Champions in danger ahead of round two in the SFC

With 2022 champions Strokestown and runners-up Boyle among a number of teams sending up ‘Save Our Season’ flares in the Hodson Bay Group Senior Football Championship this weekend, Seamus Duke offers his predictions ahead of a pivotal second round of games…

Game of the Weekend

Strokestown v Oran in Strokestown at 1 pm on Sunday

There are a number of candidates for the ‘Game of the Weekend’ but the game between Strokestown and Oran edges them all because the defending champions could be out of the championship at the group stages if they fail to win.

Short a number of first team players, Strokestown were well off the mark against Clann na nGael in the opening round of games and they will have to improve drastically if they are to stay in contention.

With only two teams going through from each group, another loss would leave the champions needing a win in a local derby against Tulsk to avoid the dreaded relegation battle. That would be some fall from grace for the Black and Amber in the space of just 12 months!

Oran have a remarkable record since they ascended to the senior ranks. They have not lost a group game at all but have just failed to progress when it comes to the knockout stages and they will want to put that right this year. They were always comfortable against Tulsk in round one but they will know that they will have to improve to progress.

This is a huge test for Strokestown and they will really have to step up to the mark if they want to turn the ship around. Oran look stronger up front, however, and are tipped to win a close battle. Prediction: Oran

Group A

The big challenge for Roscommon Gaels now is whether they back up their excellent display against Boyle with another performance against Western Gaels on Friday night. Scott Oates returns and Frankie Dolan’s team will be hoping to see more ruthless finishing from the likes of Peter Gillooly, Cian Connolly and Richie Walsh. But it’s further back that The Gaels were so impressive against Boyle with Cathal Dineen, Senan Lambe, John McManus and Mark Purcell dominating their positions.

Western Gaels are another team who know they must win to maintain their interest in this year’s championship. They stayed with St Faithleach’s for most of the way in round one before the Murtagh brothers and Cathal Gunn stepped in with vital late scores. In this ‘battle of the Gaels’ the town side should win.

There is a really fascinating game on Saturday in Ballyleague (5 pm) when Boyle visit St Faithleach’s. Boyle were put to the sword by Roscommon Gaels in round one and they will have to carry out major surgery on their defence if they are to survive here.

No one doubts the quality of the likes of Cian McKeon, Enda and Donie Smith, and Daire Cregg but Boyle’s defending will have to improve if they want to keep the Marvellous Murtagh brothers at bay.

The sides met at the same stage last year at the same venue and Boyle were very fortunate to come out of that clash with a one-point win. Last year’s finalists will need a major transformation to win here.

Group B

Pádraig Pearses played well in their defeat against St Brigid’s and they will be hot favourites to win when they meet Michael Glavey’s in Creggs (Saturday 7 pm). Glavey’s were very poor against St Dominic’s in round one and without the likes of Andy Glennon, Dylan Ruane and Cathal Heneghan, struggled in attack.

Pearses have a very familiar look about them and if Hubert Darcy, Paul Carey and Eoin Colleran can click then they should record their first win of the campaign.

There is an intriguing local derby in Johnstown as St Dominic’s meet St Brigid’s on Saturday evening (7 pm). Brigid’s did enough to get over the line against Pearses in the opening round and they are the justified favourites to win the Fahey Cup this year.

Dominic’s scored a vital win against Michael Glavey’s and the pressure is off Tomás Gilleran’s men as they face into what will be a tough game for them. Anything other than a Brigid’s win would be a big surprise.

Group C

Strokestown face Oran in our Game of the Weekend (previewed above) and in the other game in this group, Clann na nGael travel to Tulsk on Sunday (3.30 pm).

After a poor league campaign, Pat Fallon’s Clann were the impressive winners against Strokestown in the opening round and with Ciaran Lennon, Fearghus Lennon, Sea Henry and Paul McManus all playing well, Clann should emerge with a narrow win.