Dunloy, Ballymena

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Senior Shimmer to IFC Semis

Tomorrow evening in Armagh's Athletic Grounds, the Ulster Intermediate Football Championship reaches the final four.

Of the four teams involved, three are in the process of developing a distinctly senior look, with Banagher and Mullahoran having only recently come down from the Senior ranks, while Naomh Éanna ply their trade in Division 1 of the Antrim league. St Patrick's Tattyreagh are the exception, but their star is very much on the rise having secured back-to-back Junior and Intermediate titles.

St Mary's Banagher v Mullahoran GFC


Niall McKenna

Both these teams have faced an arduous journey to reach the Semi-Finals of this competition. Derry champions Banagher faced up to relegation from Division 1 last season, but under the tutelage of Honda and the Big Easy they have regrouped in some style.

St Mary's secured the league title in some style, Lissan the proverbial lambs to the slaughter in the final game as the Feeny men flexed their attacking muscle in preparation for championship action.

Banagher celebrated a Division 2 title and a return to Division 1 as well as championship success.

Their neighbours and closest league rivals Foreglen lay in wait, having been narrowly put to the sword in a league encounter just weeks previously. After the first game ended in a draw, Banagher saw them off in a replay, before defeating Faughanvale and Steelstown to set up a final meeting with Ballymaguigan.

Tiarnan Moore has been in fine form this season.

Having defeated the dogged challenge of Naomh Trea, Banagher then had a week to come back down to earth and contend with a promotion play-off against Newbridge to secure their Division 1 status for 2019 and it took a Mark Lynch goal to see them home.

Belnaleck then made the journey to Owenbeg to face the Derry men, but came away empty-handed after two Tiarnan Moore goals left them reeling and on their way out of the championship.

In the Quarter-Final, it was Banagher who made the journey, travelling to Ballybofey, where their entertaining endeavour earned them a 2-13 to 0-08 victory over Glenfin.

Similarly, Mullahoran are also regrouping having been relegated to the Intermediate ranks in 2017. The Cavan champions kicked off their campaign with a 1-14 to 3-05 victory over Killeshandra before shipping defeat to Baileborough in their second group game.

Swanlinbar and Ballymachugh were put to the sword before, like tomorrow's opponents, they needed a replay to see off Belturbet. Their Semi-Final encounter with Butlersbridge was a much more facile affair as they defeated them by double scores before the championship was secured in a final win over Cúchullain's.

Mullahoran then took on Bredagh of Down in an epic Ulster encounter in Cootehill. Inseparable during normal time, it took a 79th minute extra time goal from Patrick Brady to finally see off the dogged Down men to set up tomorrow's Semi-Final clash.

The strength in depth that Banagher have has been evident all the way through the championship, their substitutions consistently making an impact, with Odhran Lynch hitting the decisive goal in the Derry final after being introduced from the bench.

Mark Lynch was Man of the Match in the county final.

Mark Lynch is having a fine season, while Tiarnan Moore has been a scoring sensation in the forward line for St Mary's. In Darrel McDermott they have a superb shot-stopper whose accurate kicking springboards many of the Banagher attacks.

The very solid Ruairí McCloskey mans the edge of the square for St Mary's, with captain and fans' favourite Paul Cartin providing an excellent link between defence and attack, where puppeteer Peter Hagan pulls the strings on the Feeny men's forward line.

Mullahoran's Enda O'Reilly and Patrick Brady had fine games in the Quarter Final with Bredagh and the Breffni men will be hoping they can replicate that fine form tomorrow in Armagh.

This could be an intense encounter between two teams who are almost a mirror image of each other. Both coming down from Senior and making their way back immediately. Both having faced a long campaign to reach this point. Both on the cusp of their first provincial final.

Peter Hagan pulls the strings in the Banagher forward line.

Something has to give. If Tiarnan Moore, Gavin O'Neill and Peter Hagan can click into the fluid forward play, the scores will flow for the Feeny side who could well be celebrating passage to an Ulster final tomorrow night.

Naomh Éanna (Aontroim) v St Patrick's Tattyreagh (Tír Eoghain)


Anthony Marron

Doohamlet fell to Naomh Éanna in the Quarter Final in Corrigan Park.

The smiles on the faces of the Naomh Éanna players after their Quarter-Final victory over Doohamlet were only surpassed by their beaming manager Frank Fitzsimons.

The Glengormley men were delighted to come through their game against the Monaghan champions with a victory and showed great character in doing so, having been rocked by no less than three green flags from their more experienced opponents.

Having secured their first ever Antrim championship title, Naomh Éanna rode their momentum into their first ever provincial championship win at Corrigan Park and the Hightown side will be keen to ensure their dream run continues.

Their opponents tomorrow, St Patrick's Tattyreagh, have their own fairytale to bring to a climax. Having tasted Junior success only last season, the Tyrone men have carried on as they left off, picking up this year's Intermediate title with a final victory over Augher St Macartans.

Tattyreagh's tight first round win over Urney was followed up with a similarly close win over Clarke's of Dungannon in the Quarter Final, only three points separating the sides in a high-scoring encounter.

Displaying the character to come through very close games, St Patrick's saw off Gortin in the Semi-Final by a single point and sentenced runners-up Augher to a three-point defeat in the county final.

Their Ulster championship match saw them secure victory over St Peter's of Armagh in another tight and keenly contested affair, with Tattyreagh's attacking prowess seeing them over the line, adding another three goals to double their championship goal tally.

Naomh Éanna play their football in the highest league in Antrim, and their experience showed as they comfortably accounted for St Paul's, Davitt's and Moneyglass before coming through a tougher encounter with newly-promoted Gort na Móna in the county final.

Their youthful side made light of Doohamlet's favourites tag in the Ulster Quarter Final, and with county star Peter Healy driving them forward, the Glengormley men never lost their composure, even in the face of three goals, pulling clear to secure victory in a controlled performance.

County star and Sigerson winner Peter Healy is at the heart of the Naomh Éanna team.

The class of Healy is aptly supplemented in midfield by the towering Joe Maskey and experienced Philly Curran, while up front Odhran Eastwood and Kristian Healy lead the Naomh Éanna attack.

Captain James McAuley is imperious in defence while Ruairí Scott's quick thinking from frees yielded scores last time out and Tattyreagh will have to be alert to the tactic in tomorrow night's encounter.

The Tyrone champions have their own forwards to give the Glengormely side plenty to think about, with Gareth Mimnagh a handful for any defence. Mimnagh is ably assisted by James Darcy and Jarleth McDonagh, who admirably share the scoring burden, while in defence Collie Harkin and Peadar Mullan provide the starting point of many attacks with their industrious defensive work and quick breaks.

This one is equally hard to call. While this is Tattyreagh's first foray into the Ulster IFC, they have the experience of last season in the Ulster JFC to draw on, in a campaign where they defeated a very strong Currin team before falling to Naomh Colmcille in the Semi-Final.

Naomh Éanna have just taken their first county title and Frank Fitzsimon's young team have floated deep into uncharted waters as they won through to the last four. Both teams have strong forward units, and the character the Glengormley men showed in getting over Doohamlet could prove crucial in this game.

All the same, I'm going to hedge my bets and tip a draw in this one.

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