Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship – Preliminary Round
St Galls 1-14 Portglenone 1-12
By Brendan McTaggart
After 54 minutes of this pulsating preliminary round encounter of the Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship, Paddy Kelly nailed a quite simply superb free that gave the Casements a three point lead. A score that was inspiring, monumental and a score that looked to have ended St Gall’s championship at the first hurdle. They lead the Milltown Row men by three points having scored three successive points for the first time in the contest and had all the momentum going into the closing stages.
There’s a saying in sporting circles that great teams don’t know when they’re beaten. On Sunday afternoon at Hannahstown, St Gall’s epitomised every word and vowel of that statement. A comeback to match anything you will witness in this year’s or next year’s championship. Two points the difference thanks largely to the free taking ability of first half substitute CJ McGourty. The St Gall’s man was introduced in the 21st minute after midfielder Sean Burke’s game was ended early for a black card. McGourty would finish the match with a personal tally of 0-9 with all but one coming from placed ball.
Portglenone would have left the Lámh Dhearg grounds bewildered with what happened in those closing stages. They had St Gall’s pinned to the collar of their shirt and in control yet allowed the game slip from their grasp. Paddy Kelly was outstanding from placed ball, finishing with 0-9 to his name after the hour but it wasn’t enough. St Gall’s used every ounce of their vast reserves of experience to get over the line. They’re a team that are in transition but they have a spine of a team that have been there and done that on so many occasions that when the chips are down and they’re backs are to the wall, they know how to get the job done. On Sunday, Portglenone threw everything they had in their arsenal and delivered a knockout blow but St Galls took the standing eight count and to continue the boxing analogy, took the tie on points. Two points to be exact.
It was a hard-hitting encounter right from the first whistle at Hannahstown and referee Sean Laverty had a major job on his hands keeping on top of everything that was going on. The Casement’s scored the first point of the match thanks to a Paddy Kelly free but Brendan Bradley returned the favour before Conal Delargy edged Portglenone in front again in the fifth minute.
Both teams were playing attacking football with Kevin Niblock showing his class in the first half and proving to be more than a handful for the Portglenone defence but it was his partner in the full forward line who had the first sight of goal. Bradley supplied the pass to Cummings who looked nailed on to beat Brian McManus in the Portglenone goal only for Aidan McKee to produce a tackle that mirrored Conor Gormley’s in the 2003 All-Ireland Final between Tyrone and Armagh.
The game’s first goal came soon after, Niall O’Neill with the finish after good work from Ryan Irvine to give St Gall’s the lead for the first time in the match in the 15th minute.
Portglenone responded well though and with five minutes of the half remaining trailed by the minimum. St Gall’s were forced into a rejig when influential midfielder Sean Burke was black carded but Bradley’s second point of the half opened a two point lead with one minute of the half to play.
Portglenone hit back though and through a Dermot McAleese goal regained the lead. Niall McKeever rose highest at midfield to claim a Chris Kerr kick-out and passed to Conal Delargy. Delargy’s pass seemed to take an age to come down to McAleese in space and the chance looked to have passed by but the Portglenone Captain kept his composure to find the back of the St Gall’s net.
A stunning free from 45 yards out with the outside of his boot by McGourty restored parity to the side on the stroke of half time with a score line of 1-5 to 1-5 after 30 minutes of pulsating championship football.
The second half was dominated by McGourty and Kelly and their free taking ability. Neither team got further than two points ahead until the 54th minute when the Portglenone man sailed his third consecutive score and his eighth of the match to give the Casements a three point advantage for the first time in the match. Little did the Portglenone men know that it would be their last score of the match.
The Milltown Row side carved open a goal chance with the next attack, Niblock spinning his man before his drive was palmed away superbly by McManus between the sticks for Portglenone but McGourty’s ’45 and Mickey Pollock’s first score of the match reduced the arears to the minimum with three minutes remaining.
McGourty’s sixth and seventh frees of the match gave St Gall’s the lead with the match going into injury time as Portglenone looked for ways to swing the momentum back in their favour. St Gall’s were all over their kick outs in those final moments and they just couldn’t release the pressure their defence was under.
They managed one more half chance to draw the sides level for what would have been the seventh time of the match but it was a huge ask, even for someone of Paddy Kelly’s free taking ability. Easily 55 yards out, the Portglenone man had the distance but his shot lacked the accuracy that his side required.
One more free from McGourty sealed the deal for St Gall’s with the last kick of a truly pulsating second half of championship football. It doesn’t get any easier for the Milltown Row men in the quarter-final, Lámh Dhearg lay in wait after they overcame the challenge of St Paul’s in their preliminary round encounter in what promises to be another titanic battle. For now, the live to fight another day.
St Gall’s: Chris Kerr; Tomás O’Ciaran; Andy McClean; Jackson McGreevy; Ryan Irvine; Shane O’Hagan; Colin Brady; Sean Burke; Mickey Pollock (0-2) Niall O’Neill (1-00); Brendan Bradley (0-2, 1 free); Eoghan McCabe; Terry O’Neill; Mark Cummings; Kevin Niblock (0-1)
Subs: CJ McGourty (0-9, 7 frees, 1 ’45) for S Burke (25 mins); Ruairi Wilson for E McCabe (44 mins); Sean Kelly for R Irvine (49 mins); Conor Quigg for A McClean (55 mins); Kieran McGourty for M Cummings (59 mins)
Portglenone: Brian McManus; Johnny Convery; Aidan McKee; Ronan Delargy; Shane Delargy; Kieran McKenna; Niall Delargy (0-1); Niall McKeever (0-1); Paddy Kelly (0-9, 9 frees); Caolan Tierney; Conal Delargy (0-1); Mark McAleese; Corey McLaughlin; Dermot McAleese (1-00); Gerard McAleese
Subs: Ryan Convery for M McAleese (47 mins); Michael Kelly for C Tierney (59 mins)