BY CHRIS MCNULTY
URRIS were rank underdogs at the outset of the Ulster Junior Championship, but on Saturday evening the Straid men take on Tyrone’s junior kingpins, Rock St Patrick’s in the final at Owenbeg (throw-in, 7pm).
Danny Kelly’s team have got by the challenges of Arva from Cavan and Armagh’s Keady to reach their first-ever provincial final.
Against a team that has many survivors from an Ulster Junior winning campaign of 2007, Urris will again be the underdog – but the Clonmany side is well used to that by now.
Kelly has repeatedly said during this campaign that he’s wanted to put Clonmany and Urris on the map – and Ulster’s junior ranks have certainly turned their eyes upon the Inishowen peninsula of late.
“The programme that the Ulster Council put out for the semi-final said that anything other than a Keady v Rock final would be a major surprise,” Kelly said.
“Once the players read that, sure that was all the motivation that they needed. It’ll be the same again this week; we’ll be expected to lose against Rock and there’ll be very few who’ll say we stand a chance.”
Within their own camp there is unwavering belief.
Kelly’s side have overcome the disappointment of losing out to Milford in the 2013 Donegal JFC final by battling their way to the title this year. They did it the hard way, too, as it took late, late goals from Kevin McLaughlin and Jason Doherty to steer them to a win against Robert Emmets in a win-or-bust contest for Urris. They’d lost against Red Hughs and Naomh Ultan, but a stirring finale against Robert Emmets was followed by a day when they went goal crazy, beating Letterkenny Gaels 6-10 to 0-11.
With Convoy and Naomh Ultan put to the sword, the Junior title was headed for Crampsey Park’s new state-of-the-art clubhouse. Before the final, corner-back Sean McDaid had mentioned Ulster as a possibility. Manager Kelly pulled him up, but Urris’s intentions were clear. As it happens, McDaid will miss Sunday’s game because of an ankle ligament injury sustained in the win over Keady in the semi-final. Conor Bradley looks the most likely to deputise.
Urris have been pretty clinical with Peter Devlin netting against Keady in a 1-7 to 0-7 win, while it was Devlin’s double that was key in a 2-6 to 0-9 win against Arva.
Kelly feels as if the best has yet to come.
“We’ve good players here,” he said firmly.
“We are a group of players with a great ability and when they click they are very hard to stop. Believe it or not, we don’t feel we’ve clicked fully yet and if we turn up on the day in the final we know it’s a game we can win.”
His nephew Eddie Kelly, who played for the Donegal seniors under John Joe Doherty’s management, but didn’t get a run under Jim McGuinness, has been flying back from London, where he works for Milestone Group, a financial software provider.
“It’s a big day for the club – the biggest ever probably – and I can’t wait to get back,” said the towering number 11.
Based in the heart of London these days, Kelly resisted the temptation to sign for a club by the Thames, although he trained with Fulham Irish having previously played in Sydney and Boston. He jetted back for the Donegal final against Naomh Ultan and has been back for the previous two games in Ulster.
“With where I’m based in London, Tir Chonaill Gaels is a bit far away, although I played a bit last year for them,” Kelly said. “It’s been a great experience to play in Cavan and Clones with the club and we’re all ready for the final. It would be amazing to win an Ulster title with Urris. It really would.”
The commute into Derry and onto Clonmany takes him around five hours door-to-door, but it’s not an onerous task.
“When I would have been in Dublin, it would have taken longer,” he said. “The people in the club are putting in massive work so it’s great to be a part of it. Saturday is a huge day for Urris.”
Captain Michael Grant has been enjoying the build-up around Clonmany and the defender is hoping to accept the Cup on Saturday evening.
“We know that we’re going to be the underdogs,” he said. “We’re up against it, but we’ll go to the match confident enough.
“There is no pressure on us and that should be an advantage.”
The Rock are no novices at this stage. In 2007, they defeated Monaghan’s Aughnamullen 2-8 to 2-6 in the Ulster final.
They regained their Tyrone junior title this year when late goals from Mickey McElduff and Conor McCreesh were enough to secure a hard fought 2-8 to 0-10 replay victory over Derrytresk.
Their side includes former Tyrone All-Ireland winner Ciaran Gourley.
“It helps that we’ve been here before,” Gourley said.
“The manager (Niall Conway) is the same as when we last went on this sort of adventure, a lot of the players have been down this road before and we know what to expect.”
Urris, though, are undaunted by the prospect and their fearlessness is perhaps their greatest asset this weekend.
URRIS PANEL: Kieran Friel, Sean McDaid, Daniel Devlin, Gary Doherty, Michael Grant, James Cooke, Kieran Doherty, Donal Kelly, Dean Kelly, Kevin McLaughlin, Eddie Kelly, Jason Doherty, Alan Friel, Peter Devlin, Mark McLaughlin, Conor Bradley, John McCarron, Ryan Doherty (J), Michael Doherty (S), Adrian Doherty, Conor Brennan, Patrick Doherty (R), Damien Harkin, Manus Shiels, Ryan Doherty (R), Eamon Reidy, James Griffen, Brian Grant, Darren Grant, Jonathan Noone.
ROCK ST PATRICK’S PANEL: Niall Mullan, Mark McAleer, Peter Girvan, Ryan Crilly, Thomas Bloomer, Ciaran Gourley, Peter Ward, Martin McCreesh, Cathal McWilliams, Enda McWilliams, Aidan Girvan, Diarmuid Carroll, Eamon Ward, Conor McCreesh, James McCreesh, Seamus Donaghy, Niall McWilliams, Ryan Litter, Pearse McCreesh, Enda Mallon, Kevin Mallon, Michael McElduff, Karl Kolbohm, Liam Hoy, John Girvan, Francis Bloomer, Chris O’Neill, Dylan Reid, Padraig Ward, Shea Litter.