A short lull in the Gaelic football calendar comes to an end next weekend when the serious business of the Connacht club championship begins for St Michael's. Next Sunday's provincial semi-final in Cloone pits the recently crowned Galway intermediate champions against Leitrim's Aughnasheelin.
Since its inception, the All-Ireland Intermediate Club Championship has been a happy hunting ground for Galway representatives. Both Caherlistrane and Moycullen have reached All-Ireland finals over the past three seasons with Seán O'Dea's all-conquering side capturing national honours in style last February.
St Michael's looked quite a team in the latter stages of the intermediate championship. Following a second round defeat in late June, St Michael's regrouped impressively and accounted for Caherlistrane, Leitir Mor and Kilconly en route to a decider with Glenamaddy. A one-point county final victory over the north east Galway side failed to adequately reflect their superiority.
Although St Michael's displayed the greater class throughout and were deserved winners, wayward shooting left the outcome in doubt right up to the final whistle. As the second half progressed, there was a growing feeling that the failure to turn the screw could come back to haunt the West Board side. Far from it, as it turned out. Inspired by the storming play of Eddie Hoare and their resilient defence in the closing minutes, St Michael's powered over the winning line to trigger jubilant scenes.
Freed from the pressures that accompany the high stakes of an intermediate final, a lengthy run outside Galway is not beyond this side if the ambition is there to take it further. From back to front, St Michael's are an extremely balanced outfit.
Alan Glynn was the stand-out performer of a solid rearguard in the county final win while Peter Ruane's surging runs from centre half-back were the catalyst for some of the side's sparkling football in the opening half. Patrick Regan is an underrated foil for the explosive Eddie Hoare at midfield.
The hugely influential Greg Rogan provides leadership and scoring power in equal measure while fellow attackers Frank Daly and Micheál Feeney were both superb in the latter stages of the county championship.
Opponents Aughnasheelin hail from the parish of Ballinamore which also boasts Seán O'Heslin’s, Leitrim's most successful senior club. Like St Michael's, Aughnasheelin's success has its roots in the trojan work done at underage level.
An amalgamation with Seán O'Heslin’s to form Oughteragh Gaels has yielded positive results in recent seasons. In 2006, the county minor title returned to Ballinamore while the parish combination also retained their under-21 title in the same season.
Accomplished Leitrim defender Barry McWeeney is the side's most high profile player. A key figure in IT Sligo's defence of the Sigerson Cup in 2005, the centre half-back's excellence was rewarded with selection on the Datapac Hotshots, the equivalent of an All-Star selection in the prestigous Sigerson Cup. Other prominent
members of the side include Michael Creamer, Fergal Earley, Damien Gilheaney and also Brendan Mulvey, who has made vital contributions off the bench.
Aughnasheelin rallied from two points down with only three minutes remaining against Drumkeerin to clinch victory in the dying seconds of the Leitrim county final. Gavin McWeeney's dramatic point ensured that the club will play senior football for the first time in its history in 2009. Infused with confidence and playing with the momentum generated from the club's maiden adult championship title, Aughnasheelin defeated Sligo champions St Molaise Gaels in Markievicz Park eight days ago.
Despite wastefulness with their scoring chances, the Leitrim champions reportedly showed immense character to withstand a late rally from the Grange outfit to eventually win, going away on a 0-11 to 0-6 scoreline.
Menlough's comprehensive defeat to Leitrim's Carrigallen at this juncture two years ago should ensure that complacency is kept firmly at bay. The fact that Leitrim's senior championship features only 12 clubs means their intermediate champions will always be formidable opponents on the provincial scene. Aughnasheelin are also a Division 1 league side. To emerge from Cloone with a victory next Sunday would be an impressive achievement by the city side.
Heavy pitches at this time of year tend to result in low-scoring, attritional battles where a side's character is as often more important than its talent. St Michael's showed in the business end of the intermediate championship that they lack nothing in either area.
It may be a trite cliché but it’s likely the spoils will go to the side that wants it more on Sunday. By all accounts, Aughnasheelin's recent successes have been built on a high work-rate. Should Pat Regan's men match their opponents in this sector and reproduce the incisive, attacking football displayed in the latter stages of the Galway campaign, a provincial final date on November 16 can be earned.