Paddy McLarnon Ulster U21 Tournament Final
St Dympna's Dromore (Tír Eoghain) v Carryduff GAC (An Dún)
Sean Laverty (Aontroim)
The driving wind and sweeping snow we've seen at this year's Ulster U21 Football Tournament have been in stark contrast with the warmth of the welcome at Kickham's Creggan for what has been a terrific display of the province's young footballing talent over the last number of weeks.
On Sunday, the competition reaches a climax as Tyrone's St Dympna's Dromore meet Carryduff of Down in the 2019 Final.
Carryduff only made their 2019 bow at the Semi-Final stage, having been left bereft by the late withdrawal of Carrick Emmets. On the day they were due to meet the Monaghan champions, their cross-Lagan rivals St Brigid's saw off Cavan's Crosserlough in impressive fashion, to set up a unique derby that spawned all manner of suggestions as the media clamoured to find a catchy title.
After what was a thrilling sixty minutes, it was left to Daniel Guinness to seal a dramatic late victory, his 59th minute point initially waved wide, only for referee Martin Conroy to overturn the decision.
That Guinness score sent the Down men through, but not before a late St Brigid's rally saw Rory Brolly unleash a Hail Mary effort to keep an enthralled crowd on their toes throughout the final seconds.
Dromore entered the fray at the Quarter-Final stage, taking on Armagh champions Clann Éireann. The Lurgan men had looked strong in their Preliminary Round win over a fancied St Eunan's of Letterkenny, but the Tyrone side looked in control of the affair from the moment current top-scorer Andrew McGrath rattled the net from the throw-in.
Their Semi-Final meeting with Derry champions Magherafelt proved more testing. After trailing to a first half Declan Martin goal, the Red Hand side chipped away at the lead as Rossa eventually succumbed to their continuous pressure in the second half to eventually win by six points.
In fact, the St Dympna's men are currently looking ahead to the 2019 Tyrone U21 Football Championship, which takes place early in the Red Hand fixture list.
Both teams can boast a formidable roster of personnel.
As well as the tournament's leading scorer Andrew McGrath, corner forward Emmett McNabb has been earning high praise on the Creggan balcony, while Declan McNulty's link play and Ryan McCusker's centre-back stewardship have also caught the eye. Tiernan Sludden has also been a strong influence for St Dympna's at full forward.
In Ronan Beatty, Carryduff have a focal point for their attack, and the full forward finished the Semi-Final with 0-07 to his name, while Josh Connery provides trickery and strength from midfield, his goal against St Brigid's showcasing his talent superbly. John McGeough has been consistent from 45s while Daniel Guinness is quickly becoming Carryduff's Rolls Royce from half-back.
Tactically, Dromore are very mature and methodical, with Declan McNulty's role in linking defence and attack crucial to their game. Emmett McNabb is comfortable coming deep to help out with winning possession and has a keen eye for launching attacks from that position. Their system of play appears very well-honed and the Down champions will need to be wary of their threat.
Carryduff threw caution to the Loughshore wind in some respects against their neighbours, but should adopt a more pragmatic approach on Sunday. The openness of the St Brigid's game will not be suited to the more wily side from the west of the Bann, and the running of Daniel Guinness will be well-suited to drive at that Dromore defence.
It has been six years since a Down side won the title, Bryansford taking it home on that occasion, and Carryduff will be hopeful that last year's experience will stand to them in this final. Dromore will be hoping their extra game in the tournament will give them the edge and see the Paddy McLarnon Cup rest in Tyrone for the first time since Clonoe O'Rahilly's victory in 2014.