Updated: Nov 16, 2019
Ulster IHC Final
Eoghan Ruadh (Tír Eoghain) v Naomh Éanna (Aontroim)
Tarlach Conway - St Colm's Ballinascreen (Doire)
Familiar foes in unfamiliar circumstance. Both made to kick their heels for an extra week after last week's frustrating wash-out at Owenbeg. Fittingly, the Maiden City of Derry plays host to the re-fixture.
Eoghan Ruadh and Naomh Éanna will compete in their first ever Ulster Hurling Final this Sunday afternoon at Celtic Park as they bid to become 2019 IHC winners.
Both sides compete in Division 2 of the Antrim ACHL and their battles have been full-blooded, but the Hightown side emerged victorious on both occasions en route to winning the title and achieving promotion.
By the time the dust settled on their respective county championships, Naomh Éanna were celebrating their first ever IHC title after a hard-fought win over Carey Faughs, while Dungannon saw off Éire Óg Carrickmore to clinch their 24th Tryone SHC win.
Paths to the Final
Neither side has strolled into the decider and in a competitive championship, both have had to battle their way through.
Eoghan Ruadh began the campaign with a four-point win in Brewster Park over Lisbellaw, the firepower of Damian Casey, Brannan Molloy and Kiefer Morgan seeing off the Fermanagh champions.
They followed up with another four-point win over Keady in the Semi-Final, Morgan and Casey again influential in their 1-16 to 0-15 victory. Only the magnificence of Keady goalkeeper Joby Burke prevented a Red Hand rout as Dungannon flexed their attacking muscle.
Naomh Éanna were handed a tough Quarter-Final draw against Derry champions Banagher in Owenbeg. In monsoon conditions, both teams struggled to find any rhythm and it took an opportunist Philly Curran goal to turn the tide in their favour.
The Antrim champions then travelled across the Black Mountain where they took on Bredagh in an icy Hannahstown gale. Despite building up a commanding lead, they allowed the Down men to work their way back into the game, forcing extra time.
It took late scores from inspirational captain Cormac Ross and midfielder Ryan Bogue to finally end the Bredagh resolve, but the experience of their Ulster IFC campaign last year seemed to make the difference.
Damian Casey v Mark Donaghy
Cushendall native Donaghy has been in stirring form for the Glengormley men this season and is the fulcrum of a hugely impressive half-back line. With the Semi-Final in the melting pot, Donaghy broke Bredagh hearts, repeatedly turning over their advances and launching counter attacks.
In Casey, Eoghan Ruadh have a weapon capable of winning games single-handedly. His athleticism and skill are extremely hard for defenders to handle and with ball in hand, he is difficult to stop.
Naomh Éanna will look to Donaghy’s ability to read the game as well as pressing the Dungannon defenders as they emerge to cut off the supply to the formidable Tyrone hitman.
Martin Devlin v Ryan Bogue
Devlin is a key man for the Tyrone side in the midfield engine room and his energy and tenacity are key in providing a springboard for their mobile forward line.
Bogue’s intelligent play has a similar effect for Naomh Éanna and it was his quick thinking that resulted in the one-two for the score that finally deflated Bredagh in the Semi-Final.
This will be a key battle with the potential to dictate which forward unit wins the upper hand.
Matthew Mulgrew v Ruairí Diamond
Diamond, along with fellow corner back Niall O’Connor has been outstanding throughout the championship in the face of threatening forwards like Alex O’Boyle and Conor McBride and whoever is tasked with picking up Matthew Mulgrew will have their work cut out.
The Dungannon corner-forward has scored freely in Ulster championship action to date and his movement and power have the potential to unsettle the Naomh Éanna defence, both presenting his own threat and distracting them from the considerable influence of Casey.
Naomh Éanna Half-Back Line Key
There could be a fascinating battle around the Naomh Éanna 45m line on Sunday as the Hightown side have three potential match-winners in place.
Donaghy’s classy composure in the middle anchors the energy and attacking nous of Cormac Ross and Joe Maskey to either side of him. Ross and Maskey are not only confident defenders but force their opponents to defend and are capable of splitting the posts from distance as they have done throughout the championship.
Casey is Eoghan Ruadh’s most well-known threat but is joined by formidable attackers who, if the Tyrone men get the upper hand around the middle, have the attributes to hurt Naomh Éanna.
The Dungannon defence will need to be disciplined as the threat of John McGoldrick from placed balls is well-documented, but the industry of Eddie O’Connor and poaching abilities of Cormac and Killian Jennings will also cause them problems.
The league meetings between the sides have been feisty and Dungannon rustled a few feathers, finishing 4th in Division 2. They are a team and a club on an upward curve with their minors having contested the Ulster MHC final with Loughgiel just a few weeks ago.
Naomh Éanna have been knocking on the Division 1 and IHC doors for the last six or seven years. Terence McNaughton’s subtle influence has seen them break down that barrier and the Hightown men would love to cap the season with an Ulster title.
They haven’t been emphatic in victory since the Antrim Semi-Final, but when their resilience has been tested they have found the required answers.
If the game follows a conventional pattern, form would suggest a Naomh Éanna win, but if Eoghan Ruadh rip up the script by getting at their defence early, there could be a different outcome.
Verdict: Naomh Éanna – narrowly.