O’Neill’s Derry SFC Final
Watty Graham’s Glen v O’Donovan Rossa Magherafelt
John Joe Cleary
The analogy of hunger is often used in sport to denote a desire for victory. On Sunday in Celtic Park, two ravenous teams will do battle for the biggest prize in Derry football – The John McLaughlin Cup.
The name of O’Donovan Rossa has not been etched on the trophy since 1978 when the Magherafelt side defeated Banagher and when they squeezed past the same side just under a fortnight ago, they set up their first decider since 1983.
Glen’s wait is an even longer one. Founded in 1948, Watty Graham’s ended a long, agonising wait to reach their first final with a victory over Sleacht Néill in this year’s Semi-Final. Finally reaching the cusp of the promised land after 71 years was made all the sweeter by upsetting their fierce rivals in the process.
Avid followers of Derry football will be pleasantly unsurprised with Sunday’s novel pairing. The green and gold jerseys made St Paul’s Belfast their annual Christmas retreat for a number of years, while both teams have decamped to the Loughshore for the Creggan Ulster U21 Tournament in recent years.
The talent that has dutifully made its way into the senior ranks has vindicated the time spent on its nurture.
Ciaran McFaul’s influence this season has been outstanding. His performance in the Quarter-Final against Lavey earned him the Man of the Match award and his positional rotation with Emmett Bradley has caused problems for every defence Glen have faced.
In Conor Carville they have the linchpin of their defence and alongside Oran McGill and the roving Ethan Doherty, their defensive unit is an effective one. Their forward division is bursting with talent.
Alex Doherty announced his arrival with that booming goal against Lavey. Paul Gunning has a knack for taking crucial scores, while the experience of Danny Tallon and the creative play of Stevie O’Hara can prise open the toughest of defences.
A further injection of youth brings with it serious pace. Mulholland brothers Ethan and Cathal have the potential to terrify defenders, while Conleith McGuckin’s performance in the Semi-Final belied his years.
Rossa’s roster of talent slip nicely into a well-drilled counter-attacking gameplan. The athleticism and pace of the two Conors – Kearns and McCluskey – means they can power up the field in seconds. Both tested Darrell McDermott in the Semi-Final, with the former finding the net.
The unerring Shane Heavron clinched the Man of the Match award against Banagher as it was his shooting that got them over the line, while the industry of Emmett McGuckin in a crowded midfield ensures Rossa have a good chance of winning any breaking ball.
Three teenagers who starred in January’s Ulster U21 Tournament have been making waves in this year’s Senior Championship. Paddy McLarnon hit 0-02 in the Semi-Final, his pace and finishing causing problems. Cormac Murphy’s goal saw off Ballinascreen at the Quarter-Final stage, while Declan Martin has been sprung from the bench to good effect throughout the campaign.
Jared Monaghan and Danny Heavron further bolster their midfield options, while in Odhran Lynch they have a highly talented goalkeeper with a penchant for joining the attack.
Magherafelt will be expected to stay compact, congest midfield and soak up Glen’s pressure before breaking at pace. Watty Graham’s will need to ensure their attacking intent does not leave them susceptible to the Rossa counter.
However, with so many runners bombarding the defence, Glen will create chances and the devastating effectiveness of their running game has been crucial in their campaign to date.
The crowd that flocks to the Maiden City on Sunday will desperately hope the hand of history does not cause paralysis, that the tension of the occasion will not result in a cagey, low-scoring affair.
While both are looking to end their respective famines, only one side can feast at the top table.