By Kieran Lynch
LIATROIM are hoping to become the first team from Down to win the Ulster Intermediate Club Championship when they take on Middletown in the final on Saturdary.
The Fontenoys overcame Monaghan’s Castleblayney and Antrim’s Clooney Gaels to reach this stage, and star man Pearse Óg McCrickard reflected on their performances in the competition to date.
“Going out to play against Castleblayney in the first round of the Ulster Championship was our first step out into the unknown,” he said.
“Within your own county championships you know the teams inside, whereas with Castleblayney we had never played them before.
“I thought the first half was pretty cagey as the two teams weighed each other up, but thankfully in the second half we were able to find our feet and push on and put them to the sword.
“Then with Clooney, we hit the ground running. Antrim produces the most successful teams in Ulster, and if there was any indication that they were going to be complacent, we knew the importance of the first 10 minutes.
“We got off to a flying start and were able to see out the game in the second half.”
With the final approaching, McCrickard believes that the players have an extra spring in their step to still be training this late into the season, and although the winter sessions are tough, the looming final provides them with all the motivation they need.
“Training has been excellent, we’re as fit as we can be, and all is looking good,” said McCrickard.
“Some of the training we have been doing in the last couple of weeks is more akin to pre-season training; slogging on heavy pitches and using tackle bags – stuff normally done at the start of the year.
“But when you have the incentive of playing in an Ulster Championship final, that makes those tough sessions easier – knowing that it will be worth it.”
For the majority of the Liatroim players, they are venturing into new territory on Saturday.
Some of the team’s stalwarts were involved in the side that reached three Ulster Intermediate finals in a row between 2006 and 2008, but for most of the team, this will be their first Ulster final.
In contrast, their opponents Middletown are two-time Ulster Intermediate kings, having won the competition in 2011 and 2017, and they will be battle-hardened from experience at the senior grade.
“Middletown have won the Ulster Intermediate twice, so they know what it takes to get over the line,” McCrickard explained.
“They’re the reigning Armagh Senior champions, and are at the top level in their own county year in and year out, as well as having the experience of playing Ulster senior.
“If you spoke to players from the likes of Sleacht Néill, or Dunloy or Cushendall, they would all tell you that Middletown are a strong Ulster Championship team. They’re dogged, they always put up a good fight, and they don’t lie down, and we’ll not be expecting anything different on Saturday.