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Intermediate Cup: Garbhan Friel and Cockhill Celtic look to take USL form onto national stage

Cockhill's Garbhan Friel gets away from Chris Malseed of Letterkenny in last weekend's Donegal News Cup semi-final. The teams meet again this Sunday.

Cockhill’s Garbhan Friel gets away from Chris Malseed of Letterkenny in last weekend’s Donegal News Cup semi-final. The teams meet again this Sunday.

BY CHRIS MCNULTY

COCKHILL Celtic striker Garbhan Friel says the Ulster Senior League double-double winners are gunning to make an impact at national level.

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The Inishowen side take on Munster Senior League side Tramore Athletic on Sunday morning (Tramore Park, Cork, 11.30am) in the third round of the FAI Intermediate Cup.

For the victors, a fourth round tie against either St Mochta’s or Ballincollig is the prize.

Cockhill’s memories are still fresh from their defeat in the last sixteen to St Mochta’s twelve months ago, bowing out as goals by Jonathan Lyons and John Reilly steered the Dubliners through.

Cockhill had put out one of the favourites, Crumlin United, after a replay at the Charlie O’Donnell Sports Grounds, Malachy McDermott netting twice in a 2-1 win, but they fell at the next hurdle to unfancied Mochta’s.

Having won the USL League and Cup double in each of the last two seasons, Cockhill have had designs on making their mark on the Intermediate Cup – a competition that has been won just twice by a Donegal club, Fanad United triumphing in 1988 and 1995.

“We were very disappointed the way we bowed out last season,” said Friel, the 2014 USL Player of the Year.

“We took Crumlin back for a replay and beat them and we probably expected to beat St Mochta’s after that. There was a whole handlin’ the morning of the game and they were talking about calling it off, but they switched it to another pitch. There are no excuses though – it just didn’t happen for us on the day.

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“At the start of the season we talked about the Intermediate Cup and we want to get a good run at it. The Intermediate Cup is what we’ve been building up to. That’s what we’re aiming for, a good crack at this competition. It would be good for the League, too, because while people are saying the USL is in a bad way, if we could push on and do well in this, people might get looking at the League again.”

Cockhill have had just one competitive game in recent weeks, the 4-3 win over Letterkenny Rovers in the previous round of the Intermediate Cup – a game in which Friel scored a hat-trick. The powerful striker, who had a brief spell at Finn Harps in 2011 (playing seven League games), is in the form of his life and has played an integral role in Cockhill’s big days of late.

Friel bagged a hat-trick against Letterkenny at Leckview Park on the day Donal O’Brien’s team corked the bubbly to win the USL and it was his late goal that was the difference against Swilly Rovers in the Donegal News League Cup final.

“I was over the moon; it was a great season,” he said. Seventeen League goals in eleven appearances told the story of a striker on-form.

“It was definitely the best season I’ve ever had. Everything I hit seemed to go in. Hopefully I can take that form into the Intermediate and keep it going.”

Cockhill had League of Ireland Premier Division side Drogheda United on the ropes in the FAI Senior Cup earlier in the year. Gerry Gill and Gerard McLaughlin scored and briefly Cockhill flirted with a scalp before Declan O’Brien’s hat-trick saved the day. Cockhill have been training on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings in the absence of regular competitive football, but Friel remains a supporter of summer football despite the USL decision last month to revert to the winter season.

“It sort of feels like we’re taking a step back to be honest,” he said. “It’s difficult in the USL at the minute.

“It isn’t ideal now and you’d prefer to be in the swing of it for the Intermediate, but we’ve had a couple of in-house matches and we played Institute there as well which was a good standard of a game for us.”

Jonny Havlin has returned from a spell in Canada and his inclusion is likely to see him take up sentry at centre-back meaning that McDermott can reclaim the central midfield berth that won him the FAI’s Intermediate Player of the Year award. Gerard McLaughlin has regained fitness again, but Mark Moran will be absent as he serves the first of a three-match ban arising out of the win over Letterkenny.

Tramore are mid-table in the MSL second division, the third tier, and Cockhill are fancied to advance.

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