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We’ll not underestimate St Pat’s says Sarsfield’s boss

Gary Lennon, pictured in action against Pearse’s, has been one of the key players for Sarsfield’s in their run to Saturday’s Junior Football Championship final against St Pat’s, Lisburn Gary Lennon, pictured in action against Pearse’s, has been one of the key players for Sarsfield’s in their run to Saturday’s Junior Football Championship final against St Pat’s, Lisburn
By Paddy Tierney

Antrim Junior Football Championship final
Sarsfield’s v St Patrick’s, Lisburn
(Saturday, 3pm, Lámh Dhearg)

SARSFIELD’S will bid to complete a rare Championship double this weekend when they take on St Pat’s, Lisburn in the Junior Football Championship decider at Lámh Dhearg on Saturday afternoon.
Last Saturday, the Paddies won the Antrim Intermediate Hurling title with a six-point victory over Carey Faughs in Armoy.
Most observers feel that was the toughest leg of the double, despite the hurlers going unbeaten throughout the season. To say the footballers are overwhelming favourites for Saturday’s JFC final would be a huge understatement.
Sarsfield’s have eased past the challenges of O’Donnells, Ardoyne and Pearse’s without being troubled.
Sure, they had to come from behind to beat Ardoyne, but that owed a lot to the horrendous weather conditions which prevailed during their quarter-final clash at Hightown.
The Kickhams were the only team to avoid a double-digit defeat in the Championship against Sarsfield’s and it would be one of the greatest upsets in the history of Antrim GAA if St Pat’s were to cause a shock this weekend.
Of course, the message to the players from the Sarsfield’s management will be entirely different.
When asked how he will seek to guard against complacency among his squad, Tony Smyth insists he only has to utter one word to his troops.
“I say it before every match – Pearse’s,” he said.
Smyth continued: “We are big, big favourites, you can’t deny that. We are league champions and we have only been beaten once this year.
“We put a Division Two team out of the Championship, but Pearse’s beat us by six points in the league.
“I keep saying to the lads not to be complacent, don’t be thinking it is a walkover because anything can happen.” 
Smyth says the buzz around the club following last week’s hurling success has been ‘electric’ but the onus now falls on the footballers to match those achievements.
“Everybody walking off the pitch on Saturday turned and looked at me and they all were saying ‘the pressure is on you now’ and so it is,” added Smyth.
“It is welcome pressure, it is good to be there in the final.
“I am not sure who the last Antrim team were to do the double, but it would be a great achievement for the club.”
With a host of dual players, Sarsfield’s have been unable to train fully in the run-up to Saturday’s decider. Smyth will also be sweating on the fitness of a number of players who featured against Carey Faughs.
Niall McKenna played through the pain barrier last weekend after suffering a dislocated finger in last month’s IHC semi-final and is expected to feature again in the football final.
Darragh McGuinness (knee) and Daniel McKernan (wrist) are also carrying knocks while Donal McKernan was limping badly after the game after being unable to start with a leg injury.
“Most of our lads haven’t had a ball in their since the semi-final due to the hurling,” stated Smyth.
“We have nine starters on the hurling team and about six or seven other lads who would be subs in the hurling team.
“It is our turn now and we have all week to prepare. We just haven’t been able to focus on the final until now.”
In contrast, St Pat’s have been preparing diligently for Saturday’s decider and player/manager Niall Ward insists they are braced for a physical battle with Sarsfield’s.
“Obviously. Sarsfield’s have had the hurling final, but have been concentrating on nothing else but the football final in Lisburn,” said Ward.
“We could control the game against the Aggies – Sarsfield’s will bring a completely different intensity.
“They are a lot more physical. We are relishing the challenge.”
Ward acknowledges that stopping Sarsfield’s isn’t about containing one or two players.
While Kevin and Daniel McKernan have been stealing the headlines along with Niall McKenna, the Paddies have a large panel of talented players with Jack Daniels, Gary Lennon, Niall McAlea and Jim McMenamin all impressing during the Championship campaign to date.
Ward feels that, in order to compete, St Pat’s must focus on posting a healthy tally themselves rather than adopting an overly defensive approach.
“They haven’t been tested in the Junior Championship and they cruised through the league campaign bar the one game against Pearse’s,” added Ward.
“We know the quality they have – it isn’t just one or two players, they have quality through every line.
“They are hitting 2-15, 2-16 every match so we are going to have to post a good score ourselves.
“We have to improve on what we have done in the league and Championship so far to get close to Sarsfield’s.”
Roscommon’s unlikely Connacht Championship success and Cuala’s All-Ireland hurling win in March proves that favourites don’t win every race.
Yet, Sarsfield’s have looked like the proverbial ‘good things’ for the Junior Championship ever since hammering Division Three runners-up O’Donnell’s by 19 points in the preliminary round. They are scoring just shy of 25 points per game in the Championship while conceding an average of just seven.
St Pat’s are likely to get closer to Sarsfield’s than they managed in either of the league games between the sides, but they probably won’t get close enough to worry the champions elect.

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