Craigbane v Castledawson
Friday (7.00) - Owenbeg
Ref: Terence McElhinney (Faughanvale)
Last season Craigbane were on the wrong end of an unmerciful hammering at the hands of a ruthless Ballymaguigan side on their way to the intermediate final.
Only Jude McLaughlin from their 2011 Ulster winning team graced Dean McGlinchey Park. No matter where goalkeeper Conor McGuiness directed his kick-outs to, it was a green and gold jersey that came out with the ball.
Without it, Craigbane were pulverised in every department before shipping a heavy defeat. In the league, they ended up relegated to division two.
Their opponents this weekend also succumbed to Paddy Downey’s side in the next round but they did pose more taxing questions in sustained period of second-half dominance.
At least until Darren Conway took himself to midfield, got his mits on the ball before setting up Ryan Ferris’ clinching goal.
James McGrath came in as Craigbane manager and put some structure to their side. While it is very much a transition at Gerry Crossan Park, they failed to break into the top two position spots. Four defeats, including a loss to Magilligan in round one, means the kingpins, with seven titles, will play in the junior championship next year.
Castledawson could’ve been joining Craigbane in division two next season after a poor league campaign but they stayed up by virtue of score difference, after finishing level with Glenullin and Ballymaguigan.
In the end, it was a comfortable win over the ‘Quigan in the summer that saved the ‘Dawson’s bacon and sent their local rivals down.
Former Moneymore and Lissan boss Paddy McGuckin took charge of Castledawson. Also new this season is goalkeeper Aidan McLaughlin, who is now a brother in law of Niall, Ruairi and Aidan Keenan.
The former Claudy goalkeeper’s last championship game was in the 2017 senior championship against Ballinderry after taking last season out. He will renew his local rivalry with Craigbane this weekend.
Kieran O’Kane made a comeback from retirement and has been a permanent fixture at full-back for Castledawson. Gone from last year’s defence are Owen Gribbin, Sebastian Leyden and Jack Bresland.
Ryan Kennedy and Brian Ludlow have been the regular corner backs this season. The rangy Rian Connery forms a half-back trio with Ruairi and Niall Keenan, though Niall could be moved to corner back to pick up Jude McLaughlin.
Lee Moore is back in the Craigbane fold but the conundrum is where to play him. There is a possibility of slotting Bliain Gormley in the inside forward line with Moore out at centre-half. Gormley ended a 22 month injury crisis with a point against Drum in July. It’s unlikely he will be back to the full throttle that saw him as their midfield maestro for years.
Christopher Lowry, one of their three goalscorers in midweek against Doire Colmcille, will come into the reckoning.
Oisin O’Donnell is one of the players who has graduated from the underage ranks and will be vying for a spot with, Shane McMemamin, Ryan Mortimer and Fintan Lynch.
Brian Rainey and Fergal Mortimer could well slot into the midfield berths, with Rainey dropping back to the defence, behind Ruairi Gormley.
Odhran Mullan and Declan Lavery have been Castledawson’s midfield duo for most of the season, something that is unlikely to change.
But as Claudy found out, goalkeeper McLaughlin will keep the ball out of the middle and it wasn’t until Blaine Carlin pushed up that the Mitchel’s cracked.
If Craigbane follow suit, then Lee Moore may have to come into the middle for the physical battle. It’s not like the days of old when the Lily Whites would dominate midfield. The big men just aren’t there anymore.
Sean Mortimer will miss the game due to a pre-booked exchange trip and Cahir O’Kane will also be unavailable.
In defence, the McLaughlin brothers – Aaron and Cathal – will figure in James McGrath’s plans, which will also factor in the threat Castledawson dangerman Aidan Keenan will carry.
Paddy Henry drops back to play as a sweeper under Paddy McGuckin’s watch, so it will leave Brian Rainey free to sit right back in front of Keenan.
Eoin Coll and Niall Cartin have become regulars, with Conor McLaughlin and Naoise Ó Mianáin coming through from their youth drive.
Castledawson will have to plan without Niall McNicholl who has been struggling with injury of late. It means that Conor Taggart and Aidy Bradley will be presence on the half-forward line with Luke Doyle tucking back close to midfield.
Up top, it will be Ruairi Shivers and Aidan Keenan.
The ‘Dawson have endured a tougher season and were exposed to a higher level of opponent. On the other hand, Craigbane have only played three league games since the middle of July, with one being against lowly Doire Colmcille.
They have played challenge games, including a decent work-out against Kildress. Friday could be Craigbane’s last game in intermediate football but with James McGrath at the helm, they won’t lack desire.
The last time Craigbane played Castledawson in the championship was in the 2015 semi-final. They were underdogs then and turned them over.
The ‘Dawson may just come through this one but not without a battle.
KEY BATTLE: Lee Moore v Ruairi Keenan
With Paddy Henry mainly operating as a sweeper, Ruairi Keenan will follow Lee Moore who will need to come deep in search of the ball. If Keenan can stamp his authority on Moore, it will be advantage Castledawson.
TACTICAL TAKE: Making Owenbeg as wide as possible will be the number one priority for James McGrath this Friday night. Keeping the ball moving and out of contact will be Craigbane’s best approach to creating an upset.
Bliain Gormley may have a spell at midfield but he will probably be used as a target man, so getting Fergal Mortimer, Niall Cartin and Brian Rainey on the overlap can cut into Castledawson’s cover.
Craigbane’s problem is the lack of a player totally suited to picking up Aidan Keenan and cheap turnovers will be costly.
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