Stephen Baxter. Photo: Adrian Donohoe.

Denn face unknown challenge in Ulster opener

Denn Vs Naomh Comhghall

Kingspan Breffni

Saturday, November 27

Throw-in: 6pm.

Denn embark on their Ulster Club Junior Football Championship adventure at Kingspan Breffni this Saturday.

Antrim junior champions Naomh Comhghall present the first challenge in a provincial campaign where the Denn manager Stephen Baxter says they have nothing to fear. Going into Saturday’s match, Baxter is confident they will have a full compliment of players from which to pick.

“There’s a few injuries but we would expect everyone to be fit for it,” he assures.

While the Ulster championship was on their radar, Baxter regards it as bonus territory.

“It is a bonus, because winning junior was our ambition at the start of last year, let alone this year. It’s a fantastic competition and it’s something we’re looking forward to as well,” he enthused.

Baxter claims they are going into the tie blind as to the challenge the Antrim town based team present.

“We know they won the junior final on penalties, that’s all we really know about them,” he says of Naomh Comhghall. “In fairness Antrim club football is very strong, so we are expecting a tough game. “We’ll respect them, that’s all you can really do.”

Their opponents are a team on the up. This year’s junior success for Naomh Comhghall’s bridged a 23 year gap since their last championship, a period which saw the club endure some tough times. Problems with securing a lease for their pitch resulted in the club not fielding a team in any competition in 2003. The club has returned to rude health however, and they had been knocking on the door for Junior honours in recent years losing the 2020 final before regrouping to overcome St Mary’s Rasharkin in this year’s epic final – they had been level 10 times.

The success was acknowledged with five nominees for Antrim All Stars in Miles Devine (midfield), Dylan Murdock (half back), Anto Watson (goalkeeper), Conor McAuley (forward) and Tom Patchett (forward), although they all lost out with the awards dominated by senior championship teams.

Denn have their own wealth of danger men too, none more so than their county star Thomas Edward Donohoe. His brother Sean Donohoe will also do great work, dropping back from the half forward line to help out in midfield. The form of stalwart Tomas Corr, who excelled in both the semi final and final will be a big plus for Denn. While Ben Conaty deservedly won man of the match for his final performance, a lot of the ammunition for the Denn attack is sourced from their marauding wingbacks, Conor O’Reilly and James Brady.

Denn’s championship veered from the low of losing the postponed 2020 Junior Championship final to Templeport, only to then win the 2021 cup a matter of weeks later. However, they have not played together competitively since the final in October 30.

“It’s probably a break in momentum a little bit, but there’s still lots of football being played between the Under 20s and the Reserves, and things like that, but it does break the momentum – it’s four weeks of a gap which doesn’t help.”

While this clutch of Denn players may not have tasted Ulster club championship, Baxter was in charge of his home village of Ballymachugh when they lost out to Naomh Colmcille in the opening round. The defeat was a hard one to take, even more as the Donegal Champions went on to win the competition.

“There’s lessons learned from that – there’s a few harsh lessons learned from it. We’ll be trying to use that to our advantage,” assured Baxter.

Ruminating on the Ballymachugh loss, he adds: “Some things you can’t forget. It’s definitely something we regret still.”

On the plus side, the fact that Naoimh Colmcille proceeded to win the Ulster Cup, shows there’s nothing for Denn to fear going into Saturday’s encounter.

“Absolutely not,” Baxter agrees. “It’s the same with Ramor and the same with Butlersbridge as well. There’s absolutely nothing to fear in that. Absolutely not.”

He’s anticipating a good support on Saturday evening.

“We have been pretty well supported all year. People are probably glad to get out of the house in November as well. The Cavan crowd always come out to support their own clubs when it comes to Ulster.”