Paul Fitzpatrick previews this weekend's SFC matches.
Killygarry v Cootehill
Sun, 3pm, Butlersbridge
Imagine it as a screenplay; Killygarry's leading men are Conor Smith and Martin Reilly and one of those characters' roles in the script have just been killed off. It would take one hell of a twist in the narrative to save the production.
That's the unfortunate position the Crubany men find themselves in following the injury picked up by Smith against Lavey on Saturday last. The good news is that Darragh Gannon is a useful understudy but Smith, in irresistible form, is irreplaceable.
Still, Killygarry made light of the setback the last day - if anything, they were galvanised by it and took control of the contest before securing a draw.
They will be favourites here against a Cootehill side who made a mockery of this column (hands up - predictions here have been shockingly poor!) last weekend against Lacken. We gave the Celts a tentative vote based on the fact that they had a wider range of scorers but, amazingly, they managed to score just 0-2 in each half.
With Colm Smith having picked up a straight red card, he will probably miss out. Even if Cootehill win, they need results elsewhere to go their way while Killygarry know that a place in the quarters is within their own grasp.
Gowna v Ramor United
Sun, 3pm, Crosskeys
Just four teams have taken their place behind the band on the big day since 2014, namely Cavan Gaels, Castlerahan, Kingscourt and Ramor United and there is a real sense that a new side may well emerge this season to reach the final, a development which would be welcomed by the neutrals.
Could it be Gowna? We noted last week that the pick of their form has been eyecatching and holding an admittedly misfiring Cavan Gaels to a draw for the second time this season bolstered that sense. Their young players have settled in well and the experienced heads like Mark McKeever have been providing great leadership.
Ramor, for their part, generally did not play well against Castlerahan and looked like a side who have lost their way a little.
The good news for them is that there is a huge amount of talent on the sidelines ready to come back into the side. Seven of the starting team from their 2016 SFC-winning side have returned from abroad or are nearing a comeback from injury - defenders Micheál Smart, Eoin Somerville and Damien Barkey, midfielder James McEnroe and forwards Cathal Maguire and James Brady. With those men back on board, there could be a championship in this Ramor side; without them, they may not even get out of the group, despite the excellent form of some players including Conor Bradley.
Unbeaten Gowna will be a tough nut to crack but Ramor's need may be greater as Gowna could still lose and go through unless Cavan Gaels could turn around the eight-point score difference differential with a big win against Lacken.
Kingscourt v Crosserlough
Sun, 3pm, Bailieborough
Crosserlough have shown glimpses of form that suggest they are dark horses to make the final or even win this competition outright. But yet, they have slumped alarmingly at times, too, not least against Cootehill when they lost by a point and last weekend, when they went 10 up after 24 minutes against Ballinagh and ended up fighting for their lives in the second half.
It's thus difficult to make a confident prediction about a side who are capable of such inconsistent levels of performance. At their best, they are a hell of a side and word from Down is that Burren were extremely impressed by their pace and skills when they met in a recent challenge.
Kingscourt will pose a different challenge. They are physically strong up the centre - Joe Dillon was a revelation last Friday - and are a very difficult side to beat in championship football regardless of the form lines.
As Ballinagh's Padraic O'Reilly noted at a pre-championship final chat night a couple of years back, when a team has Kingscourt beaten, they have a mighty day's work done. That said, they are certainly lacking a bit of guile up front, Barry Reilly aside. For all their physical power and big game nous, they may find that Crosserlough have just too much speed about them.
This is a big test for Darragh McCarthy's young side and will tell us a lot about their title credentials but, for now, anything is possible.
It's also worth noting, however, that a draw will do both sides nicely and stalemates have a way of happening in such scenarios. Not that we are suggesting any impropriety of any sort but when games are level in the dying seconds, both teams can be content with their lot and become risk-averse. Stranger things have happened...
Shercock v Lavey
Sun, 3pm, Stradone
If Killian Clarke is unfit to take his place in the starting line-up, it will be an incalculable loss for Shercock, who were disappointing last Friday night after earning a good point against Gowna in the previous round.
Last year's intermediate winners just don't seem to be up to senior level in terms of conditioning yet and it's hard to see them pulling off an upset when they have nothing to play for against a Lavey side who played well against Killygarry without getting the win.
Chris Conroy, Gerry Smith and Shane Tierney are all going very well and Shercock will struggle to keep all three scoring threats under wraps.
Cavan Gaels v Lacken
Sun, 3pm, Cornafean
It's interesting that after playing the majority of their championship matches in Kingspan Breffni in recent years (last year, they had a big win over Arva in Ballinagh and beat Crosserlough by a couple of points in the quarters in Cornafean), Cavan Gaels have not yet picked up a win away from the county grounds this year.
The Gaels' famed siege mentality - which is based in logic as success usually breeds contempt and nobody has won more this century - will be cranked up this week as the county hums with talk that the champions may crash out.
A backlash is expected but Lacken will have a big say in that. No team works harder and what they lack in a little bit of quality in some positions, they make up for in desire and honesty, which was evident in how they ground out a win while missing a hatful of chances in a real stinker of a game against Cootehill last Saturday.
This near-annual town v country clash usually follows a familiar pattern: Lacken push the Gaels all the way in an ill-tempered game but are undone by a late goal or flurry of scores, with Sean Johnston and Martin Dunne the Celtics' tormentors-in-chief.
That was the way of it in the recent league semi-final, which could have gone either way, and could re-occur here. A team, one of whose main characteristics is work-rate, can suffer when the motivation dips so Lacken must beware.
Whatever happens, the Crowe Park men are through to the knock-out stages while the Gaels must win and hope results elsewhere go their way. Jason O'Reilly's men have been squndering goal chances galore (“it's as if they're trying to miss them!” joked one Gaels follower of long standing this week) but the positive for them is they are creating the opportunities and proven goalscorers like Dunne, Paul O'Connor et al are bound to find their groove at some stage.
Lacken will feel that this column has it in for them given that we have tipped them to lose rounds 2 and 3, which they won, although they were our selection against Ramor first time out, a game which ended in a draw.
Thomas Galligan and Co should have the edge at midfield - they certainly did in the league semi - and in the tight confines of Páirc Naomh Fionán, that will be a huge advantage, as will Niall McKiernan's left boot which makes him a scoring threat anywhere within 50 metres.
Still, though, surely the Gaels - who couldn't find a way to lose for 18 months - will find a way to win one game in the group. Won't they?
Verdict: Cavan Gaels
Castlerahan v Ballinagh
Sun, 3pm, Ballymachugh
It is proof of what a good championship structure we have that this match is the only dead rubber of the round. Castlerahan are top of the table and will qualify for the quarters regardless; Ballinagh are bottom and won't.
It's to the 2013 champions' credit that they did not down tools last week. They showed enough to suggest that they will retain their senior status. Castlerahan's sights, however, are on bigger things and they should win this with a few to spare.