THE first of the Bon Secours county premier intermediate football championship semi-finals is the all-Duhallow affair between Newmarket and Knocknagree in Kiskeam, Saturday at 4pm.
There’s only a distance of about a dozen miles between the rival clubs who covet a place in the final against either the hot favourites Cill na Martra or a third Duhallow club, Kanturk.
As you’d expect familiarity is the key word going into a game in which both are 7/2 favourites with the bookies for outright success behind the evens Gaeltacht club and Kanturk at fours.
The sides have players who soldiered together with Duhallow, who are in the semi-final of the premier senior county championship against the holders Nemo Rangers or Ballincollig.
Some have even lined up in Cork under-age teams and a couple, Newmarket’s Aidan Browne and Knocknagree’s Eoghan McSweeney, played senior for the county.
It also pits a pair of unlikely coaches together with the experienced John Fintan Daly guiding Knocknagree’s fortunes and Deirdre O’Reilly, a winner of 11 All-Ireland medals in ladies football, in her first season at the helm with Newmarket.
Newmarket come into the game fresh having not played in three weeks, while Knocknagree face a second outing in a week.
Newmarket, who were premier intermediate champions in 2011 and played senior for two years, swept through unbeaten in qualifying from Group 1. They won all three games as did Cill na Martra and the pair sat out the quarter-finals as a reward.
Newmarket opened with 2-14 to 1-6 win over Na Piarsaigh at the end of July, when the O’Keeffes, Conor and Ryan, scored the goals with Conor chipping in half-a-dozen points, too.
Injuries to Aidan and Cathal Browne didn’t interrupt their flow as they led by 0-9 to 1-3 at half-time and were always in control. Donal Hannon kicked 0-5.
Next up was a tight encounter with Aghada, who were leading by 0-10 to 0-8 at the second water break only to be hit with a couple of quick-fire Newmarket goals on the resumption. Hannon and Barry O’Connor claimed the all-important goals in a tight 2-10 to 0-11 victory during which Hannon contributed 1-3 and Conor O’Keeffe 0-4.
Newmarket had five points to spare from Castletownbere in their concluding game, winning by 3-12 to 2-10. They were 2-9 to 1-4 ahead after playing with the wind in the first half with Daniel Culloty and Ryan O’Keeffe netting before Darren O’Keeffe added a third, 10 minutes from time.
Former Cork underage keeper Josh O’Keeffe stands behind well-established defenders in Aidan Browne, Bart Daly and TJ Brosnan with Alan Ryan at midfield.
Conor O’Keeffe is the team’s leading scorer with 1-14 from three games.
Knocknagree, who’ve played a game extra en route to this stage, experienced a topsy-turvy campaign in Group 2, where they finished runners-up to Cill na Martra.
They began with a 1-13 to 1-7 win over St Vincent’s before drawing 0-14 apiece with Naomh Aban, but their world looked like splintering in the seven-goal trouncing by Cill na Martra.
Knocknagree, last season’s intermediate champions, appeared to be exiting the competition until word seeped through of Naomh Aban’s defeat to St Vincent’s.
In last week’s nervy affair with Nemo Rangers’ second string, Knocknagree helped shore up their defence by adding another player to plug the gaps and on this occasion keeper Patrick Doyle could savour a clean sheet in a 1-10 to 0-12 victory.
Mathew Dilworth came off the bench to score the all-important goal near the end.
It’s been a real baptism of fire for youngsters Daniel O’Mahony and Michael Mahoney, both Cork U20 defenders, in a rearguard led by captain Kealon Buckley.
David O’Connor and Donagh Moynihan will be at midfield while the attack is laced with Duhallow forwards, McSweeney, Fintan O’Connor and John Fintan Daly, although he remains an injury doubt.
Daly senior admitted Knocknagree haven’t been playing well of late but praised his side’s courage in the face of adversity.
Fintan O’Connor is the team’s main marksman with 0-19 to his name from four outings and again he’ll carry a lot of responsibility.