St Eunan’s chase place in Ulster final for first time

St Eunan’s chase place in Ulster final for first time
Maxi Curran believes St Eunan’s have a ‘massive opportunity’ to reach the AIB Ulster club championship final for the first time ever.

Maxi Curran believes St Eunan’s have a ‘massive opportunity’ to reach the AIB Ulster club championship final for the first time ever.

The Letterkenny side meet Tyrone champions St Enda’s in Sunday’s semi-final at Celtic Park, while the other last four tie in Omagh sees Monaghan winners Clontibret lock horns with Slaughtneil from Derry.

“None of the four teams left have won the Ulster club before,” Curran, the St Eunan’s manager, said.

“This is a massive opportunity and Omagh are a team that we shouldn’t fear. They are a serious outfit but the task facing us is not daunting. Every team left in this competition can win it. It’s a very open field and that’s exciting.”

St Eunan’s won their first ever provincial fixture on Donegal soil on Sunday when an accomplished showing - particularly in the first half - saw them overcome Roslea Shamrocks 1-9 to 0-6.

The Fermanagh champions set-up with a cluttered defence and spent the afternoon trying to pick out Seamus and Sean Quigley with raking balls.

However, St Eunan’s thought their way through, with Rory Kavanagh and Kevin Rafferty providing a calming influence from their axis at midfield, where they are surrounded by fresher faces.

Up front, Conall Dunne scored 1-4 of their 1-5 to 0-0 interval lead with the defence, marshalled by Eamonn Doherty at centre-back with Sean Hensey and Michéal Martin in behind, snuffing out the Quigley threat in front of debutant goalkeeper Shaun Patton.

Players like Conor Parke, Darragh Mulgrew, Conor Morrison and Caolan Ward picked up the breaks and moved from there.

Only six minutes from time, when substitute Dermot Reilly pointed, did Roslea score from play.

“Roslea were more defensive than they had been in the last couple of years,” Curran said. “But we adjusted and dealt well with their threat.

“In retrospect, it was tough coming out of Donegal and then playing in a completely new competition seven days later but we handled it well.

“Players like Rory Kavanagh, Kevin Rafferty and Conall Dunne can do that. They’re top footballers and can guide the team through games.”

Rafferty had returned from a nasty eye injury - a bruised retina sustained in the 0-9 to 0-6 RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta SFC final victory over Glenswilly - to assist Kavanagh and kick the first and last points on Sunday.

The attitude of St Eunan’s was perhaps best surmised by the diligence of Dunne, despite his team sauntering whilst being 1-7 to 0-1 ahead in the second half.

The 31-year-old, a six-time county champion, chased down a seeming lost cause to nip possession from Shane Lynch and square to John Haran, who in turn set up Conor Gibbons to score.

Despite having an ability to use their head to get through matches, St Eunan’s will require the legs as well.

Sunday will be their seventh championship outing in as many weekends.

“We are enjoying the momentum,” Curran added. “It can he hard going with a quick turnaround. You want to look back at your previous performance and then forward at the next opponents.

“It’s intense but there’s an opportunity there and that’s what makes it worthwhile.”

Another reason for Curran’s stance is the considerable overlaps that exist between the teams, both of whom are from the largest towns in the neighbouring counties.

St Enda’s are generally a young side with a backbone of experience provided by the McMahon brothers Justin, who operates at full-back, and centre-fielder Joe. Barry Tierney is also part of the Tyrone panel.

Conor Clarke, who partnered Sean Cavanagh in Mickey Harte’s midfield in the summer, has been out with a cruicate ligament injury and won’t return this side of Christmas.

St Enda’s might’ve been in action less frequently of late - something that gave their delegation a chance to cast an eye over St Eunan’s last Sunday - but they too may feel the momentum gathering.

Jason McAnulla punched a last minute winning goal in the Tyrone SFC semi-final to clinch a dramatic 1-7 to 0-9 win over Dromore.

Then, in the county showpiece, it was Ronan O’Neill’s turn as he planted an injury time goal in their 1-10 to 0-12 defeat of Carrickmore.

That was St Enda’s eighth ever county title - their first since 1988.

Any notion Laurence Strain’s panel would over-celebrate the generation gap in domestic silverware was dispelled when they turned Ulster on its head with a 2-8 to 1-9 defeat of Crossmaglen Rangers in the quarter-finals.

“Both teams are so similar,” Curran added. “They set-up the same, they’re young and energetic with an edge of experience and are hard-working.

“St Enda’s are strong on the turnover and attack you in numbers. Their younger players have had some success with Tyrone but so have ours with players in the Donegal minor and U-21 teams.

“We will want to improve on how we played against Roslea. As I said, it’s a huge opportunity.”

Sunday’s game throws in at Celtic Park at 2:30pm.

St Eunan’s: Shaun Patton, Micheál Martin, Sean Hensey, Caolán Ward, Conor Parke, Eamonn Doherty, Conor Morrison, Kevin Rafferty, Rory Kavanagh, Darragh Mulgrew, Conall Dunne, Sean McVeigh, Conor Gibbons, John Haran, Rory Carr, Mark McGowan, Cillian Morrison, Kieran Sharkey, Connall O’Boyle, Paddy McGowan, Odhran McGinley, Michael Miller, David Tyrell, Sean Daffan.