Race is on for Intermediate Championship final places

Race is on for Intermediate Championship final places
St. Naul’s, Naomh Columba, Aodh Ruadh and Naomh Muire are battling for a place in the Intermediate Championship final this weekend.

St. Naul’s, Naomh Columba, Aodh Ruadh and Naomh Muire are battling for a place in the Intermediate Championship final this weekend.

St. Naul’s and Naomh Columba are the first into battle this weekend. They meet on Saturday evening in Fintra at 6 pm, while Naomh Muire and Aodh Ruadh go head to head in the other semi-final on Sunday, in MacCumhaill Park, 3 pm.

St. Naul’s are the form team in Division Three and go into their clash with Naomh Columba very much as favourites. They currently sit on the top of the Division Three table and are just one win away from claiming the automatic promotion spot.

Naomh Columba, on the other hand, are struggling to find consistency in their season, especially so in the league. They are currently fourth from the bottom of the Division Three table and just hovering above relegation play-off territory.

“Promotion was always the number priority this season but we are not going to turn up our noses at the championship either and now that we are through to the semi-final we are going all out to make it to the final,” said St. Naul’s manager, Brian McCabe.

Saturday evening’s game will be St. St. Naul’s fifth game in the championship.

Naomh Columba are also facing into their fifth game. After drawing with Naomh Brid in the first leg of the preliminary round, they defeated Naomh Brid and Downings away and Downings at home. They have also been boosted by their minors winning the Minor B championship at the weekend.

“The championship has gone well for us and we certainly have played our best football in the championship. Our two best performances this year were away to Naomh Brid and Downings, both in the championship,” Brendan Doherty, Naomh Columba manager, told the Democrat.

“They were two big displays, especially the one away to Downings who are going very well in the league and in second place just behind St. Naul’s”.

It is that away performance against Downings that gives Doherty and his team a degree of hope as they head to Fintra on Saturday evening.

However, that confidence is somewhat dampened by the unavailability of midfielder Declan McGuire and his brother, former county player Michael Maguire.

Declan is out with an ankle injury while Michael is working away from home and will not be home for another two weeks.

Doherty insisted that Naomh Columba are in bonus territory when it comes to the championship and their main focus is to pick up enough points in the league to make sure of their Division Three survival.

Ryan Gillespie is the only member of the minor team that has been making the starting team on a regular basis all season.

However, the Naomh Columba boss, given the absentees, did not rule out the possibility of Paddy Byrne, Stephen Jones and Pauric Ward, also from the minor team, being pressed into action on Saturday evening.

Naomh Muire favourites

Naomh Muire, the only Division Two side remaining in the championship, will carry the favourites’ tag into their clash with Aodh Ruadh.

After losing the first leg to Fanad Gaels, at home, they bounced back to beat Fanad twice and by big margins on both occasions, to book their place in the last four.

“We did not do ourselves justice against Fanad the first day. But we upped our performance in the second leg down in Fanad to force the play-off and we won the play-off well too,” said Naomh Muire manager, Danny O’Donnell, a member of the last Naomh Muire side to win the championship back in 1998.

Midfielder Owen McGarvey is the only playing survivor from 1998. McGarvey, a former county minor and U-21, is bidding to make it through to a third Intermediate decider. He was also a member of the club’s 1994 Intermediate winning team.

Sean ‘Point’ Gallagher, who missed the last two league games with a shoulder injury, is O’Donnell’s only injury concern.

Meanwhile, Donagh McIntyre and David Dolan are Aodh Ruadh manager Maurice McLaughlin’s biggest injury worries this week. They are both on the treatment table and are in a race with time to make Sunday’s showdown.

Like Brendan Doherty in Glencolmcille, McLaughlin insists that the league and survival is the main priority for Aodh Ruadh.

“The league and getting safe is our main objective and anything after that is a bonus. We won our last two games against Naomh Columba and Red Hughs and those results have eased the pressure. But we are not out of the woods just yet.

“The best way to describe the championship is that it has been a welcome distraction. All the games so far are no pressure games and it will be the same on Sunday. We will be going out to give it our best shot and to give a good account of ourselves and to win would be a real bonus.”

Aodh Ruadh are beaten finalists from last year. In the final, which was Aodh Ruadh’s first Intermediate decider, they went down by a point to Termon.