Fermanagh have the form to prevail
TG4 All-Ireland Junior Final: Derry v Fermanagh, 11.45
Derry have defied all the odds to reach the TG4 All-Ireland junior final. There were worries at the start of the season over whether they would even be able to field a team, but thanks to a particularly determined group working behind the scenes they are within 60 minutes of a remarkable success.
In contrast, their opponents Fermanagh were seen by many as the team to beat from the very start of the year.
Fermanagh had been on the verge of the senior ranks, having contested the intermediate final as recently as 2013, but a loss that day, coupled with the retirement of several key players, saw them enter the junior ranks this year. They are hoping for a swift return. Fermanagh have restructured, rebuilt and returned with a formidable outfit that is more than capable of claiming victory today.
The two teams have locked horns four times already this year, with Fermanagh coming out on top on each occasion, which just goes to show the scale of the task facing Derry this afternoon. The winning margin in the Ulster final was 15 points.
However, that does not tell the full story of this Derry team which has improved in leaps and bounds with Paul Hasson at the helm.
The team captain is a Tipperary woman, Cáit Glass, who has been a vital cog in the Derry machine. Her experience and ability at corner-back has helped shore up a defence that only conceded five points to Carlow in the semi-final. Her colleague in the full-back line, Dania Donnelly, will need a big performance to limit the influence of Fermanagh's best attacker, Sharon Murphy. Aoife Laverty provides leadership from midfield and is also a vital source of scores from frees, while Katie Holly is their most accomplished player at centre half-back.
Fermanagh are a more experienced side with a strong spine with Shauna Hamilton, Marita McDonald, Áine McGovern, Aisling Woods and Sharon Murphy all veterans of their last Croke Park appearance in 2013. Their strength around the middle of the field should see Fermanagh secure the lion's share of the possession, but the question will be whether they can break down the resolute Derry defence.
Fermanagh may have an ace up their sleeve though in 16-year-old corner-forward Eimear Smyth, who scored 0-11 in their extra-time semi-final win over London, five of those scores coming from play.
Against a packed Derry defence, the ability to score from distance could be the difference between the teams and that is a specialty of Smyth's.
Derry would not have dreamt of reaching Croke Park back in January but now that they are here they will not just be making up the numbers. They have nothing to lose and they have a defined game plan that could upset Fermanagh. However, experience and form is on Fermanagh's side which makes it hard to look past a victory for them.
Sunday Indo Sport