe Maskey and this is one of many personal duels that could dictate the destination of the trophy.

“They have some fine hurlers and players who could get on most teams, so we’re under no illusions that we are going to have to produce a huge performance to get the better of them,” added the Naomh Éanna boss.

“It’s a big ask to beat any team three times in-a-row and they’ve all been close games against them so this week will be no different.”

Naomh Éanna have had to roll up their sleeves in their run to Saturday’s final as they edged home against Banagher in the quarter-final and then needed extra-time to finally get past Bredagh in the semi-final two weeks ago.

Both of those games were played on heavy pitches and it is highly unlikely Saturday is going to be much different with the Owenbeg surface usually a little longer than what would be considered ideal for hurling.

“The games to date have shown that the conditions aren’t suited to nice, summer hurling,” noted the Cushendall native.

“You have to adapt to the conditions, but it is what it is. Dungannon have to play on the same pitch so it’s not like they have got a great pitch and we don’t this week or the other way around.

“The game of hurling shouldn’t be played on some of these fields, though. You need the grass shorter because when the ball’s bobbling about it becomes a bit of a lottery. It’s almost like a rugby ball the way it goes but it’s just something we have to get on with.”

The heavy surface certainly didn’t help matters in their semi-final win with more rucks and bruising challenges than silky hurling played, but the Glengormley men managed to find a way to win.

They do have the benefit of the run the club’s footballers went on 12 months ago to give them a guide as to what it takes to win a provincial title, but there will still be nerves for both teams.

The onus will be on the likes of Maskey, John McGoldrick, Eddie O’Connor and team captain Cormac Ross to lead the way in what is another huge day for the North Belfast club that continues to make strides, but McNaughton warned there will be a similar mindset from the Tyrone champions who will be just as eager to claim the trophy.

“It’s a massive day for St Enda’s and it’s the same for Dungannon,” he agreed.

“Your club is your club and the fact that St Enda’s have never been here before is a massive thing for them and a sign of the progress they have made.

“Whatever happens this week, they have progressed well and will keep on progressing. There are great people working in the club so it’s fantastic for them.”

Victory would not just see Naomh Éanna crowned Ulster champions, but will see them go onto represent the province in the All-Ireland series against the Leinster champions in a semi-final.

That could well be against Kilkenny’s Tullaroan that includes current Kilkenny hurler Padraig Walsh and his older brother – the highly decorated Tommy. Such a scenario would be a fantastic way for Naomh Éanna to build towards what is a big 2020 that could even result in another trip to Croke Park, but for now, there is just one game and team on their minds.

“The fact there have been such high-profile games at Intermediate including Tommy Walsh’s team (Tullaroan) who you could end up meeting if you win Ulster is great,” McNaughton agreed.

“That is the calibre of teams you will be going up against so you are getting the chance to see how you get on at that level.

“But the only team we are concerned about at the minute is Dungannon. We are under no illusions and can’t think any further because we are both capable of beating each other.”

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