DERRY SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
By Niall Gartland
GLEN were a kick of the ball away from landing the Andy Merrigan Cup back in January. We won’t go into the ins and outs of the controversy that followed, but the point we’re trying to make is that Malachy O’Rourke’s side are one of the best teams in Ireland and will be men on a mission this season.
Watty Graham’s will face Lavey, Dungiven, Swatragh, Ballinascreen, Coleraine and Bellaghy in the group stages, and while it’s a long road to redemption, internally they’ll be bursting with confidence about the journey ahead.
Arguably they’re even stronger than last year. Ciaran McFaul is back on home soil and is in great nick. Ryan Dougan was away travelling and is back training in a significant boost ahead of the championship, and they’ve added two talented young brothers to the panel, Jody and Danny McDermott.
They’re significant additions and they don’t have any injury concerns heading into the championship either. On the management front we have O’Rourke, who is ably assisted by his right-hand man Ryan Porter, and they’re bidding for their third Derry SFC in a row. It’s hard to bet against them, put it that way.
Sleacht Néill came out a distinct second best in their senior final appearances of the last two years to Glen, but they’re still big contenders and second in the pecking order according to the bookies.
Young Brian Cassidy is in Australia and he’s a miss but they do have some good young players like Peter McCullagh.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Patsy Bradley is back for another year and they have some of the very best players in the country in Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rogers and Shane McGuigan, players who have been there and done that.
On the management front, former Down coach Mark Doran has assumed the reins this year and he has Donegal’s Anthony McGrath and club native Danny McMullan in the management team.
It’d be remiss not to give a good mention to league champions Bellaghy, a significant step for a club with an illustrious past. It’s Damian Cassidy’s second year in charge of his native club and he’s doing a great job and in terms of players, they have a raft of their 2018 Ulster Minor winning team on board, with Luke Diamond and Ciaran Chambers the latest from the underage ranks to bed into the side. Chambers played full-forward on the Derry minors last year and looks a really exciting prospect.
They’ve also welcomed back Declan and Paul Cassidy following Derry’s exit from the All-Ireland Championship a few weeks ago. While they had a great league, their main priority will be a decent championship run at this stage with a Senior Championship title possibly beyond them.
Elsewhere, 2019 champions St Mary’s, Magherafelt will fancy their chances of making their mark. They’re managed by Damian Barton and they also have Tyrone natives Richard Thornton and Brian McGuckin in the management team.
They have some good young players coming through like Conor McCluskey’s brother Aidan and arguably they’re the team that ran Glen closest in the championship last year.
The other other team that hasn’t been mentioned to win a Derry senior title in the last decade is Eoghan Rua, who came out in top in 2018. They haven’t got many young players coming through which is a worry but they’re a determined team.
Newbridge had a very good league campaign, finishing third in the table, while the Loup finished in sixth. It’ll also be interesting to see if Lavey manage to pull things together in the championship after a torrid league campaign which culminated in relegation, a shock outcome for the nine-time champions.
DERRY INTERMEDIATE CHAMPIONSHIP
IT was only two years ago that Derry club Steelstown, now plying their trade at senior level, won the All-Ireland championship at Intermediate level.
Forming this year’s Derry Intermediate Championship are a dozen clubs and it’s hard to pick a winner ahead of the first weekend of matches.
Castledawson came up trumps in Division Two, Banagher came second, and while Foreglen finished mid-table, they’re never too far away in the championship arena.
That’s without mentioning last year’s champions Glenullin, home of the Bradleys and Gaelic Life columnist Gerard O’Kane. They’re still in the intermediate ranks as nobody got promoted from last year’s championship as the Derry County Board have been tweaking things.
They beat Drumsurn, still managed by Sean Brady, in last year’s finals and they’ll also fancy their chances of a decent championship run despite finishing eighth in Division Two. Arguably Drumsurn were favourites heading into last year’s decider against Glenullin but they too had a tough enough time of it in Division Two this year, finishing an uninspiring ninth in the table.
It’s an open championship this year and you could make a strong case for any of the aforementioned teams. Others with a shout include Greenlough, who won the Intermediate title back in 2015 and still have a number of those players still involved.
League winners Castledawson reached last year’s semi-final where they lost to eventual champions Glenullin and will take great confidence from their formidable form in the league. Another side worth mentioning is Faughanvale, who have sometimes flattered to deceive in the past.
They have former Derry goalkeeper Barry Gillis overseeing them this year and he’s making a positive impact so don’t discount them either. They finished third in the league so are carrying a bit of form into the championship as well. Other clubs with an outside chance of success include Desertmartin and Limavady, but it’s hard to see Claudy or Lissan going on much of a run as they failed to make any sort of mark in the league.
It’s also worth noting that the Derry County Board are looking to strength things at intermediate level. They’re looking to reduce the Derry Senior Championship to a dozen teams s hoping that things will filter down to intermediate and junior level and make those teams more likely to blaze a trail in the provincial championships.
DERRY JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
WHILE Derry club football is renowned for the strength of its leading senior teams, both now and in days of yore, they aren’t quite so hot at junior level.
Not a single club from Derry has ever done the business in the Ulster Junior Championship, though a couple of teams have fallen short on provincial final day – most recently, Limavady (now an intermediate team), lost by only two points to Donegal side Red Hughs back in 2018.
Indeed, there are no players from the Derry senior intercounty panel involved at junior level when back at the club, but that’s not to diminish the competition and it will still be hotly contested by most of the clubs involved.
Ballymaguigan won the Division Three title and are probably favourites to make it a league and championship double.
They’ve a strong record down the years, winning five Intermediate Championships in Derry, so they have a bit of pedigree and they’re certainly a team worth watching out for.
They were imperious during the league, clocking up a lot of one-sided victories, and they reached last year’s final where they lost to eventual champions Craigbane. Craigbane were big favourites but now they’ve been promoted, this year’s championship could come down to Ballymaguigan and Ballerin. There’s a few others with ambitions of going all the way including Doire Trasna and Sean Dolan’s.
Ballerin fell short by five points to Craigbane in last year’s final but they have all their players back for another crack at it, so they’re certainly worth watching out for. At the back end of things, there’s a few clubs are unlikely to do much of note in the championship.