By Niall Gartland
THE Intermediate Championship is particularly strong this year with a number of teams accruing a quite considerable amount of experience at senior level in recent seasons.
The action commences this weekend but it isn’t just the obvious heavy hitters (Edendork, Eglish, Pomeroy etc…) who will harbour aspirations of having a campaign to remember.
Every club will have some sort of ambition – whether it’s just a first-round victory, claiming a scalp or embarking on a memorable championship run akin to last year’s Paddy Cullen Cup winners, Moortown.
Beragh Red Knights, for instance, will be looking forward to taking on Naomh Eoghan this Friday night in a rerun of last year’s first-round meeting. On that occasion Beragh were runaway victors on a scoreline of 7-12 to 2-11, but the current formlines suggest it’ll be a much more competitive encounter.
Manager Noel Slane was relieved that Beragh managed to stay afloat in Division Two after a topsy-turvy campaign. They left it a little close for comfort, but a massive win over the Rock in the penultimate round of fixtures proved pivotal in the final reckoning.
Carrickmore native Slane, who is in his first year in charge of Beragh, said: “We’d a brilliant pre-season, I looked at the club and felt we had a good age profile and good forwards.
“In our first game we were excellent but that’s the only time I’ve had a full team as we picked up recurring injuries to the likes of Paddy McCann, who’s a great talent but hasn’t played all year.
“Maintaining our intermediate status leaves me feeling optimistic that the club will be in a good place next year as our younger lads are just out of minor level and will have learnt from this season’s campaign.
“In our league campaign we’d two or three really big victories, we went to Galbally and got a really good win, that game coincided with our injuries subsiding a little bit. The Rock was a massive must-win game as well and we got the result which ended up securing our Intermediate status with a game to go. It wasn’t ideal but Division Two is an incredibly tough, tight division.”
Slane, who is assisted by Terry McKenna and Enda Donnelly, can’t yet report a clean bill of health but there are some positives on the personnel front heading into the championship.
Niall Owens and Damian Meenagh have returned to fitness, Conor Owens (one of three Beragh representatives on last year’s Tyrone minor side) is in good shape, and stalwart Martin Rodgers has had a good run of games under his belt in this year’s league. Rodgers has also had his injury troubles and he’s now excelling in a playmaker role for the club.
Commenting on Rodgers’ new role, Slane said: “Marty has reinvented himself, he’s very primarily as a scoring forward and usually was man-marked, but as he’s got older he’s had to modify his game a bit. We’ve given him a more creative role and he’s done that brilliantly.”
The Red Knights claimed a thumping victory over Naomh Eoghan in last year’s championship with Jack Campbell, who is unavailable for selection after returning from the States, scoring an incredible five goals. Naomh Eoghan have stabilised themselves this season so it’s unlikely to be anywhere near as one-sided on Friday night.
Slane said: “I think it’ll be nip and tuck. Sean Murtagh is in with them and he’s an excellent coach. They beat us in Beragh in the league, we were carrying a few injuries but they were very well-organised and had a very solid season. I imagine they’ll be very pleased with how they performed in the league. The two teams seem very evenly matched so I’m not expecting anything other than a very tough battle. I don’t think we’ll see a repeat of what happened in last year’s championship game to be honest.”
On the championship as a whole, Slane says it’s looking extremely competitive but he says his only priority at the moment is their battle with Naomh Eoghan.
“Intermediate this year is particularly strong. When we played a couple of those top teams like Eglish and Edendork, you could see the firepower and quality they could bring. That said we’ll be focused on Naomh Eoghan and nothing else. Our players have been good at getting themselves up for the important games and we’re just focused on what we can control.”