The Athletic Grounds will be awash with green and white this evening as Shane O’Neill’s and Grange clash in the final game of the season. If league positions are anything to go by then it is a surprise that both these teams have reached the showpiece but as the business end of the season came calling both sides sprung into action and are now one win away from finishing the year in the best possible style.
Finishing 6th in Division 2A, Shane O’Neill’s marched towards the championship after a mixed season while Grange missed out on promotion to the top flight of Intermediate football finishing two points behind Keady in 3rd place of Division 2B.
In an era of ‘back door systems’, ‘super 8s’ and ‘round-robin games’ it’s no surprise that the two teams squaring off today have already crossed paths during the championship campaign. We don’t have to go too far back for their last meeting as both were drawn into Group One for the early rounds of the championship.
Just a little over two months ago these sides clashed in a round two game which would ultimately decide who would finish 2nd and 3rd in the group. Shane O’Neill’s played hosts that evening but couldn’t use home advantage to their benefit as Grange earned a hard fought 1-12 to 1-10 victory, as close a game can be expected this evening.
The opposing teams have shared a similar championship run, both losing one game during the round-robin fixtures before regrouping and finding themselves in the latter stages of the competition through the play offs. Even their semi final victories followed the same pattern with both teams holding on at the death to come away with one point victories.
Shane O’Neill’s will once again look to Ciaran Mackin who was fantastic around the centre of the park in their win over Wolfe Tones. His brother Connaire along with Greg McCabe are the go-to performers in the Camlough ranks while Paul O’Rourke is their most dangerous option going forward.
Grange would have been delighted with their ‘smash and grab’ victory over Clan na Gael where they displayed a never say die attitude to come back from the dead on several occasions. The McKenna brothers Cathal and Miceal are exceptional footballers and will be expected to step up to the mark once again this evening.
Grange enter the contest as slight favourites having knocked out league champions Clan na Gael at the semi final stage and they boast the better forward line of the two, with Ethan Rafferty there to assist the McKenna brothers as well as Ben Toal, Justin Kieran and Brendan Rafferty who was sprung from the bench to hit the all important goal two weeks ago.
Both sides will feel battle-hardened and prepared for another war today after tough examinations in their semi finals and if the teams can perform to their potential then an absorbing contest awaits.