Gowna and Ballyhaise venture into Ulster
With junior representatives Arva securing a very impressive away win in Derry last weekend, senior champions Gowna and intermediate winners Ballyhaise this Sunday have the chance to secure a rare – and possibly unprecedented – clean sweep of three victories for Cavan clubs in the opening round of the Ulster Club Championships.
Gowna, who successfully retained the Oliver Plunkett Cup, take on Naomh Conaill from Glenties (Sunday, Kingspan Breffni, throw-in 4.30pm) while Ballyhaise face Na Dúnaibh (Downings) at 2.15pm in the curtain-raiser of an attractive double-header.
Gowna will hope to improve the dismal record of Cavan clubs in the competition. Cavan have never won the Ulster Senior Club Football Championship and the county’s record in it over the last 20 years is significantly worse than in any other provincial football competition, club or county.
Cavan’s dire run – Gowna, 21 years ago, were the last team other than Cavan Gaels to win a single match in the competition – is a real outlier when compared to other provincial football competitions at club and county levels.
In the last two decades, Cavan sides have won the Ulster junior club competition once and lost the final twice, an identical record to the Ulster intermediate club competition.
Cavan have also won one Ulster Senior Championship final and lost another final in that time as well as making three Ulster Minor Championship finals (winning one) and six U21 finals (winning four).
Cavan’s minor champions have also won the annual St Paul’s tournament and lost three other finals in that period, so the record of the county’s senior clubs stands out as particularly awful.
Other than Cavan Gaels wins over Antrim and Fermanagh opposition en route to the final in 2017, no Cavan club has won a match in it since the Gaels beat St Gall’s in 2008. And yet there is a degree of confidence that a dashing young Gowna side, who won the county championship in such convincing fashion after a slow start, can buck the trend.
Standing in their way is a very experienced and durable Naomh Conaill. The Glenties men made their breakthrough in 2005 under future All-Ireland winning manager, their own clubman Jim McGuinness, and have added a further five Donegal SFC titles since, including four of the last five.
They have played in the last seven Donegal deciders and in 2019, saw off Castlerahan (1-11 to 0-11) at Kingspan Breffni four days after winning a twice-replayed county final by a point against rivals Gaoth Dobhair.
This year, Martin Regan’s side were eight-point winners in the final against Gaoth Dobhair again, with Ethan O’Donnell picking up the Man of the Match award.
Their best showing in the Ulster Club was in 2019, when they made the final and lost by two points to Kilcoo.
They have played in 14 finals including replays going back to 2005 and kept nine clean sheets.
The tallies Naomh Conaill conceded in those deciders – 1-5, 0-8, 0-8, 1-7, 0-10, 0-7, 0-17, 0-7, 0-14, 0-8, 0-13, 1-11, 2-5, 1-8 – speak volumes about their defensive capabilities yet they have plenty of attacking talent, notably county star Ciaran Thompson.
Gowna are a brilliant goalscoring team but majors will be hard to come by. If they are to win, they will need to perform for the full 60 minutes plus and not get off to their customary slow start. Rated as 9/4 underdogs, they are regarded as live outsiders and should be more than capable of producing the upset.
Na Dúnaibh, meanwhile, will be familiar to Cavan followers as they lined out against Denn in the 2021 Ulster Club Junior final.
The Cavan champions won that game by 3-8 to 0-10 but probably should have been further clear.
Kevin Gallagher’s men beat Malin by 1-11 to 0-9 in the county final, with Johnny McGroddy picking up the Man of the Match award. McGroddy established himself as a starter up front with the Donegal senior team this year and is a real handful.
Damien Keaney’s side have been installed as 4/7 favourites to negotiate this hurdle.
They are a solid Division 1 team in the All-County League and having been in three Intermediate Champoionship finals in succession, they are regarded as one of the stronger Cavan representatives in this competition in recent years.
Cavan last made the final in 2018, when Mullahoran lost to Antrim’s Naomh Éanna; prior to that, Lavey lost narrowly to Cookstown in 2009 while Ballinagh won the competition in 2007.