A FAMILIAR FOE stands before Eddie Brennan, the St Eunan’s manager, in the final of the Kukri Sports Ulster Minor Football Tournament on New Years Day.
Crossmaglen Rangers are in the way of what would be St Eunan’s first-ever success in the competition.
The Cathedral town side will be without midfielder and ace free taker Rory Carr, following his dislocation of a shoulder in Sunday’s 4-11 to 0-8 semi-final win over Enniskillen Gaels.
At senior level, Crossmaglen toppled St Eunan’s in 2008 and 2012 when Brennan was playing for the Letterkenny team.
Now, the native of Drumcliffe, County Sligo is putting back some of what he got out in his years donning the black and amber. It is another black and amber, that of Crossmaglen, that fearsome production line from South Armagh, that awaits in the final at St Paul’s.
“This is massive for us – a chance to beat Crossmaglen Rangers in an Ulster final,” Brennan says.
“There are many rewards to a game like this. Obviously, you can win the game and be Ulster champions, that’s the biggest of all, and it would be no more than these boys deserve.
“Cross’ have been feared in Ulster football for so long now and eight of their squad are involved with the Crossmaglen seniors.
“But this is a chance for us to go out and show: We’re St Eunan’s and we deserve to be here. Crossmaglen have been able to just keep on doing it and this is a massive game for us.
“The boys are all feeling good. We feel that we’ve learned a lot over the year and I feel that they’re getting better as we go on.
“For some of them, this will be their last game at minor level. Eleven of them are still underage next year and they’ll carry this experience forward from here.
“We’ve always believed at St Eunan’s that we’re good enough but sometimes we’ve gone into Ulster and underperformed. This experience has been massive and if they take the step on Friday it’ll be huge for the club.”
Carr represents a monumental loss for St Eunan’s, however. The 18-year-old was so impressive for the St Eunan’s seniors this year that Rory Gallagher handed him a call-up to the Donegal senior panel and the midfielder, who can also operate at full-forward, was poised for a debut in the Dr McKenna Cup.
Carr had bagged a goal and two points before his departure on Sunday, 20 minutes into the game against Enniskillen.
“He was doing so well,” Brennan says. “His long distance kicking is excellent; he’s never too far away. He’s a big loss for us.”
Kevin Grant came on for Carr on Sunday and seems set to get the nod for the final.
“They’ve been improving with every game,” Brennan says of his team.
“They’re a very honest bunch of lads. They go out ad give their all. It’s easy to coach when they’re eager to do well.
“They work very hard and they’re intelligent. That’s a big thing now. When you’re in this scenario, up against different teams who are the champions of their own county, we all have the ‘danger man’ so sometimes it can be about who’s the smartest team.”
It’s almost a full year now since Brennan assembled his squad together for the first time.
They took the League in three stages, breaking up after the League final defeat to Naomh Conaill for exams, before returning for the Donegal MFC, which they won and now, once their other obligations were over, they came back to give Ulster a rattle.
“The boys were playing with the adult teams so they were still getting plenty of football,” Brennan says.
“After the Donegal Minor Championship, we let them away to focus on those teams and we regrouped again. We put in a lot of effort from June to September and that’s standing to us now.
“We’ve been sort of tipping away and keeping fresh. My number one thing was to play as much football as they can – play more than train. They all have good senior experience and the boys especially coming from the St Eunan’s senior dressing room – coming out of a dressing room with Kevin Rafferty, Conall Dunne, Rory Kavanagh and John Haran – are already seasoned men.
“Minor is a huge grade in Gaelic football. That’s why it’s so important for us to go and try to win the final.
“The last couple of times St Eunan’s were in this competition we were beaten by the eventual winners, Ballinderry and Watty Grahams. We’ve never been too far away and a lot of our boys have had good colleges and schools experience. Hopefully that’ll stand to us.”
Crossmaglen will be their usual formidable selves having whacked Tyrone’s Moortown 2-14 to 0-9 in their semi-final when they were inspired by the O’Neill brothers, Rian and Oisin.
St Eunan’s panel: Matthew Gallagher, Eoin O’Boyle, Conor Moore, Darragh Mcwalters, Sean Halvey, Brian MacIntyre, Darragh Toal, Kevin Kealey, Gavin Maguire, John MacIntyre, Evan McCrory, Pierce Gallagher, Oisin Toal, Kevin Grant, Oisin O’Boyle, Niall O’Donnell, Ciaran Maloney, Odhrán McGinley, Rory Carr, Jake Whelan, Dylan McCrory, Padraig Mcaleer, Dean Hamilton, Fionn Clarke.Tags: