The 4 Lanterns Ulster Senior League gets into gear this weekend with its protagonists more than warmed up after a few weeks of cup action.
Champions Fanad United welcome Drumkeen to Triaghalough on Saturday to begin the defence of their title that was won courtesy of November’s play-off victory over Cockhill Celtic. Fanad played out a 2-2 draw with Swilly Rovers on Monday evening to book their place in the semi-finals of this year’s League Cup and will hope to get the defence of their title off to the best possible start by picking up all three points against draw specialists, Drumkeen.
Ollie Horgan will be worried by the number of goals a usually resolute Fanad defence have conceded through the League Cup campaign and will be wary of the threat posed by Drumkeen’s Richard Moore and Sean Ferry. Fanad have been blooding several young players through the League Cup campaign with Kyle Black and Daire McDaid catching the eye and they will have benefited from the tough games in the FAI U-19 League.
Meanwhile, for Drumkeen, Shaunie Gallagher has impressed in central defence so far this term. Phillip Whyte has also impressed in midfield in recent weeks, chipping with goals and assists and he has been well supported by Raymond Sweeney, Gary Patton and Benny Bonner. Drumkeen have proved a tough nut to crack so far this term, drawing all four games they have played - losing only on penalties to Kildrum in the Knockalla Cup.
Last season’s runners-up Cockhill kick-off their campaign determined to claim back the crown they lost in last year’s play-off. The Inishowen kingpins have got off to an uncharacteristically slow start this season being dumped out of the Knockalla Cup by Donegal League outfit Milford United before suffering a home reversal to rivals Kildrum in their opening League Cup game. They are still within a fighting chance, though, of making it to the last four. Jason Gibson will be boosted by the point secured on Monday evening in the League Cup encounter with champions Fanad. With veteran’s Marty McDaid, Terence Shiels and Columba O’Donnell steadying the ship and Leonard Boyce and Laurence Toland buzzing up front the Ramelton men will be hoping that Monday’s result will lead to a good start to their league season.
On Sunday, Buncrana Hearts will welcome Derry City to Castle Park. Buncrana’s season got off to slow start but their form in recent weeks has showed big signs of improvement. After heavy losses to Letterkenny (4-1 in Knockalla Cup) and Fanad United (5-1 in the League Cup), they picked up a win and a clean sheet against Swilly two weeks ago before travelling to Letterkenny and going down narrowly by 2-1 in their final League Cup group game to just miss out on qualifying for the semi-finals.
So they will welcome surprise packets Derry on Sunday in a more confident mood than they may have done just a few weeks ago. Derry have surprised many by sitting proudly on top of Group A of the League Cup. But don’t be surprised if a rejuvenated Hearts send Derry to their first defeat of the season either.
Local rivals Letterkenny Rovers and Bonagee Utd will square off in a Knockalla Cup quarter-final game at Leckview Park on Sunday afternoon. After several years in Bonagee colours, Graham Cullen has returned to Letterkenny and his presence will add some spice to this tie – if any were needed - as both teams try to secure bragging rights.
Aidan McLaughlin has often proven a thorn in Rovers side and Peter Moran will hope he can do so again. Seamus Cusack and Craig Magee have also been on target for Bonagee this season and they will need to chip in against a well balanced Rovers side. With the evergreen Jonathon Minnock adding experience to the Rovers rearguard and supporting young Jamie Doherty on the left wing and fellow youngsters Mark Harkin and Josh Mailey willing workers to feed the in-form Darren McElwaine, Rovers will start as favourites to reach the semi-finals.
Ulster Senior League
Saturday, 12 noon
Fanad United v Drumkeen United
Cockhill Celtic v Swilly Rovers
Buncrana Hearts v Buncrana Hearts
Knockalla Caravans Cup quarter-final
Letterkenny Rovers v Bonagee United