Ballyhaise may be team to beat in tightly-packed field

Intermediate Football Championship preview

Damien Donohoe

This evening, the McEvoy’s SuperValu, Virginia, Intermediate Football Championship gets underway and it promises to be hotly contested. The 14 teams that make up this year’s championship range from third in Division 1 to eighth in Division 3 of this year’s final league standings. For me, this years championship has a big four followed by a very even 10 who are all capable of taking a single scalp but unlikely to take a second in this year’s championship.

Ballyhaise Kevin Tierney sees off the challenge of Cuchulainns' Conor Flanagan and Evan Doughty.

Killeshandra, having made last year’s intermediate semi-final thanks to a three-point win in the quarter final over neighbours Cornafean, along with Declan McKiernan returning to the side, would have been expected to build on a positive 2021 season. Unfortunately, 2022 has seen the Leaguers lose their form, finishing the bottom ranked intermediate side in this year’s league with seven losses from their 13 Division 3 games.

Killeshandra’s first game may prove to be the most important of their four group stage games; they face last years Ulster and Cavan junior champions Denn. Similar to Killeshandra, Denn have failed to build on a positive 2021 campaign as a disappointing league saw them relegated to division three for 2023. With a couple of change of managements, the loss of captain Bernard Gaffney and former county star Tomás Corr, Denn are now in a rebuilding phase quicker than they would have liked to be. Retaining Intermediate status at this stage would look like success for both these sides.

Templeport, having won the Junior Championship of 2020 last summer (2021) cemented there intermediate status with impressive performances in last years group stage against eventual winners Butlersbridge and Cuchulainns.

Declan Farrell has managed to maintain progress since that junior success by adding the Division 3 league title this year what a 15-game winning run. With an abundance of attacking power, Templeport would fancy their chances against most of the teams in this year’s championship and are very capable of taking a scalp against a higher ranked team.

Quarter-final is more than achievable for Templeport but it's hard to see them beating more than one of the big four this summer. Their first outing will see them face off against a Cootehill side who failed to pick up any victories in this year’s Division 1 league.

Cootehill, who are without a doubt in transition, found the going very tough at the top table of league football. Under manager Adrian Delaney they blooded in a lot of teenagers from what looks like promising generation of footballers coming through their underage system. Making a quarter-final would represent a good campaign and their Division 1 experience should see them get there.

Belturbet survived a relegation play-off last year and had a middling league in Division 2 this year, finishing with seven wins, five defeats and a draw. The Rorys’ strength is at the back where they finished the league with the best defensive record in the division. Up front they depend on Enda Henry for scores and while Henry consistently gets them, this over-reliance may prove to be a restricting factor on how deep they can go into the championship.

Castlerahan's Cormac Daly.

Drumgoon, under the management of Stephen McGovern, finished the league with a disappointing defeat in the relegation play off replay sending them to Division 3 for 2023. They had this joint worst defensive record in Division 2, leaking an average of more than 16 points per game. Keith Fannin has rolled back the years becoming their top scorer but they will need to tighten up at the back if they want to make the knock-out stages this year.

After wonderful progress over the last two years, Bailieborough’s league campaign has left us with more questions than answers as to where the Shamrocks are right now. With two changes in management since their narrow defeat to eventual winners Butlersbridge last year, it's unknown if they can reach the high levels of performance that we saw in 2021.

With an injury list the length of your arm during this year’s league Ballymachugh did well to hold onto their Division 2 status. Youngsters Peter Devine and Shane Tynan have energised the Ballymachugh attack and with plenty of physical power around the field on their day Raymond Reilly’s side are a formidable outfit. Unfortunately, consistency has been their Achilles’ Heel in the last few years and so while I'd expect them to pick up a couple of positive results, making a quarter final would be a positive result.

Cornafean under Declan Beard showed a lot of promise last year in making the quarter-final last year. Unfortunately for the Reds that turned out to be their worst performance of the championship. Most notable about this Cornafean side is the work rate and after that they are no longer reliant on Barry Doyle for the majority of their scores. Making this years Division 2 league semi-final meant they are the fifth highest ranked intermediate team in the league and so should make the final eight.

Killinkere under former Kingscourt manager Dudley Farrell finished the league with a defeat in a relegation play-off against Killygarry but in the league there were some positive signs with wins over Ballinagh, Cootehill and Laragh. The experience of playing in Division 1 should help Killinkere reach this years quarter-finals but without speedster Peter McCabe, it will be up to Emmet Fitzsimons and youngster Cian McGovern to lift scoring load.

Shercock managed by Andy McGovern open their championship with a derby against Drumgoon which will see Andy face off against his brother Stephen as opposing managers. After four years of being competitive at senior championship Shercock hold a lot of experience that will come in handy this year.

Over the last few years they have been defensively very solid and with Niall Clerkin and Killian and Sean Clarke scoring well they will be a test for any side. Something in me is saying keep a very close eye on them. I expect them to be in the last four and wouldn’t be surprised at anything that happened after that.

Last year Cuchulainns under Micheal Lyng, started the league really well and seemed to have a head start on other teams but as the championship heated up they appeared to run out of steam. This year in Division 2 they won six games, lost five and drew two but never got to full strength with county players and injuries. There’s no doubting the talent in the side and with everyone at full tilt they should make a semi-final.

Castlerahan were probably the best senior side in Cavan from 2011 to 2020 but last year the wheels came off in a crash that saw them relegated to intermediate. They are not the side they once were but they still have a huge amount of talent and big championship game experience. With rumours of Sean Brady and Ronan Flanagan returning to the panel manager Brian Donohoe will have selection headaches.

Karl Cosgrove and Cian McCabe have now become key men up front with Oisin O’Connell and Enda Flanagan adding serious power to their scoring options. Oisin Kiernan will be very hard to stop in the middle third of the field at this level while Cormac Daly and David Wright have shown that they can control kick-outs at senior level.

Within the group I’d imagine anything less than winning it out will be seen as a failure but this championship is harder won than some realise. I think if they don’t win it, the eventual champions will beat them.

The favourites for me are Ballyhaise. Some in the club won’t like hearing that but given their league performances it’s justified. While there are question marks at the back about their defence, Damien Keaney has got last year’s beaten finalists into a settled team who for me possess more scoring options than any other team in the competition.

Padraig Moore’s return has added another physically strong, fast, scoring forward to complement Kevin Tierney and Michael Brady in the forwards. David Brady is for my money playing the best football of his adult career.

He’s injury free, fit, fast and strong and on his day he’s as good as any player in the county at kicking scores and fielding high ball.

They are the top ranked intermediate team in this years league finishing third in division one loosing only to Ramor Utd and importantly Castlerahan in the opening round.

Beating the likes of Crosserlough, Gowna and Kingscourt should mean a lot when they step into this years intermediate championship.

Like all predictions it’s impossible to know what’s going to happen and there will be shocks and surprises along the way but I do think this years intermediate champions will be among the strongest to lift the Tommy Gilroy Cup in a long time.