It was a case of ‘not again’ as the 2011 Avonmore Senior Football Championship draw was made on Thursday night as bitter rivals St Patrick’s and Cooley Kickhams were drawn alongside each other in Group A.
Just moments before the draw was made, compère for the night, LMFM’s Colum Corrigan said what was on the mind of most people when he joked that the Pat’s and Cooley were destined to be drawn together. Sure enough, minutes later and the packed attendence in the home of the champions, Mattock Rangers, were laughing in amazement as the Peninsular rivals were pitted against each other in Group One.
It is the second year in a row the sides have been pulled out of the hat for the same group. However, the group could have had an extra bit of spice as it looked like Mattock Rangers or Newtown Blues would join them as the final team in the group, but instead, it was the unlucky Naomh Malachi, who might have another relegation dogfight on their hands. After being drawn against two of the other big guns last year, Newtown Blues and Mattock Rangers, the Malachis were hoping for a more favourable draw this year, but luck was not to be on their side on Thursday night.
In 2010, after both sides beat St Mary’s their final game in the group did not hold a lot of importance as both sides had qualified. This year will be a different story as the Peninsula derby will be the first game in the group, with the winners of that game playing the third selected team in the second game, which means the final game in each group will hold some relevance.
The Pat’s were knocked out last year by eventual winners Mattock Rangers, their own form of kryptonite at Championship football and are looking for their first Joe Ward since 2007.
Cooley have lost Brian White this year, their top scorer in recent seasons, but will be bolstered by the return of Brian Donnelly. After losing a second final in a row to the Collon men, it will be tough for them to regroup, leaving Declan Smyth with a big jobs on his hands.
The Malachis could surprise one of Peninsula sides though as they came close to knocking the Blues out last year in the final group game, until Colm Judge settled the game with some late scores.
Three in a row bid
Back to back champions Mattock Rangers lie in wait in Group Two as they are the third team selected in the group, which means the first match between Dundalk Young Irelands and Dundalk Gaels could potentially decide who goes through to the knock-out stages.
With Mattock the favourites to go through, the Dundalk derby match will be a fiery encounter. The Irelands, last year’s Intermediate Champions will fear no one in the grade. After winning the Seamus Flood Cup last year, captain Aaron Rogers said he wanted the ‘big teams’ and he couldn’t have asked for any bigger than Mattock who are aspiring to be the first team to do three in a row since Cooley in 1978.
The Irelands will want to shock the public in this grade, but standing in their way with Mattock is Dundalk Gaels, who were disappointing in their exit last year against Cooley in the quarter-final stages. With the likes of Sean McCann back after a prolonged spell with and injury, they could go a little further this year.
Mattock will go into the Championship under new leadership, with former Meath selector Sean Kelly in charge after Kit Henry departed at the end of last season. If the Collon men can reproduce their Championship form from last year, it will be tough to bet against them.
Group Three is wide open as it pits St Mary’s, Naomh Mairtin and the Dreadnots alongside one another. Dreadnots and Naomh Mairtin failed to show up for their quarter-final encounters last year, against Newtown Blues and St Patrick’s respectively, so they will be champing at the bit to give a better account of themselves this time around. Alongside them are St Mary’s who had a brush with relegation last year after having a tough time in the group stages alongside Cooley and the Pat’s. So much of their campaign though will rest on whether Ronan Carroll remains fit.
Dreadnots have always looked promising, and will hope to go at least one step further this year, but Naomh Mairtin could find it tough after losing five players to emigration, including Louth player Mick Fanning.
Group Four has a tasty look to it as Glyde Rangers, Kilkerley Emmets and Newtown Blues are placed in what could be the most competitive group in the competition.
Kilkerley, who were one step short of winning the Cardinal O’Donnell Cup in 2010 could get their revenge over the team who beat them, the Blues as they look to improve on a terrific 2010, where they ran Mattock Rangers very close in the quarter-final stages.
Glyde, who had a horror 2010 after the events of the Paddy Sheelan Cup Final, will be out guns blazing to put the past behind them and make a decent run at the competition. They were beaten semi-finalists in 2009. Newtown Blues narrowly lost the semi-final last year to Cooley.
For once, they were not drawn alongside their closest rivals Mattock, but they will hope to meet them down the line, if they advance from this group as they go on the hunt for Joe Ward but after winning Division One last year, the hunger could be back in the Newfoundwell side.