Glen’s operation redemption

By Michael McMullan

THE glistening Andy Merrigan Cup might snake its way through the hordes of fans in Glen club later this month. Or maybe it won’t.

With the All-Ireland race about to get real again, Sunday’s clash with Kilmacud Crokes at Páirc Esler will tell a lot about the colour of ribbons to be tied to the lugs of club football’s prized silver.

As the dust settled on Dara Mullin-gate and Kilmacud having 16 men on the pitch – and the ensuing circus – a rematch was never out of the question.

Glen were again the fancied horse in Derry with Crokes the same in the capital. That said, Sunday’s rematch almost came off the rails during an eight-day spell in October.

Raheny – missing Brian Howard – were leading the Crokes with time almost up. Enter Luke Ward. Called from the bench with eight minutes to go, his goal forced extra-time and they the Kilmacud won on penalties to book their final spot.

The following Sunday, Sleacht Néill brought a level of aggression that was absent from their county final hammerings to Glen in the previous two seasons.

It took a fortuitous goal from a long Danny Tallon delivery to break the Emmet’s, slipping from the clutches of ‘keeper Jack Cassidy, with a hint of square ball.

Both teams were comfortable winners over Magherafelt and Ballyboden in their respective finals.

Crokes eased their way through two of their Leinster, with Ardee asking a few questions of them on their tight home pitch.

Cargin gave a wasteful Glen plenty to ponder. Naomh Conaill, albeit via a soft penalty, had the Wattys to the pin of their collar before Emmett Bradley swung his left peg at the winner.

The final against Scotstown was a brilliant game in every way with proper championship fare on offer.

Eunan Mulholland kicked three points when Glen needed them and Ethan Doherty broke loose to pull the strings that stretched Scotstown in the early stages of the second half. His fingerprints were over virtually every move.

Add in Conor Glass doing what Conor Glass does. Kick the odd point. Filter back where there is danger and perform a role very few see.

Take him out and Ciaran McFaul would never be able to play in his attacking role from deep.

Aside from getting caught out of position for Kerry’s goal in last summer’s All-Ireland semi-final, is there a better defensive midfielder in the country? Probably not.

Glen have had to prepare without rookie Danny McDermott who starred enough for Derry boss Mickey Harte to prick up his ears. A shoulder operation has ended his season.

The break since the Ulster final will have given Jack Doherty a better chance to shake off the knock that lingered and Conor Convery will could find himself available for selection again.

From a Kilmacud point of view, last year’s final hero – goalkeeper Conor Ferris – hasn’t played since an underpar performance win over Raheny with David Higgins expected to retain the number one jersey.

Michael Mullin, Ben Shovlin and Cillian O’Shea, all of whom played in the final last season, jetted away on their travels and didn’t feature this season.

Manager Robbie Brennan has added former Meath star Bernard Flynn to his management team.

Another factor is getting the Dublin champions out of Croke Park where they are as familiar with the surroundings as the core of Glen players would be in Armagh from club, college and county action.

The Crokes did have a run out in Páirc Esler last week against QUB’s Sigerson team who are managed by former Kilmacud player and Down All-Ireland winner Conor Deegan.

Sunday’s game should attract a bumper crowd. A rematch of the final and everything that came with it will give an already attractive tie and extra sprinkle of spice.

The flags are fluttering around Maghera and its surroundings. Step into any shop or doorway since the Ulster final and Sunday’s showdown dominates every conversation.

Will Paul Mannion and Shane Walsh click on the same day? Is Ciaran McFaul the missing link? Ah, sure Crokes were the better team the last day. Has Ryan Porter timed Glen’s peak performance to emerge on their biggest Sunday?

Does the chat of Kilmacud winning the asterisk All-Ireland fire them up as much as Glen’s hunger to finish what they started?

That angle of thought depends on the individual player. Across sport in general, some need a chip on their shoulder to get the necessary rise to deliver a performance. Others drown out such noise and combine the role they are asked to do with the intrinsic motivation most winners have in their DNA.

With McFaul on the scene this year, he could pick up Paul Mannion – his former teammate from Donegal Boston.

Michael Warnock kept Shane Walsh scoreless from play in last year’s final and could be handed the same role with Ryan Dougan going on the elusive Dara Mullin. Or do they swap? If anything, the inclusion of Mannion last year tied Dougan back from his ability to attack.

These three duals will combine to have the game in the palm if their hand. Sunday’s rematch is going down the stretch and is almost impossible to call.

If Glen can park any anger from the way last year panned out and play their own game, they’ve every chance of booking a final berth.

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