Job well done! St. Mary’s Ahoghill players leave the field in Crumlin on Sunday after securing Division 1 Football for another year while condemning St. James’ Aldergrove to life in Division 2 next season.
ACFL Division 1
St. James’ Aldergrove 0-13 St. Mary’s Ahoghill 2-15
The Dark clouds that have hung over a season that has been fraught with injuries and disappointing results evaporated and disappeared around 4-40 this afternoon as St. Mary’s Ahoghill celebrated a magnificent victory over St. James’ Aldergrove in Crumlin in this ‘winner takes all’ clash.
The Clooney side travelled to Sunday’s game knowing that nothing less than a four point win would guarantee them Division 1 football next season and their preparations for today’s game were certainly far from perfect with 11 of today’s panel in action in the Senior Hurling Championship less than 24 hours earlier.
Attempts to have their game with Aldergrove postponed or put back fell on deaf ears but this Ahoghill side doesn’t do self-pity and they were on the pitch in Crumlin going through their warm-up routine before 2-30.
When the action did get under way it was St. James who drew first blood as Fergal Burke pointed from a close range free in the first minute but Thomas McGlone raced through from mid-field to square the contest with two minutes gone.
A second free from Fergal Burke rebounded off an upright and was cleared by the Ahoghill defence and perhaps it was an indication of how things were to pan out with James O’Connell giving the Ahoghill men the lead in the 8th minute with a good point from play.
Burke and Ryan Gorman for Aldergrove and PJ O’Connell for the visitors kept the scoreboard ticking over to leave it 0-3 each before Fionnbar O’Neill and PJ O’Connell edged St. Mary’s two in front at the end of the first quarter.
Ahoghill were pulling men behind the ball and breaking at speed with Bernard Graham making a number of lung busting runs from deep in defence but it was his defensive colleague Patrick Graham who did the spadework to set up Donal Graham for his side’s opening goal.
Graham moved forward in support of his attack and rose to challenge Aldergrove keeper Shane O’Neill as he came to claim a dropping shot from James O’Connell. The ball broke favourably across goals and as O’Neill tried desperately to get back, Donal Graham dived full length to punch to the net.
Gerard Mallon, Fergal Burke, Conleth Hendron and Seamus McGarry for St. James’ and PJ O’Connell and James O’Connell for Ahoghill exchanged further points as the home side closed the gap to three at the short whistle with all still to play for in the second half.
More of the Same
There was more of the same on the restart as Fergal Burke pointed an early free before James O’Connell volleyed over at the other end following a save by Shane O’Neill before Ronan Hanna fired over from a ‘45’ and Seamus McGarry sent over a fine point from play for the Reds to close the gap to one after six minutes.
The visitors attempted to respond and Owen Graham looked to have extended their lead again but his fisted attempt came off an upright before James O’Connell hit another fine point to put the Clooney side two in front after 10 minutes.
The home side were giving everything at this stage and they looked to be gaining the upper hand as Fergal Burke and Ronan Hanna split the posts to tie the contest and the question was, would the exertions of the night before tell on the Clooney side in the closing stages.
They were quick to answer that question as Donal Graham pointed them ahead once more from a 17th minute free and then substitute Martin Graham announced his introduction with a great point to edge them two in front once more.
Another substitute, Diarmaid Graham increased that lead to three as the Ahoghill management started to replace tired legs and they moved Neil ‘Boris’ O’Connell into full-back to replace his brother Stephen who was forced to retire injured.
Big Neil had been a colossus at mid-field and proved equally robust on the edge of the square and he was in the right place at the right time to make a telling stop on his goal line after Gerard Mallon’s shot beat Francis Neeson. Ahoghill responded again as keeper Francis Neeson extended the visitors lead to four from a ‘45’ with five minutes remaining.
Once again the home side tried to find a response, knowing that anything less than a four point defeat would secure division 1 football in 2018 but as they swarmed forward in numbers they could find no way through a splendid Ahoghill defence who blocked and harried as if their lives depended on it.
St. Mary’s continued to soak up the pressure and hit in devastating fashion on the break with Sean O’Connell and PJ O’Connell extending their lead to six as the clock counted down. It was do or die now for St. James’. A goal would cut the visitors lead to three and they began to loft high balls into the danger area in hope of a fortunate break.
There was to be no way through however as Neil O’Connell, Thomas McGlone and the rest of the rear-guard stood strong and a solitary point from Fergal Burke was all the Aldergrove side could muster. Their fate was sealed as St. Mary’s broke deep into injury time with team captain, Eamon Brady racing half the length of the field to plant the ball in the net.
A superb win for Ahoghill built on desire, commitment, excellent defending and stunning counter attacking play that the St. James’ men couldn’t match on the day. Francis Neeson in goals, Eamon Brady, Stephen O’Connell, Bernard Graham and Owen Graham were best in a defence who hardly put a foot wrong while Neil O’Connell and Thomas McGlone were dominant at mid-field.
In a lively attack James O’Connell, Donal Graham and PJ O’Connell were always a threat and Martin Graham and Diarmaid Graham added impetus when introduced.
St. James Aldergrove put themselves in a strong position with a win in Portglenone on Monday night and would have been fancied by many to win today but they were never able to match the commitment, energy or cutting edge of the Clooney side. Ferdia Carson, Christopher Browning, Fergal Burke, Ronan Hanna and Gerard Mallon were their best performers on the day.
St. James Aldergrove: Shane O’Neill: Ferdia Carson, Stephen Gorman, Christopher McVeigh: Christopher Browning, Chris O’Kane, Andrew Flood: Conleth Hendron, Conor Browning: Joseph Donnelly, Fergal Burke, Ryan Gorman: Seamus McGarry, Ronan Hanna, Gerard Mallon. Subs: Fergal Hanna for Joe Donnelly, Conor Totten for Christopher Browning
St. Mary’s Ahoghill: Francis Neeson: Eamon Brady, Stephen O’Connell, Bernard Graham: Thomas Hamill, Owen Graham, Patrick Graham: Neil O’Connell, Thomas McGlone: Dan O’Neill, James O’Connell, Fionnbar O’Neill: Gerard Graham, Donal Graham, PJ O’Connell. Subs: Sean O’Connell for Gerard Graham, James Magee for Patrick Graham, Martin Graham for James O’Connell, Owen Neeson for Donal Graham and Diarmaid Graham for Stephen O’Connell.
Referee: Sean Laverty (Moneyglass)