Ulster IFC preliminary round
Steelstown v Cloughaneely (Donegal)
O'Donnell Park, Letterkenny
Sat Nov 20
Ref: Conor Dourneen (Cavan)
The talk after the intermediate final was about getting an elephant off their back, but with the herd safely dispatched from the Maiden City, Steelstown have a chance to express themselves in Ulster.
Elation carried the players and supporters through a few dreamlike days at the start of last week, but the boots were back in the kitbag by midweek in preparation for the next step.
Brian Óg's manager Hugh McGrath says it is important to look at their Ulster campaign as an exciting opportunity.
“The guys enjoyed themselves, but we're fairly focused now,” he said.
“We're keen to get into a different environment and see how we fare and maybe express ourself a bit more.
Steelstown management team. Pic by Mary K Burke.
“The pressure isn't totally off, but it's definitely lessened. You play for so long, and in club football you sometimes don't get a chance to express yourself on a bigger stage unless you play for the county.
“There is an opportunity for some of our younger guys to get onto a bigger stage and show just how good they are.
“When you play the same teams over and over in your own county, you get a rough idea of who you're better than or who you can compete with, but this is the unknown.
“That's the challenge that sportspeople want.”
Saturday's opponents, Cloughaneely, will have had to curb their celebrations slightly, having been forced through a replay with Dungloe at the weekend.
When the knockout blow was delivered, it was emphatic, a 1-11 to 0-5 victory ending their own heartbreak of consecutive final losses.
Steelstown celebrate their Derry title win. Pic by Mary K Burke.
The clubs also share off-field heartache. Cloughaneely captain John Harley passed away following a car crash in January 2019, which claimed the lives of four young men.
Hugh McGrath made a beeline for O'Donnell Park at the weekend to have a look at them.
“I was fairly surprised the first game was a draw. Cloughaneely were just so dominant in every line of the pitch,” he said.
“They were really good to watch, they moved the ball really well and they go for the jugular any chance they get and they're very accurate.
“I'd like to think we're a good team to watch too, so it'll be a decent test and a decent watch for everybody that's year.”
Cloughaneely needed a replay to see off Dungloe at the weekend.
McGrath noted that Cloughaneely have had more competitive games throughout their championship campaign, with Steelstown only really tested in the quarter final and final in Derry.
The Derry side have totalled 14-104 (146pts) and conceded 3-48 (57pts) with a scoring average of 24.3 points per game, and an average concession of just 9.5 points per game.
In comparison, Cloughaneely have hit 6-98 (116pts) and conceded 2-75 (81pts), finishing with a scoring average of 14.5 points per game and conceding on average 10.1 points per game.
These are two talented sides who can make life difficult for each other. The Donegal men have had a week less to prepare, but Hugh McGrath feels it will have little effect on the game.
“We celebrated long and hard because we knew we had that extra week; they'll have celebrated for a couple of days, but no doubt they've a couple of cool heads who'll get them ready for Saturday,” he said.
“There wasn't much chance for the dust to settle. For the guys just in the senior group, it was great to be able to take a back seat and go and support their club mates in other games.
“It helped them relax a bit and get refocused and ready to go.”
McCarron has the physique, power and pace to hurt any team. In Eoghan Bradley, Cahir McMonagle and Morgan Murray, he has a wealth of talent around him and has the ability to bring out the best in it.
Alongside the experienced Neil Forester, McCarron is growing into an excellent leader.
McGee took the man of the match award home in the final replay and with a personal haul of 0-5 it would have been hard to argue the toss.
The midfielder led the charge and his determination to ensure his side came out on top will be needed in the Ulster preliminary clash with Steelstown.
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