Northern Switchgear Senior Football Championship (Preliminary round)
St Mary’s Ahoghill 2-10 St Brigid’s 1-12
Geordie McGuckin reports from Quinn Park, Ballymena
St Mary’s Ahoghill progressed to the quarter final of the Senior Football Championship and a chance to renew acquaintances with Kickham’s Creggan in a couple of weeks’ time when they stood firm to hold off the determined challenge posed by Second Division side St Brigid’s at Ballymena on Saturday afternoon.
The Clooney men had been in good form previously in their league offerings and although it did take them a little while to hit their stride in this one when the impressive James O’ Connell concluded an end to end approach with a 6th minute goal they never were headed afterwards.
The corner forward’s major strike came after the city lads had nipped a couple clear and the ‘three pointer’ proved the difference at the break as his side took respite with a 1-06 to 0-06 advantage.
St Brigid’s with Jack Dowling working hard to make impact in the central zone in which Neil (Boris) O’ Connell and Martin Graham held sway reduced the deficit early in the second period, and a couple of early points saw them come within the minimum but that was to prove as close as they would get, and when Patrick Graham bagged a superb 42nd minute goal the margin was at five points.
Ahoghill maintained a clear lead right until the end of the allotted sixty minutes and beyond but although the never say die attitude within the ranks of the St Brigid’s men paid dividend when second period replacements Ruairi O’ Neill and Peter Lundy conspired to see the latter rise highest to punch the formers cross to the back of the net, the score brought them within the minimum, but time had beaten them and the score had arrived just seconds before the long blast.
It was a case of city versus country and First Division paired with the Second as St Mary’s Ahoghill crossed swords with the top rated side a grade below.
The Musgrave men may well have arrived cast in the ‘outsiders’ role but more than prepared to give it a lash as fully underlined in the opening minutes and early white flags raised by Ronan Mc Grady and James Smith without reply underlined firm intentions.
Ahoghill had been caught napping as the South Antrim men had sprung to action in haste, and had earned a two point advantage by the 3rd minute but although the St Mary’s men took time to get their bearings on the manicured Ballymena sod their opening score was to prove worth the wait and delivered in excellence.
A Stephen O’ Connell interception initiated the counter strike, and as the leather was transferred in sequence via the central defender, Patrick Graham, Eamon Brady, PJ O’ Connell and Eoin Neeson in turn to reach corner forward James O’ Connell who promptly palmed it to the back of the net to give his team the lead.
The lively O’ Connell followed with an 11th minute point and another followed a couple of minutes later but St Brigid’s with Pat Finnegan and Cathal Conway leading resistance were not about to be left far behind and a 23rd minute point from the latter ensured they had drawn alongside.
Peter Webb, Michael Cummings and the accurate Ronan McGrady had split the posts previously in answer to similar scores from Ahoghill’s Eoin Neeson and James O’ Connell and it was 1-03 to 0-06, but the Clooney men were quick to regain composure and to dominate the remainder of the period as PJ O’ Connell stood tallest.
The dual star ensured his side resumed the lead in the 26th minute after the St Brigid’s net minder Kevin Mc Govern had done well to divert a Ronan Graham low delivery aimed at the corner of his net away from the target.
PJ O’ Connell was first to seize the parried leather and return over the bar and when he delivered a 35 metre free in the same direction a couple of minutes later and followed with another just in time added, Ahoghill had earned a 1-06 to 0-06 lead at the break.
St Brigid’s having started the better in the first period replicated that in the second portion as early white flags raised in the opening phase by Ronan Mc Grady, as he sent a 30 metre free between the posts and when replacement Peter Lundy sent Peter Webb in for another they were hot on the trail of the Clooney men and just a point behind.
A good interchange between Martin Graham and the tireless Danny O’ Neill opened the way for the very busy Eoin Neeson in for a good 37th minute score and although Cathal Conway made quick reply for the Saints at the other end the Clooney boys were about to make firm bid for home.
PJ and his sibling James added points apiece and although James Smith replied in kind at the other end the Clooney boys were just about to deliver what looked a ‘killer blow’ as Patrick Graham’s sumptuous strike yielded a smashing goal.
The wing half back who had impressed throughout on his efforts in patrolling the wing, upwards and downwards had been denied by the woodwork on two previous occasions as he sought to find the net but not this time as he raced forward to reach an inch perfect Eoin Neeson delivery and deftly lob the leather over the advancing keeper to nestle in the back of the net to ensure a 50th minute 2-09 to 0-10 lead for the St Mary’s men.
Ronan Mc Grady added a point to the St Brigid’s total but quickly negated by a Neil O’ Connell solo effort and a fine score in kind at the other end and although the former was on hand to supply another shortly thereafter the clock was ticking towards duration and Ahoghill looked secure and almost assured of progress.
St Brigid’s were not about to ‘cease and desist’ in their efforts to make a comeback and the latter stages saw them strive to make inroads.
The Clooney men stood tall however with the O’ Connell’s, Stephen and Neil as well as centre back Joey Hamill who had made a huge contribution to the cause and a four point margin was maintained when the clock neared 65 minutes.
St Brigid’s were to gain some reward for their honest endeavours eventually as replacement Ruairi O’ Neill’s floated cross was punched to the back of the Ahoghill net by his fellow substitute who had made impressive advancement to fist the leather home.
The late strike had reduced the Ahoghill lead to the minimum again the major had arrived as consolation and just a few seconds before the match official sounded the long blast and a 2-10 to 1-12 final score had secured a place in the last eight for the St Mary’s men.
Referee Gerard Dougan (Creggan)
Francis Neeson, Eamon Brady, Stephen O’ Connell, Bernard Graham, Patrick Graham (1-00), Joey Hamill, Eoin Graham, Neil O’ Connell (0-01), Martin Graham, Danny O’ Neill, Eoin Neeson (0-02), Sean Mc Mahon, PJ O’ Connell (0-004), Donal Graham, James O’ Connell (1-04).
James Magee for S Mc Mahon
Ronan Graham for R Graham
Sean Mc Mahon for N O’ Connell
Kevin Mc Govern, John Toner, Conor King, Ben Sinnot, Michael Cummings, Patrick Finnegan, Oran Boyle, Cathal Conway (0-02), Jack Dowling, Rusiri O’ Neill, James Smith (0-02), Peter Webb (0-02), Niall O’ Donnell (0-01), Ronan Mc Grady (0-04), Enda Clarke
Peter Lundy (1-00) for N Mc Donnell
Ruairi O’ Neill for P Webb
Ethan Carlin for E Clarke
Pics by John McIlwaine