The ‘drive for five’ continues for champions

By David Mohan

ST GALLS’ ‘drive for five’ Antrim senior football titles in a row continues when the West Belfast club face a fresh challenge in the form of St Brigid’s in the second semi-final on Saturday (7.45pm)

Antrim SFC semi-final, St Gall’s v St Brigid’s, Casement Park, Saturday 7.45pm

The clubs have never met in the senior Championship and will head into the game with differing ambitions for the year.

The South Belfast club is only 13 years old and in the quarter-final, recorded their biggest win to date when eliminating St John’s.

They will be hoping they can produce another shock and qualify for their first county final, but for their opponents, the bar is set much higher.

There win be no novelty factor on Saturday for a St Gall’s side that have seen it all and done it all.

Their goal for the year will undoubtedly be to collect the Antrim title before launching an assault on the provincial crown.

While some may believe the Milltown club will have one eye on the next game, team selector Philip Donnelly believes the players have extra motivation as they face fresh opposition in the final four.

“It’s a bit different as it’s the first time we have come across St Brigid’s in the senior championship,” he said.

“It definitely freshens up the challenge for us and gives us extra motivation. I suppose over the last number of years it has been the same teams in the last four with St John’s, Cargin and ourselves.

“To come across St Brigid’s throws up a novel contest and hopefully it will excite the neutrals as well and you may have an extra few people in Casement Park.”

St Gall’s are expected to have a full panel to pick from with Andy McClean back in contention after missing the quarter-final victory over Moneyglass with an ankle injury.

Conor McGourty played 60 minutes for the club’s hurlers at the weekend and is nearing full fitness. Donnelly is hoping both see game time at the weekend although their strength in depth could see the pair having to fight to reclaim starting berths.

In their 4-19 to 1-6 demolition of St Ergnat’s, St Gall’s introduced several new faces and the Armagh native believes their emergence proves that the talent is there to ensure they remain on top for many years to come.

“We are fortunate we had a very strong team over the last number of years, but as Lenny (Harbinson) keeps telling everybody, you are only minding the jersey for the next one coming along.

“I suppose one negative from having such a strong first 20 was that young guys got a bit disillusioned wondering how they could force their way onto the team,” added Donnelly.

“This year the likes of Darren Harbinson and David Cummings have come in and done exceptionally well.

“Brendan Bradley has also been going well in the league this year and had an excellent school’s campaign with St Mary’s.

“The challenge now is for the older guys to push hard and reclaim their place but it is good top have that level of competition

“Over the next few years if we can blood a few of the younger guys that should keep us ticking over because we are a young team.

“People may think they are old because they have been around for so long but the average age is just 26 or 27. If we can introduce a few younger players it should be a smooth transition and we can be competitive.”

While Saturday throws up a novel pairing, both sides will be familiar with one another having met in the league and of course with players from both sides on the county panel.

St Gall’s will be overwhelming favourites but the former Queen’s University freshers coach says they will treat the South Belfast club with the upmost respect having been impressed with their win against St John’s.

“It was evident the last day (against St John’s) that St Brigid’s just had that extra bit of flair from a few individuals,” observed the St Gall’s trainer.

“James Loughrey came into it with 10 or 15 minutes to go and helped them get that three point lead to weather the St John’s storm.

“I know a lot of people in St Brigid’s and I have a lot of time for them. They are doing fantastic work in South Belfast and are the up-and-coming team.

“We certainly won’t be taking them for granted because on their day they can cause us an awful lot of problems.

“We know a lot of their players quite well and we will have our homework done on them so hopefully we can get the job done.”

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