One of the most competitive Intermediate Football Championships in a long number of years comes to a conclusion at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday next (throw-in 1pm) when Granard and Cashel will battle it out for the county title and a cracking final is in prospect to determine the destination of the Gerry Hennessy Memorial Cup.
After suffering the bitter disappointment of getting relegated from the top flight last season for the first time in their proud history, St. Mary’s have recovered well in their quest to make an immediate return to the Senior Championship and are now just one step away from getting back to where they belong which is the club’s firm belief despite a serious struggle in recent years.
Dropping down a grade has gradually given Granard a new lease of life and under the driving force of their manager Gerry Cadden, the Mullahoran man in his first season in charge of the north Longford club, there is now a lot of positive talk as St. Mary’s contest a major county final for the first time in quite a few years.
Winners of several senior championship titles in a truly great tradition stretching way back into the past, Granard also have the distinction of achieving a solitary Intermediate Championship success in 2002 when a strong second string sprang a surprise to beat Kenagh 0-9 to 0-6 in the county final and the star of the show on that occasion was none other than Stephen Lynch who was a worthy winner of the man-of-the-match award after scoring eight points (five frees).
Former Longford player Stephen will be back in action on Sunday, lining-out at centre-half-back, and other experienced players on the current St. Mary’s team are David Blessington, Liam O’Rourke, Alan Neilon, Brian Sheridan, Bernard Clyne, Fergus Kelly (who also figured in the 2002 Intermediate title triumph) and brothers James and David Hynes.
A promising player to emerge in recent years is commanding full-back Thomas Gallagher while Granard can also call on the services of county minors Liam Sullivan and Timmy Jackson. A most notable absentee from this year’s championship campaign is Darren Gallagher, a prominent member of the Longford Minor team that won the Leinster title in 2010 but who has been out injured for a considerable length of time.
The St. Mary’s team that took the field in the recent semi-final against Rathcline showed a lot of resolve to eventually emerge victorious thanks to a late, late goal and a feature of that well deserved win was their immense work-rate.
Coach Gerry Cadden has achieved a fine level of fitness with the Granard squad and they will be difficult to beat in the final.
St. Mary’s certainly played the better football in the last four clash against Rathcline and should have won in more comfortable fashion. After already winning the Intermediate ‘B’ Championship title this season, the Granard club are on course to complete an unique double but are only too well aware that Cashel will provide a serious test in the match that really matters.
Cashel, of course, are also former Senior kingpins after capturing the Connolly Cup on four occasions in a glorious era that began in 1977 and concluded in 1986 when they really were a powerful force.
The south Longford club went on to experience a lot of lean times thereafter but bounced back in the 90’s to win the Intermediate Championship three times in the space of seven years and also claimed consecutive county titles in this grade when further glory was achieved in 2008 and 2009.
Thus Cashel are attempting to capture the coveted Intermediate crown for a seventh time and first won the second tier championship way back in 1968.
In charge of the current squad in their quest for glory is Rooskey native Dermot Washington, who is obviously making his presence felt, and Cashel are now more or less back to full strength with the participation in RTE’s Celebrity Bainisteoir certainly helping their cause in creating a big buzz among the players.
But their focus is now firmly fixed on overcoming the challenge of Granard in the eagerly awaited Intermediate Championship decider and with the benefit of an extra competitive game in the comfortable win over Carrickedmond in the semi-final replay, Cashel are coming into the big match with a lot of momentum.
County player Peter Foy will be leading the charge while other key figures on the Cashel team are Padraig Farrell, Conan Casey, Aidan Rowan, Gary Kenny, Kieran Mulvihill and the midfield pairing of Ger Dennigan and James Rowan – all of whom will be hoping to make a big impact in the final on Sunday.
The lively Shane Merrigan is capable of causing problems for the Granard defence and with the vastly experienced Derek Farrell also pitted in the Cashel full-forward-line alongside Mulvihill in the quest for the vital scores, a winning tally might well materialise for the men in ‘red and black’ who, like Granard, were relegated from the Senior Championship last season.
Predicting the eventual outcome is a close call, to say the least, but on the evidence of what was witnessed in the semi-finals it would appear that Cashel are the better-balanced team and may just have the edge in a most intriguing clash for the Intermediate Championship title.