South Armagh sides Dromintee and Forkhill have had starkly contrasting build-ups to this Saturday’s Buttercrane Intermediate Championship showpiece at Silverbridge (5.30pm).
Title favourites Dromintee booked their place in the Orchard county’s second tier decider by overcoming Mullaghbawn in the first semi on August 25, whereas the final will be Forkhill’s third championship match in just 10 days.
The protracted saga surrounding Lower Creggan’s elimination from the competition for failing to field in a quarter-final replay followed by three appeals has resulted in a packed programme for Forkhill.
They have virtually been on tour for the past week with long journeys to play Lower Creggan at Tullysaran last Tuesday in that delayed replay and then Granemore in Friday night’s semi-final at Davitt Park in Lurgan.
Forkhill romped past Lower Creggan 4-17 to 0-5 second time around but had a tougher game against Granemore in spite of prolific captain Amy Mulholland netting twice in the first five minutes on her way to a personal haul of 3-5.
Granemore initially struggling to cope with Forkhill’s runners, who were linking well with Mulholland but they gradually got into the game and a purple patch just before half-time saw the underdogs go in with an unexpected two-point interval lead.
Mulholland hit the crossbar with a stinging shot soon after the resumption but Forkhill still scored 2-3 in the first seven minutes of the second half to take control again, though they had just two points to spare at the end as it finished 4-11 to 3-12.
It has been a busy schedule for Forkhill but they have cleared each hurdle and Mulholland hopes the silver lining will be her team taking much more momentum into the big game than their opponents.
“We’ve spent every night together this week so it’s almost like we’re in tournament mode and, with two wins as well, we’re on a bit of a roll whereas Dromintee have had a long lay-off since their semi,” she mused after beating Granemore.
“It’s been unusual having two championship matches in a few days but we’ve come through them, the whole Lower Creggan scenario while challenging just served to galvanise us and the local community of Forkhill has really rallied behind us with great support at both matches this week in spite of them being so far from home.”
Since coming up from the Junior ranks in 2014, Forkhill have faced formidable opposition in their first three seasons at Intermediate level but this season’s draw seemed more favourable and they have taken their opportunity to reach this final.
“We’ve fought hard to get here in that Lower Creggan took us to a replay and Granemore gave us a great game. We got the start we wanted but then dropped off for a while which we can’t afford to be doing against Dromintee.”
Both teams had their hands full with third division opponents in their respective semis so, while Mulholland highlights Dromintee’s top flight league status, she isn’t actively claiming the underdog label as so many teams attempt to do.
“I’m acknowledging the challenge of facing a Division One team and we certainly won’t underestimate Dromintee but both teams have seen how league placings don’t always mean much when it comes to championship matches so I’m sure they’ll be taking us seriously.
“It’s 60 minutes of football with silverware at stake so there’s massive incentive for both teams to go out and perform on the day. We’re relishing the challenge and not thinking about being underdogs as such any more than we would have claimed to be favourites against Granemore.”
That big gap since beating Mullaghbawn may make it a challenge for Dromintee to hit the ground running against a Forkhill team with momentum and who made that very fast start in their semi.
Forkhill will want to exploit any early rustiness on Dromintee’s part and any lead they can build may be needed if they suffer from an understandable fatigue factor in the later stages on the back of such an intense schedule lately.
The unavoidable delay in the final from its intended slot of September 9 has done Dromintee no favours, not just having to go four weeks without a championship match but also losing their captain and former Armagh goalkeeper Katie Daly for the big game as a result.
Daly had hoped to lift the trophy ahead of moving to her late mum’s native America but has already left these shores and her absence between the posts could prove problematic, particularly in light of the havoc Mulholland can cause.
One of the fascinating subplots in this showpiece will be the respective performances of Forkhill and Dromintee’s diminutive dangerwomen, with both Mulholland and Armagh’s Aoife McCoy capable of doing great damage.
All eyes will be on the two ace attackers, though who wins won’t just come down to their ability and delivery under pressure, but which defence can most effectively curtail the threat and who gets the best support.
In that regard there should be an absorbing battle around the middle of the field featuring Forkhill’s Sheridan sisters, Megan and Lauren, against another strong runner in Armagh’s Shauna Grey who will have help from former county player Aisling Hughes.
Grey won Player of the Match in the Ulster Intermediate final for Shane O’Neills when she and McCoy were with the Camlough club on loan in 2016, while two years earlier the Sheridan sisters shared the individual award when Forkhill were crowned Armagh Junior champions, incidentally at this Saturday’s Silverbridge venue.
That tussle along with the expected fireworks up front from the respective star forwards should be well worth the admission money and this final is also an ideal opportunity for other lower-profile players to make a name for themselves.
Favourites to take the second tier title last year but beaten by surprise package Cross in the semis, Dromintee will be very wary of Forkhill here and should benefit from former Armagh manager James Daly’s experience of preparing teams for big games.