SFC PREVIEWS: And then there were four...

Story by Paul Fitzpatrick

Friday, 5th October, 2018 3:10pm

SFC PREVIEWS: And then there were four...

Crosserlough's Patrick O'Reilly.

Ahead of this weekend's SFC semi-finals, Paul Fitzpatrick calls the games.

Castlerahan v Lavey
Sun, 4.30pm, Kingscourt

A whole new pressure comes to bear on Castlerahan. They are now heavily fancied by the bookmakers to break their duck and win the championship whereas in other years, when they have come up agonisingly short in the final, they have been underdogs or barely favourites.
Whether that has a liberating effect on Donal Keogan's side or if it will see them feeling the heat, only time will tell. Their semi-final record is excellent and they have done all that has been asked of them thus far in any case. 
A potentially sticky quarter-final against Kingscourt, where things went against them early on, didn't faze them and they finished out the job with an air of professionalism that was impressive. The loss of Oisin Kiernan, of course, is a huge blow - he had been in Player of the Year form in the early rounds and, too, had little of the mental scar tissue from final defeats that others may carry - but there is a sense from the Ballyjamesduff men that they won't be denied this time, that they won't panic or be distracted and will back their undoubted ability to beat any other side in the county.
Enda Flanagan has come into a rich vein of form, as has his brother Ronan, while Cian Mackey was outstanding in the second half last time out and Paul Smith has been top class all year.
Lavey, though, are no slouches. The likes of Chris Conroy, Shane Tierney and Gerry Smith would adorn any team in the championship and the supporting cast know their lines, too. The Jordans are the pulse of the side with their intense work-rate and youngster Danny Cusack is cut from the old cloth.
The New Inns men are extremely difficult to beat as their record shows and the feeling is that they are primed for a big performance, having been on the wrong side of some dubious refereeing decisions at times in the past.
Castlerahan are deservedly favourites given their record at this stage of the competition in the past but they won't get very much easy. That said, a Lavey win would be regarded as quite an upset and really would throw an already fairly even competition wide open.
Verdict: Castlerahan

Crosserlough v Gowna
Sat, 5pm, Kingscourt

Here's an interesting stat about Gowna which you may not have realised: Timmy Fitzpatrick's team are the only unbeaten side remaining in either the senior or intermediate championships.
That's a hell of a record. Gowna grew through the group, beating relegation fodder Ballinagh well in their opener before picking up three draws against Shercock - when they were lucky to get a point - and then Cavan Gaels and Ramor, whom they were unlucky not to beat.
They came of age in the quarter-final when they took the prized scalp of the Gaels before a massive crowd on a raucous afternoon in Lacken. But if that victory made onlookers sit up and take notice, a couple of hours later and not far up the road in Crosskeys, Crosserlough also announced their arrival when they saw off Ramor.
The Lough found a new gear in the third quarter of that match and came from behind to win. They are full of pace and powerful running and have ball-winners, too, and good freetakers, all of which are key ingredients in a championship-winning side.
Forget the future being blue; Gowna and Crosserlough have decided that the present can be green and red or black and amber respectively. Gowna have been here before - there are a few senior medallists in their side while they have made semi-finals in the recent past, too - while Crosserlough have not been in the last four since 2013.
Could that experience tilt things Gowna's way? It's so hard to say. The Lough are younger but have shown no fear, even when they have wobbled within matches. 
They will look, of course, to Dara McVeety up front but the Smith brothers, Pierce and Stephen, have also been superb as has their cousin James, a different type of player but very effective.
Gowna have been watertight at the back and have, in the likes of David Philips, the bomb defusers who could potentially dampen Crosserlough's exuberant attack. They have played their hand very well, too, particularly in holding Conor Madden - who was magnificent in the final 20 minutes against the Gaels - in reserve but the temptation will be to start the former county man.
This is extremely finely-poised. Neither side have a shortage of self-belief and the best dozen or so players on each side may cancel each other out. Where Gowna, for example, could profit from the trickery of TJ Fitzpatrick and the pinpoint passing of Robbie Fitzpatrick and Conor Brady, Crosserlough look to have more running ability and scoring threats from deep.
That and the rumoured strain picked up by Gowna's brilliant, instinctive young attacker Oisin Pierson could just tip the scales the way of Daragh McCarthy's side. If it's a shoot-out, they will be fancied but yet if it's lower-scoring, Gowna can shade it.
It's that close. Time to get off the fence, then: Crosserlough by one.
Verdict: Crosserlough

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