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South Belfast sides begin Ulster U21 campaign

Patrick Finnegan of St Brigid’s (back row, third from left) and Carryduff’s Daniel Guinness (front row, centre) represented their clubs at the launch of the Creggan U21 Football Tournament Patrick Finnegan of St Brigid’s (back row, third from left) and Carryduff’s Daniel Guinness (front row, centre) represented their clubs at the launch of the Creggan U21 Football Tournament
By Paddy Tierney

St Brigid’s (Antrim) v Crosserlough (Cavan)
(Sunday, 12.30pm, Creggan)

ANTRIM U21 football champions St Brigid’s begin their quest for provincial glory this weekend when they take on Cavan champions, Crosserlough in the prestigious Creggan Ulster U21 Club Football Tournament on Sunday.

It is the 10th renewal of the Paddy McLarnon Cup and, to date, no Antrim team has won the competition with St John’s reaching the 2016 decider before losing out to Watty Graham’s, Glen.

The Musgrave Park outfit were thoroughly impressive winners of the Antrim Championship, beating St John’s, Gort na Móna, Creggan and Dunloy along the way and manager, Greg Finnegan believes his charges are well primed for the provincial series.

“I took our U16s when we got to the Paul McGirr final and we actually played Crosserlough in the quarter-final,” stated Finnegan.

“They were a very good side back then, but we played extremely well. I was lucky to get a look at them and they have come on leaps and bounds from then. Eight or nine of that team played in this year’s Cavan senior final and they have a few players on the Cavan senior team so they’ve really progressed.

“We’d had some really good games so far, especially against Creggan and Dunloy – those were two high-class games.

“We are confident enough to have a good rattle at it. We have good players and we have been racking up good scores. We’ve been accurate and we’ve been efficient and that should stand us in good stead. Hopefully we can bring that same attitude and intensity to the match on Sunday.”

St Brigid’s averaged over 23 points per game during their Antrim Championship campaign and hit a whopping 8-19 in a one-sided win over the Gorts in the group stages.

Patrick Finnegan recently made his senior debut for the Saffrons during the Dr McKenna Cup, while James Smith will also feature for Antrim this season.

The duo were hugely influential for St Brigid’s during their march to their first U21 title. The Antrim Championship wasn’t without controversy, however, with some teams failing to field, while Intermediate champions St Enda’s were forced to withdraw as their Ulster campaign overlapped with the U21 Championship.

While Finnegan sympathised with St Enda’s, he feels the new group format for the competition is a good way to promote U21 football.

“It is extremely difficult to get the guys together because so many of them are at university,” said the St Brigid’s boss.

“It is also a good time of the year. For all that, some of the guys are involved in McKenna Cup squads and university teams. There are others that are not and there isn’t really much else happening at the club.

“On a personal level, I was very disappointed for St Enda’s. They are a brilliant club and they fancied their chances of wining this competition.

“I am all for the league and knock-out format because it gives players a few games and that’s more inclusive for the players and gives a fairer representation of who the best team is.”

Carryduff (Down) v Carrickmacross (Monaghan)
(Saturday, 2.15pm, Creggan)

CARRYDUFF, meanwhile, will be familiar with the surrounds of Creggan Kickhams having reached the semi-final of last year’s competition.
The Down winners scored an impressive 2-13 to 0-9 win over Enniskillen Gaels in the quarter-final before losing out to Gaoth Dobhair in the semis.

The Donegal side went on to claim a facile win over Derry champions Lavey in the final and claimed the Donegal senior title last October before going on to win the Ulster Club SFC crown last month with an extra-time victory over Scotstown.

Carryduff manager DJ Morgan, like many others in attendance at the Creggan tournament last year, knew Gaoth Dobhair had the makings of a special team and he hopes his players can use the experience of 2018 to their advantage when they face Carrickmacross of Monaghan on Saturday.

“Some of the lads had come up against the Gaoth Dobhair players at university level and we knew we were up against a special team,” reflected Morgan.

“What struck me was their level of organisation for an U21 team. They were very streetwise as well. Their game-management was superb. Even when we lost a player after 10 or 15 minutes, they didn’t alter their approach or their shape. You could see they had an awful lot of belief in themselves to do that.

“I wouldn’t see us as favourites – it is a champions’ tournament. Every team who is there are county champions.”

He added: “It is great to be back at Creggan. The boys really enjoyed it last year. The whole organisation of the tournament is superb.

“You know you are arriving at an important event and they made those young fellas feel so important. You’d like to think our lads will know what to expect and they can settle into games a bit quicker.”

Carryduff will certainly be returning to Creggan with their reputation enhanced following their exploits in 2018.

On their return to Senior football last summer, Morgan’s team held their own against Burren who went on to lift the Frank O’Hare Cup and claimed a victory over Steven Poacher’s Ballyholland in the first round. Carryduff then went on to retain their U21 title in impressive fashion – beating Burren in the semi-final and scoring an emphatic 3-7 to 0-3 win over Bryansford in the decider.

“Bryansford missed a few chances; they hit three or four wides and missed a few easy frees midway through the first half,” stated Morgan.

“Their confidence and their heads dropped and they never recovered from that. We had a game plan, everybody had a job to do and, fair play to the lads, they did exactly what was asked.”

While Rory Reilly is a doubt and Donal Og Rooney remains sidelined, Morgan will be able to call on a host of talented youngsters for Saturday’s clash.

Owen McCabe made his senior debut for Down in the McKenna Cup and has scored three points in three appearances for Paddy Tally’s men. Ronan Beatty, John Connery (both UUJ) and Daniel Guinness (Queen’s) have also featured for their university sides.

A win for Carryduff on Saturday could set up an all South-Belfast semi-final if St Brigid’s can overcome Crosserlough on Sunday.

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