Lavey v Greenlough
Friday (8.30) - Owenbeg
Ref: Mervyn McAleese (Drum)
If they started last October’s county final like they finished it, Friday night’s meeting with neighbours Greenlough could’ve been the opening round of Lavey’s title defence.
The 2018 championship story was one of Coleraine’s second title but beyond that, Lavey’s resurrection back to title contenders was a breath of fresh air in the race for the coveted John McLaughlin Cup.
Allowing Coleraine to build from the back and Barry Daly’s goal left Seamus Downey and John Brennan’s side with a mountain that, in the end, was just impossible to climb.
For their part, Greenlough have their own tale of woe. Under Niall Conway, they were the kick of the ball away from the 2017 final. Cormac O’Neill was in the clear in the dying embers of their semi-final with Ballinascreen but the bounce from the saturated Owenbeg surface didn’t favour him and ‘Screen cleared the danger.
Last year they came close to toppling ‘Screen again.
Controversially, they parted company with Niall and Paul Conway in mid-season. The Ballinderry duo have been replaced by Brian Lavery, Brian Heaney and Mick Shaw.
On the last day of the season, they still had a chance, albeit a slight one, of promotion. But they needed Newbridge to fall and they needed to topple a Glenullin team scrapping for their intermediate existence.
With Enda Lynn at heart the of it, Greenlough almost staged a comeback but they couldn’t find a way past goalkeeper Pearse McNicholl. Seamus Downey, who was in the crowd, will have saw how Glenullin dictated the game with their short kick-outs and were able to cut through Greenlough.
When the home side adopted a full press, it changed the dynamic of the game.
He will also have saw Lynn’s heavy strapping on a torn cruciate ligament he has been managing since coming back from county duty.
Beside him, Niall Loughlin is a welcome return from his time in Australia. It brings a totally different threat to their attack.
Their super-sub Stephen Bradley has bagged 2-7 this season and Greenlough may decide to start him this weekend, to bring their full attacking threat to Lavey.
Greenlough will recall Paul Quinn but have lost Christopher Kearney, who travelled to Dubai for a year after their win over Steelstown.
In name he may be one player, but his loss is immense. He holds the centre of their defence in place. He is their organiser and his absence demands a total reshape of their team.
It means that Brian McCallion, who had last season’s championship red card versus Ballinascreen rescinded, will be deployed at centre-back.
Consistently, he is one of Greenlough’s most prominent players. Barring their round one scare against Limavady – when he came on as a sub in the last 15 minutes – McCallion has scored in every other game.
He will have box clever with his runs from deep, only when the time is right and Stefan Lynn is tucked back as cover.
Chrissy Lagan is another defensive mainstay, but beside him is Christopher Lynn, son of former Derry minor star James. He went off late in the Glenullin game but is expected to be ready for this weekend and with his size, could be tasked with marking Cailean O’Boyle.
If Greenlough persist with Niall Loughlin and Enda Lynn as an inside duo, the onus will be on Ryan Tohill to carry the mantle of play-maker, especially with McCallion now in defence.
Lavey, on the other hand have gained with the return of Niall Toner. He is their go-to man in attack and a goal on his return against Loup will be a welcome boost. Greenlough will almost certainly put Paul Quinn on him.
It now means that Fintan Bradley can play a more prominent role further out the field, with Liam Murphy, Anthony McGurk and Chrissy Henry all options in the half-forward region.
Also coming into the fray since last year are Oran Downey and Ryan Mulholland, leaving Lavey with a selection headache this week.
Shane McGill, without being noticed, is one of their most important players. He handles the ball more than most and has found the net three times this season.
Damian Chivers will be positioned at midfield, but who partners him will be an interesting one.
Peter Rafferty has played there during the league, while Kevin O’Neill and Caolan McGurk had put their injury problems behind them to make a return, but are unlikely to have an engine that will last the pace of a game.
Declan Hughes returns from another summer in America and could to start.
Conor Mulholland starred on Lavey’s run to last year’s final but hasn’t played since their round four win over Coleraine back in April.
Mulholland’s absence will take away Lavey’s option of playing Michael Drumm in a sweeper role, especially with Aidan Toner picking up a hamstring injury against Glen.
Shane Lagan will start at corner back and they are unlikely to tinker with the positioning of Eamon McGill. It was his influence on Ciaran McFaul that was Glen’s downfall in last season’s semi-final. Lavey will want him and Shea Downey in their half-back line, so it could see James Crawford getting the nod at corner back.
Greenlough have always delivered a performance in the championship and while this will be an intense battle, Lavey should edge it.
KEY BATTLE: Shea Downey v Ryan Tohill
If Greenlough are to bridge the gap to their potent inside duo, then Tohill’s dinking passes can feed them. If Shea Downey can ensure that it is Tohill who is doing the chasing, then it’s advantage Lavey.
TACTICAL TAKE: It’s amazing the difference a year can make. Last year Cailean O’Boyle was relegated to the role in impact man. Now with Fintan Bradley on board with O’Boyle and Toner there is potentially a more potent Lavey attack. Add in Liam Murphy and Anthony McGurk and there is a unit that could unleash a challenge to get back to the final, if John Brennan and Seamus Downey put their faith in an attacking brand of football.
It will be a collection of talent that will give Greenlough problems and they may well decide to pack their defence to limit the threat, but it won’t be enough.
Pic: Mary K Burke.
For full coverage of all this weekend's games, make sure to get a copy of Tuesday's County Derry Post.
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