The gloves are off this weekend as the race for the RTE Ráidio Na Gaeltachta Championship hots up, with eight first round, second leg games scheduled over Saturday and Sunday.
All eyes will be on Towney, Kilcar, where the locals host St Eunan’s, who are fighting for their championship lives following Kilcar’s three-point win in the first leg at O’Donnell Park at the weekend.
Ardara, Gaoth Dobhair, Glenfin, Cloughaneely and Sean MacCumhaill’s are others that are also in the last chance saloon when it comes to their championship ambitions for 2012. Ardara and Gaoth Dobhair have away ties against Four Masters and Glenswilly respectively, while Glenfin, Cloughaneely and Sean MacCumhaill’s are home to Bundoran, Dungloe and St Michael’s respectivley.
In the remaining game in Fintra, Killybegs entertain Fanad Gaels and after last weekend’s draw in Portsalon, it’s a case of winner takes all in this one.
Four of this weekend’s games are on Saturday evening with the other four on Sunday afternoon.
There are also three crunch first round, second leg games in the Intermediate championship with one tie on Saturday and two on Sunday.
Saturday (all games at 5pm)
Cloughaneely v Dungloe
Cloughaneely will take some heart from their second half revival in the first leg as they face into Saturday evening’s encounter. The men from the north-west stormed back into the game in the closing quarter after playing second fiddle to Dungloe for up to three quarters of the tie.
This, and the fact that many of their marquee players never really got going, will add to the sense of optimism around St Finian’s Park this week. However, it might not work out that simple. Dungloe, for most of last weekend’s game, were much the more polished outfit. And indeed, but for a lack of potency in attack, they should have been further out of sight before Cloughaneely mounted their comeback.
If Corey Gallagher and company take their ‘A game’ to Falcarragh on Saturday evening and Declan Bonner can find a few more men to step up to the scoring plate and take the burden off Adrian Sweeney and Shaun Sharkey, Dungloe have the potential to complete the task this weekend and advance to the last eight.
Killybegs v Fanad Gaels
Barring another draw, this is a winner takes all clash with Killybegs expected to make home advantage pay against the visitors to Fintra, Fanad Gaels.
In what was a tit-for-tat encounter in Portsalon last Saturday, Brendan Boyle’s late controversial point saved Killybegs’ bacon.
The Fishermen went into this tie as firm favourites and having got out of jail, Joe McBrearty’s men have the chance to get their championship ambitions back on track second time around. But if they are to get the better of Fanad, Matthew Smith, Shane Boyle and company are going to have to improve in a big way on their first leg performances.
If they don’t then the red and white clad followers could be in for another nail-biting evening as Fanad, with Michael Sweeney in midfield and the Friels, Seimie ‘Coshia’ and Seamus ‘Nanny’ in attack, have the players to push them all the way.
St Naul’s v Naomh Conaill
With Naomh Conaill winning the first leg 1-9 to 0-3, albeit at home in Davy Brennan Memorial Park, St Naul’s have a lot of ground to make up in the second leg in Mountcharles.
Billed as a David and Goliath clash last week, little has changed for the second meeting. It is very much a case of putting in a performance and maintaining respectability for last year’s Intermediate champions, St Naul’s, who play in Division Three of the All-County League. Indeed they are firmly placed in the middle of that table with no prospects of making the move up to Division Two.
Naomh Conaill on the other hand are one the top teams in the county and one of the favourites for outright honours. They are back-boned by county men and All-Ireland winners - Anthony Thompson, Leo McLoone, Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy and Marty Boyle.
Thomas Donoghue, Eoin Waide, Johnny McLoone and Leon Thompson, who are also big players in the Naomh Conaill line-up, also have senior county experience from the not too distant past.
Stephen Griffin - his team’s only scorer last weekend - is St Naul’s sole county representative and on his broad shoulders once again will rest the responsibility for the bulk of Naul’s scores and respectability.
Verdict: Naomh Conaill
Sean MacCumhaill’s v St Michael’s
St Michael’s recorded the highest score and largest winning margin of all the first leg games when they easily saw off the challenge of Sean MacCumhaill’s by 3-19 to 1-6. The win was achieved without this season’s All-Ireland championship leading marksman Colm McFadden.
In the absence of McFadden, Daniel McLaughlin with 1-6 and Stephen Coyle 1-5, were the scorers-in-chief as last year’s beaten finalists maintained the form they have shown all year as serious championship challengers.
MacCumhaill’s flattered early on and thanks to a Stephen O’Reilly goal, led by five points 1-3 to 0-1 at one stage in the first half.
But once Martin McElhinney was sprung from standby and McLaughlin and Coyle swung into action, the Finnsiders wilted. And as St Michael’s steamrolled through the second half, the gap in class became more apparent and there was little evidence to suggest that MacCumhaill’s have what it takes to make a game of it in the second leg.
