By Niall Gartland
CASTLEBLAYNEY are bidding to stretch their lead at the top of the roll of honour list when they take on St Eunan’s in Sunday’s Ulster Junior Championship final.
The Monaghan side are the only team to have won the provincial title at this level on three separate occasions (2005, 2014 and 2018), just ahead of Setanta (Donegal) and Eoghan Rua (Derry) who have won it twice.
So it’s fair to say they have considerable pedigree in the competition and they were runaway victors in their semi-final win over Cootehill on a scoreline of 2-19 to 1-5.
Their run to the brink of provincial honours has come as a timely lift to the squad after their surprise defeat to Inniskeen in the recent Monaghan Senior Hurling Championship final, the first time they failed to land the prize since 2016.
Manager Kevin Molonoy says that these things happen sometimes and the important thing is that the players kept their spirits high heading into their Ulster campaign.
Molonoy said: “You don’t know what every year is going to bring, each year brings its own trials and tribulations and losing the final was disappointing.
“You don’t know what exactly each year is going to bring but you just have to keep going.
“Our players are fiercely committed and as far as the management team is concerned, they’re the important ones. We have little to do with it really, the players need to have the want and desire and they certainly have that.”
The ‘Blayney hurlers can call upon many of the players who starred in their 2018 Ulster Junior Championship final victory over Cushendun including veterans Fergal Rafter and Brian McGuigan.
In 2018 Rafter was the hero as he landed the winning point deep into stoppage time, converting his 10th placed ball of the day from a tricky angle.
Remarkably it was the first time Castleblayney led all day but that was five years ago and manager Molonoy isn’t convinced that their prior experience of winning titles will count for much, if anything, this weekend.
“We don’t dispute we have experience in our ranks but it’s not a major factor on any given day. You can have all the titles in the bag but it’s the final in front of you that’s important.
“If you look at St Eunan’s, they’ve had some great battles with Setanta in recent years, who are flying it in the Ulster Intermediate Championship, so that’s the level they’re at.
They’ll be strong favourites but a final is on any given day, it’s about who turns up and performs.
“You can be favourites or underdogs but it’s a two-horse race when you get to a final and that’s the approach we’re taking – it’s a big opportunity so we need to give it our best.”