ALL-IRELAND CLUB SFC SEMI-FINAL
Glen v Maigh Cuilin
Sunday, Croke Park, 3.30pm
By Michael McMullan
IT was a Christmas Glen people will never forget. Turkey, joy and silver was the diet of choice after landing a first ever Ulster Senior title.
There was also the double boost of an All-Ireland series to look forward to and watching their heroes run out at Croke Park this weekend.
All the years of getting their underage structures in order and Christmases spent at the St Paul’s minor tournament have been well worth it.
Now they are on the real stage, but Sunday is a new chapter and Malachy O’Rourke will have been planning for a totally different challenge.
From the outside, Kilmacud Crokes are the team to beat and anything else is a favourable draw in the last four, but underestimate Maigh Cuilinn at your peril. They may have only won their second ever Galway senior title, but manager Don Connellan has assembled a formidable side.
Former Galway star Paul Clancy, now the club’s chairman, was in charge in the 2017 season and brought Connellan, his brother in law, on board and the former Roscommon star took over as manager when Clancy stepped aside to focus on work commitments.
A Garda in Galway city’s Mill Street, Connellan now has colleagues Tom Clarke, originally from Knockmore in Mayo, and Niall Walsh, a native of Cavan’s Shannon Gaels, on board.
There is also a significant NUI Galway influence. Connellan and former Mayo forward Maurice Sheridan were on their winning team of 1992. When Sheridan managed them to glory last season, Connellan was his number two, with Sheridan – Mayo’s u-20 manager – also on board with Maigh Cuilinn.
It was Connellan who convinced former Antrim star Owen Gallagher – another NUI Galway graduate – to throw his lot in with the club after starting work as a doctor in Galway.
The Kelly brothers – Sean, Paul and Eoghan – were on the winning Sigerson team last year. So too was defender Neil Mulcahy who has been tipped for an inter-county career after holding David Clifford scoreless from play in last year’s college final.
Add in Peter Cooke who may have been part of Galway’s 2022 journey but for work commitments in the US that have allowed him enough of a sabbatical working online from home to throw his lot in with the club.
With its 10km proximity to Galway City, Maigh Cuilinn is now a satellite town on the fringe of Lough Corrib, making it a viable spot for commuters.
Under Paul Clancy’s stewardship, the club is thriving with coaching and development structures made to last. They are the current Galway minor champions after overcoming a Claregalway team with many of the key players from the county’s All-Ireland winning team on board.
They play the same style of play as their seniors and minor manager Cathal Clancy is part of Connellan’s senior management team.
Basketball is another influence on the Maigh Cuilinn style of play. Ireland underage international Paul Kelly was the MVP when the local club won the u-20 National Championships, while older brother Eoghan’s skills as a point guard earned him a basketball scholarship in the US after completing his Leaving Cert.
Connellan has also got former Connacht underage rugby star Micheál O’Reilly to swap playing junior football for Maigh Cuilinn to throwing his lot in with the seniors. Despite playing all over the pitch, his 2-10 from play makes him their third top scorer and highlights their similarity to Glen, in that scores come from all sectors of the pitch.
Captain Dessie Conneely is their attacking ace. While the rest of their players can pop up all over the pitch in a fluid setup, Conneely always plays close to goal, with the two-footed Walsh his closest ally.
Glen will have no problem matching Sunday’s opponents for athleticism, but it’s size in the match-ups that leave the planning that bit more tricky.
Maigh Cuilinn, driven by Connellan’s attention to detail, invest a lot of time in the tactical side of the game. Tom Clarke is their out and out midfielder, with Peter Cooke and Paul Kelly floating in and out depending on roles on any given day.
Owen Gallagher is their centre forward, but his campaign is littered with booming points from an array of angles off his right boot, often when games have been in the melting pot.
For everything they have going for them, Glen’s defence will give away size, something Maigh Cuilinn may try to exploit with a style that sees many of their scores kicked from outside of the any defensive shield.
While Glen filter men back automatically, they don’t play with an out and out sweeper, something that doesn’t lend itself well to Croke Park when space is used properly.
Maigh Cuilinn play the vast majority of their games in Pearse Stadium and the feeling out west is that they’ll revel in Croke Park. Like Glen, many of their players have tasted action there in the past, but the three survivors from their 2008 All-Ireland Intermediate final win over Fingal Ravens will start on the bench this weekend.
It was the tighter environs of Tuam Stadium that flummoxed Moycullen in the Connacht semi-final before a Sean Kelly goal early in extra time helped them clear of Strokestown.
If Glen have a nugget to focus on, it will be how much joy John O’Mahony’s SalthillKnocknacarra had when they cancelled out the Maigh Cuilinn running game in the Galway final until Peter Cooke flicked a 57th minute goal ahead of goalkeeper Ruairi Lavelle to win the game.
A hallmark of Maigh Cuilinn is how they squeeze the life out of opposition kick-outs, but ‘keeper Andrew Power – just out of underage – tends to go long down the middle where the scrap for possession will be key.
It’s a different and more varied test for Glen and the bookies odds might attract a few bob on the Galway champions.
An intriguing game in prospect, but if Glen hammer the hammer hard enough in the key areas and keep the ball moving freely, they could be heading back to Croker later this month.
PATHS TO CROKER
Derry group stages: Glen 2-15 Claudy 1-6, Glen 1-20 Banagher 0-11, Glen 0-14 Swatragh 1-9
Derry knock-out stages: Glen 3-11 Ballinascreen 1-7, Glen 1-14 Magherafelt 0-11, Glen 2-12 Newbridge 0-4, Glen 1-12 Sleacht Néill 0-7
Ulster: Glen 3-10 Errigal Ciaran 1-12, Glen 1-10 Cargin 0-8, Glen 1-12 Kilcoo 1-6
Galway group stages: Maigh Cuilinn 0-15 An Spidéal 0-12, Maigh Cuilinn 1-17 Oughterard 0-14, Maigh Cuilinn 1-14 Corofin 1-12, Maigh Cuilinn 0-15 Tuam Stars 0-6, Maigh Cuilinn 1-11 Leitir Móir 1-11
Galway knock-out stages: Maigh Cuilinn 1-12 Claregalway 1-11, Maigh Cuilinn 3-9 Mountbellew/Moylough 0-9, Maigh Cuilinn 1-10 Salthill/Knocknacarra 1-9
Connacht: Maigh Cuilinn 3-18 Westport 1-12, Maigh Cuilinn 2-8 Strokestown 0-7 AET, Maigh Cuilinn 0-13 Tourlestrane 0-6
Glen: Danny Tallon 4-25 (20f, 2 pen, 2m), Alex Doherty 5-8, Ethan Doherty 3-12
Maigh Cuilinn: Dessie Conneely 1-46 (27f), Peter Cooke 1-21 (5f, 3 ‘45’), Micheál O’Reilly 2-10
Ryan Dougan v Dessie Conneely
CONNEELY is the Maigh Cuilinn talisman in attack and Derry fans will remember his 1-2 in their drubbing at Owenbeg that ended their promotion hopes last season. As the player who always stays up top, he will almost certainly have Dougan for company and he’ll have an important role for the Ulster champions.
Ethan Doherty v Sean Kelly
WHILE Maigh Cuilinn freely kick the ball, Sean Kelly’s running through the centre gives them punch and his 2-6 from play is the proof. Ethan Doherty does the same for Glen. Whether they will be in direct opposition remains to be seen, but whoever shines brightest will have a huge say in who make the final.