Look on the Harps side.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Look on the Harps side. thumbnailArmagh men gunning for County Championship glory

THIS Sunday at the Athletic Grounds (Oct 15), holders Maghery will take on Armagh Harps in the 2017 final of the domestic Senior Championship.

Who will win?

Maghery will start favourites but rest assured, each feels they can beat the other and Sunday will settle whose thinking and feeling is best.

Unlike former years, tradition and past history do not apply here. In the past four years, Harps reached two in a row finals only to be beaten by Crossmaglen.

Last year, having defeated a Cullyhanna side who beat Crossmaglen in the semi-final, Maghery are back in a second final in a row. Knowing how to reach consecutive finals suggest there is little to choose between the teams from managers right down to the last substitute.

I had the honour of coaching both managers when assistant to Jim McCorry in the early 1990s and I consider both as friends. Both Shane McConville (Maghery) and John Toner (Harps) are calm, quiet mannered, very affable yet very astute managers when it comes to team strategies, set-ups, match ups, etc. They will be meticulous in all they do and preparations will be of the highest standards.

Both are, what I call, 'front-foot' football, ie their teams play proactive attacking football while still very adept at 'winning the ball back'.

Shane and John are firm friends who respect each other and I've no doubt they'll take time to talk post final game.

HARPS have had to adjust for some games because of injury and suspension yet their subs coming on have regularly made a significant impact on the game, eg, Gareth Swift, Conor White, Pauric Rafferty, Conor Coulter and the Fields, Eoin and Ryan.

Who will take on Maghery's midfield pairing is likely to come from the following quartet - Conor White, Charlie Vernon, Josh Loughran, or Lorcan Oliver. Harps' defence all season looked a degree suspect as too many ventured forward but didn't fully commit to coming back.

Harps, still, leaked the less scores in the comparison of the four semi-finalists campaigns. To their credit, in the quarter-final and semi-final Harps' defence was structured well and left few gaps for scores, especially goals.

Paddy Morrison, relieved at enjoying an injury free championship, has been steady in his performances.

The full-back line, competent at playing 'pass' ball out of danger, of Sean Farry, Karl Loughran and Conn Stevenson really 'put it up' to forwards to get pass - an exhausting proposition.

Wing backs, Rory McGrath and Paul Kelly have been rock steady in stepping up touch-tight in their marking which has enable Declan McKenna to bomb, when appropriate, to set up or take telling scores.

(For me, Declan, Stephen Cusack, Rory Grugan and Aaron Kernan have been the four players who have 'lit up' the championship by their consistent outstanding performances). Declan knows that in going forward his close friend, Charlie Vernon will drop back to 'mind his house'.

Harps' usual six starting forwards are capable of amassing scores, with Simon McCoy and Ryan McShane excellent at poaching goals, Joe McElroy and Tom O'Kane for taking confidence building points while Ultan Lennon, both from play and free, excellent at landing points.

This has been Ultan's best season for some time, adding penetrating link and support play with team-mates with his ability to snatch 'solo' points. Not to be forgotten is the work rate of Conor Murphy whose link play creates regular scores and his modicum of individual scores often arrive when needed.

If Mark McConville (classy corner back) is fit to play, it will be a most welcome boost to Harps' championship.

Yes, two worthy teams are contesting this year's County Senior final and I expect it to be intense, high-scoring, a clutch of goals, full of excitement and expectation with the winner crossing the line via a narrow victory.

Fermanagh champions, Derrygonnelly await the winners in the Erne county in the quarter-final of the Ulster Senior Club Championship.

Sincere good luck to both teams.


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