With their pride severely dented and the fact that they have them on their own patch this time around, expect Marty O’Reilly and company to be a lot more competitive and a little closer at the finish. But a 19 point margin is a mighty wide gap to close.
Verdict: St Michael’s.
Sunday (all games at 3pm).
Kilcar v St. Eunan’s
Kilcar pulled off the result of the first leg with their 1-8 to 1-5 victory over Division One league champions St Eunan’s in O’Donnell Park.
The result, and the manner in which it was executed, has set off alarm bells in Letterkenny, so much so that a changed Eunan’s formation is expected to take the field in Towney on Sunday.
Veteran John Haran and Darragh Mulgrew, both of whom played well when introduced last weekend, are expected to be given starting berths this time around, while county minor Conor Parke, may also come into the reckoning.
On the back of their O’Donnell Park win, Kilcar are in pole position to complete the job this Sunday. But they will be mindful of what happened two years ago when they also pulled off a big result away to Naomh Conaill, only to lose the second leg by a single point in somewhat controversial circumstances after Patrick McBrearty was wide from a close-in free after he was forced by referee Jimmy White, to step back when he was about to hit the free.
St. Eunan’s too will be heartened by the fact that on their last visit - in the opening league game of the season - they bagged both points in a 2-12 to 1-10 victory with Rory Kavanagh turning in a man of the match performance at midfield.
Glenfin v Bundoran
Glenfin are another of those sides in the last chance saloon this weekend, when they host Bundoran in Pairc Taobhoige. Bundoran won the first leg 2-10 to 1-9 in Gaelic Park thanks to second half goals from Peter McGonagle and Tommy Hourihane.
It will not be lost on Glenfin manager Francie Martin either, that one of the heaviest defeats his side has suffered this season was at home to Bundoran. Bundoran won that league game 4-14 to 1-11.
The sides are neck and neck in Division Two and there was little between them for long periods last Sunday either with Glenfin holding the slight edge for long periods.
Martin’s men moved three points clear by the three quarter mark but they were rocked by those two quick goals from McGonagle and Hourihane, though Mark McGinty went close to hitting the Bundoran net late on, only to be denied by a good save from Johnny Keenan.
This one has all the hallmarks of being another close encounter with Glenfin’s greater championship pedigree likely to be enough to see them force the tie to a third game.
Glenswilly v Gaoth Dobhair
Glenswilly may be rooted to the foot of the Division One League table and looking down the tunnel of relegation but the reigning champions left their poor league form behind them last Sunday in Magergallon with a good solid performance and a two points win over fellow strugglers Gaoth Dobhair.
County captain Michael Murphy kicked four points in a game played in atrocious weather conditions of driving wind throughout and heavy rain for most of the second period.
Murphy’s contribution was the difference between the sides as Gaoth Dobhair, who enjoyed more than their fair share of possession, failed to translate that possession on to the scoreboard, something which has proven to be their Achilles heel all season.
While Gaoth Dobhair will not go down without making a brave bid to keep their championship season alive, their lack of fire power up front should see the champions take another step in defence of the Dr. Maguire Cup.
Four Masters v Ardara
It’s advantage Four Masters following their 0-9 to 0-7 victory in Pearse Park last weekend with Michael Doherty once again the scorer-in-chief for Four Masters with a return of six points.
And it is to Doherty, Karl Lacey, Barry Dunnion, Barry Monaghan, Luke Keeney and Shane Carr, that Masters followers will be pinning their hopes on completing the job this Sunday.
However, last weekend’s encounter was sufficiently close that they have not given up hope in Ardara of turning this tie around. With the anticipated return of Declan Gavigan to the defence and with Brendan Boyle showing a welcome return to fitness, this one is not over by a long shot.
History of recent championship meetings between the two would also indicate there is a good deal of life still left in this one and home advantage may not be all that big a deal.
Back in 2004 in the first round, first leg, Ardara went to Tir Chonaill Park and came away with the win against the then reigning county champions.
While Four Masters made light of their visit to Pearse Park and came away with the win that forced the tie to third game, Ardara won the play-off on their way to winning the championship outright. History has a habit of repeating itself but never-the-less it’s advantage Four Masters.
Verdict: Four Masters
Burt v Buncrana
Buncrana recovered from a poor start in last weekend’s first leg to win fairly comfortably by five points. They were the better outfit and with Ryan Bradley back and available after only being introduced from the bench last weekend they should have too much fire-power for Burt.
Aodh Ruadh v Naomh Brid
Aodh Ruadh are in pole position following Michael ‘Sticky’ Ward’s last gasp equaliser last Sunday in Trummon, when they host Naomh Brid in Fr. Tierney Park.
Verdict: Aodh Ruadh
Urris v Termon
Termon had ten points to spare at the Burn Road, on Saturday night but they will not relish the trip to Clonmany and the tight confines of Pairc Ui Cnaimishigh. However, the visitors should have enough in their armoury to win, but one thing’s for sure, it will be much closer on this occasion.