Claudy v Steelstown
Friday (8.30) – Celtic Park
Ref: Anthony Campbell (Magherafelt)

League champions Claudy put their championship credentials on the line against Steelstown under Celtic Park’s lights on Friday night.
Since their previous promotion to the senior ranks, following their play-off win over Glenullin in 2015, the Mitchel’s more than held their own.
Under Michael O’Kane, they punched above their weight but following his departure after the 2017 season the wheels came off the wagon.
Larry Strain took over but with a lack of commitment, the Tyrone championship winning manager departed and Claudy went into freefall.  A drubbing at home to Ballinascreen saw them concede seven goals and bottom out.
In the championship they put a brave face on and gave Loup a game of it before running out of gas.
As they sat at a crossroads, the next appointment was critical but the club produced a masterstroke with the unveiling of Emmet McKeever as boss.  An icon of club football and with experience in previous setups in Dungiven, he teamed up with Peter McDermott to get Claudy believing again.
In their second league game they treaded water as Foreglen missed a host of chances before coming strong to nab a draw and if the game not been blow up 30 seconds early, they could have nabbed a win.  Something that isn’t often plentiful on a trip to Foreglen.
For too long it was Aaron Kerrigan’s frees and his knack of burning off defenders to scored goals that carried Claudy.  He has eight goals to his name in the league.
Oran Armstrong has come on the scene to offer them more play.  Marty Donaghy – in what he claims is his final season – has fended off a litany of injuries to add to the tally.  He, along with panellist Paul White, are the sole survivors of their 2005 championship title.  Under Paul McIver and Killian Conlan, they saw off Coleraine to land the Sheridan, Lee, Bateson Cup.
One of their greatest assets this season, is attacking wing-back Blaine Carlin who has contributed 2-8 through the league.
When Castledawson had Claudy where they wanted them in the league encounter at the Broagh, it was Carlin who pushed forward to change the momentum of the game.
In the league decider against Newbridge, Paddy Bradley paid him a compliment by sacrificing Conor Doherty to repel Carlin’s influence.
By the time they lost to Drumsurn in their final game, it was merely window dressing and the cup was presented after their defeat at Billy Doran Park.
Their round four win (1-11 to 0-13) away to Steelstown came courtesy of an Aaron Kerrigan’s 48th minute goal.
On Friday night, with both teams at full pelt, there would unlikely be much between the teams.
Steelstown will be without Jacob Duffy with a wrist injury, sustained in training after their win over Drumsurn.  Gareth Logue and Kevin Lindsay sat out their draw with Foreglen.  The duo are expected to return to action this weekend but they are sweating over Mickey McKinney.  The former Derry minor defender injured his hamstring against Drumsurn and is rated by manager Eamon Gibson as ‘touch and go’ to face Claudy.
With Marty Dunne dropping down to the reserve team this year, Eoghan Heraghty has eventually been given the chance to get a sustained run in the number one jersey.
Shane O’Connor’s back injury has curtailed his involvement Claudy, which should see Cathair O’Doherty and newcomer Ruairi McShane start in defence.
There is a more consistent feel to their half-back line, where Neil Forester and anchors the defence from number six, while Eoghan Concannon and Diarmuid Baker man the win spots.  Baker has posted two points in each of their three games at the end of the league.
With Claudy’s attack demanding attention, Lindsay should pick up Marty Donaghy, with Concannon dropped back to keep an eye on Aaron Kerrigan.
The advantage Claudy will have is the presence of Paddy Hargan and Oran Armstrong, both capable of getting on the scoresheet.  It will place extra importance on the positioning of CJ Martin, who has been playing as a sweeper for the city side.
With players rested in the Drumsurn game, there was a start for Shea Kerrigan and his tally of 2-6 will leave a more competitive edge to training this week, giving McKeever and McDermott a selection call to make.
There was also a recent return from injury for Shane McGahon but he maybe have to settle for a place on the bench.
They will be without Stephen Farren who is serving a 24 week ban following the Neal Carlin Cup, where he was sent off - on a double booking - before coming in their extra-time win over Glack.
In Steelstown’s attack, a shoulder injury to Mark Foley in the Greenlough game has robbed them of their key scorer from placed balls and if McKinney misses out, it will be a huge loss for Steelstown.
Ben McCarron missed chunks of the season with injury and U20 duty.  Steelstown will need him to make their attack, especially with their injury woes elsewhere.
This had the potential to be the tie of the round but with Claudy’s greater all round balance, the Ballyarnet men’s search for a first championship is set to continue.

KEY BATTLE: Diarmuid Baker v Oran Armstrong
They many not be in direct opposition but if Baker can bomb forward enough it could curb Claudy’s half-forward line, where Oran Armstrong is a key cog.  If Claudy can control this zone, they book a quarter-final spot.

TACTICAL TAKE: A glance at their team on paper and Claudy have the tools to win the club’s second championship.  The worry for Steelstown is the absence of Foley and possibly McKinney.  It will be left to Gareth Logue, Paul Ferris and Ben McCarron to carry the can for them.
They will drop CJ Martin back to cover the space in front of Kerrigan and Donaghy.  A defensive approach could be their best approach but it’s hard to see it being enough to stop Claudy’s march to the next round.

For a full and extensive round-up of the Derry championship games, grab a copy of Tuesday's County Derry Post.

Pic:Mary K Burke.

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