The Junior Championship enters the quarter final stage this weekend with some huge, mouth-watering ties in prospect. The biggest game comes on Sunday evening with the clash of the champions as Junior League A champions Clonmore take on Forkhill who captured the Junior B league title this season.
Stephen Sheridan will be key for a Forkhill side that take on the favourites for the crown in Clonmore. The 2017 County Footballer of the Year faced a challenging last few months as his championship campaign for Armagh was cut short with the midfielder injuring his knee (MCL) after being introduced against Down in the first round of the Ulster Championship, but his rehab has been successful and he is ready to jump back into competitive action.
“I came back with two games to go in the league, played 15 minutes against Dorsey in the second last game and played a half against Lissummon in the last game of the league to win the Junior B title and I’ve played full games in the three championship games against Dorsey, Collegeland and O’Hanlon’s so thankfully injury wise I’m 100 percent. It’s trying to get the fitness in the legs but that’s something for me to work on, everything is going well and the body feels good so that’s the main thing”.
Forkhill enjoyed a positive end to what was a mixed season of results by winning the Junior B title while they carried their good form into the championship and Sheridan believes the end of the league played a huge role in helping Forkhill reach the quarter finals “It’s definitely set the team up in terms of a winning form going into the Championship”.
“Junior B was pretty good as it got the boys back to a winning mentality and they started getting consistency on board. It’s a credit to them that they went in and won five or six games in a row to finish off the Junior B campaign. So from an up and down season, we started to level out with a consistent team throughout the end of the Junior B, to get a winning formula put in place which in turn led us well into playing against Dorsey in the first championship game and we got a real strong result against them, while they ended up topping the group”.
“We would have had a really up and down season, obviously with myself, Patrick (Burns) and Jemar (Hall) leaving throughout the county championship. We missed a couple of games and the boys fought hard but again we’re a small panel of players, we have suffered a couple of major setbacks in terms of injuries like Marcus McKeown and Owen Donaghy missed the early stages of the year, so that would have set us back, I don’t think to date we’ve put our strongest 15 out on the field which is unfortunate for such a small club”.
Forkhill’s misfortune with injuries is set to continue as county corner back Paddy Burns suffered a season ending ankle injury against Lissummon, so his side will once again field a weakened starting 15 at the worst possible time as they face a formidable Clonmore team, but Sheridan is optimistic about his sides’ chances. “Clonmore have been set as favourites for the championship from day one, their form in the league backs up the odds in terms of how good they actually are”.
“We know going into play Clonmore this weekend that it’s going to be a momentous task and if we’re to get over them that it’s going to take huge effort from every single player that we put on the field. We have had a very up and down season but by no means are we fearing Clonmore, we know that on our day, if we perform, we can definitely match them and then hopefully a wee bit of luck will go our way to get over them”.
“They’ve got some really, really strong players, they have a really good team unity. Clonmore are experienced and they know what they’re at, they beat Lissummon quite comfortably, they beat Clady quite comfortably in the Championship so their sitting in the quarter finals, they’ve rested up, we know that this week the battle is going to be huge but I do believe that we’re ready for it, we have a good group of players there that have put a lot of work in and we’re ready for the challenge so we’re looking forward to it”.
While the league champions topped their group and comfortably made their way to the quarter finals with the minimum of fuss, Forkhill battled against Redmond O’Hanlon’s in the playoffs to reach the last eight and Sheridan sees the positives in playing an extra game in preparation for the task ahead.
“When the groups were drawn, we were drawn into a group of three so we were probably losing out on a game anyway compared to the other groups of four. We suffered a defeat to Collegeland and there were a lot of negatives and things to look at that day so getting that extra game let us identify some of the key issues we needed to tighten up on. With that extra game we got to put that into action against a team in a competitive environment, so it has stood to us, it’s stood to some of our players who really stepped up”.
“We’d some young boys like Eoin King, Tony Canning, and Cathal Adams who really stepped up in the playoff game to drag us over the line, Tiernan Downey, marked one of the high calibre of players on the other team so it got us identifying key strengths in some of our players moving into the quarter final. The extra game was definitely good for us to improve and put things in place so we’re ready for the quarter final coming up against Clonmore”.
Elsewhere Dorsey take on Cullyhanna IIs on Friday night to see who can gain the first semi final spot of the 2019 championship campaign. Derrynoose will head into their clash with Belleek with an air of confidence after topping the group with three wins from three while Collegeland and Killeavy IIs will battle it out on Sunday evening to fill the final available semi final place.