Ciaran Doherty & Co Accountant’s U16A League final
St James Aldergrove 2-8 All Saints Ballymena 1-7
In a fiercely contested U16 final between two well-matched teams it was Aldergrove’s greater intensity and fire-power which saw them capture the South-West U-16A crown and gain a measure of revenge for their Breslin Cup final reversal to the same opposition earlier in the season. Indeed the St James coaching staff and players seemed to have learned from that defeat and came into this game with a few key positional changes which ensured a more cohesive and economical display.
Having won two of the previous three encounters between the sides, the All Saints’ boys started the game confidently and points from play in the 2nd and 7th minutes saw them race into an early lead. The St James boys looked somewhat nervy early on but by the time full-forward Aaron O’Connor chalked up his side’s opening score after eleven minutes, the Crumlin boys had started to find their rhythm and were gaining the upper hand in the midfield sector. However their dominance in the possession stakes wasn’t yielding scores as the blustery wet conditions took their toll on shooting accuracy. Indeed it was the Slemish Park boys who re-established their 2-point lead with a well taken long-range point, once more from play, with fourteen minutes showing on the score board. The Aldergrove response was instantaneous however when the kick-out was won, ball was quickly transferred to Ryan McCarthy who expertly finished past the despairing Ballymena net-minder giving his side a one-point lead with the game’s first green flag. As the contest entered its second quarter it was St James who took a firm hold on proceedings as excellent approach play from midfielders Eoin Hamill and Emmett Irvine yielded 2-points in a minute as Aldergrove moved into a 3-point lead when first Conleth O’Toole then Michael Blaney sent over quality points from wide on the right by the 18th minute. With the Aldergrove backs tackling expertly the All Saints forwards were being firmly shut out. When full- back David Aiken broke up yet another Ballymena offensive foray the ball was quickly transferred via half-backs Eoin Gough and Logan Fleming into the scoring zone where an opportunist finish by inside forward Conor Adams stretched his side’s lead to 6-points. The large Aldergrove traveling support expressed their delight as their young charges showed their individual and collective skills with the six-point gap being fully reflective of their first-half dominance. The Ballymena boys were down but certainly not out and responded with their fourth point of the game on 22-minutes to cut their deficit to 5-points. The final score of a pulsating opening half came from the left boot of Michael Blaney with 25 minutes elapsed. As a thoroughly absorbing first half of football came to an end the assembled spectators applauded the young warriors from the field expressing their appreciation and noting that all scores in the first period had come from open play.
H/T: St James Aldergrove (2-04) V Ballymena (0-04)
Whilst St James would have wanted the first half to continue, the break gave the All Saints’ coaching staff on opportunity to regroup, reorganize and fire their team up for a second half onslaught. The opening 10-minutes of the half was a battle of attrition with Aldergrove trying to manage the game and Ballymena desperate to break down their defensive unit. An uncharacteristic error in the Aldergrove rearguard, when a free-kick was misplaced, gave the All Saints team the renewed hope they sought as their full forward gratefully accepted the gift slotting firmly past ‘keeper Rory McBriar and reducing his side’s deficit to 3-points with 38 minutes gone. The Aldergrove boys however, showed no signs of panic or feeling sorry for themselves and it was they who got the next score when big Ryan McCarthy expertly converted a 45’ into the breeze with something to spare with 41 minutes showing on the pitch-side clock. As the game ebbed and flowed it was in the 46th minute when the first converted free of the game arrived – converted by Ballymena Aidan Scullion who saw his team’s deficit once more brought down to a ‘single kick of the ball’. Both side’s nerves and the difficult conditions coupled with tiring limbs started to take a toll on shooting accuracy as the game entered its final and decisive quarter with the Cup still all to play for. The wide count for Aldergrove indeed stood at 11 with Ballymena at 8 by the end of the game. Conleth O’Toole’s second point from play on 49 minutes gave his side the degree of comfort afforded by a four point lead. Things got even better for the ‘Grove when Ryan McCarthy rose highest to fist the ball over the bar with the inspirational score awarded by the match referee after consultation with his umpire. The 5-point lead become six when a sweet conversion by Glen Dunham a minute later helped to settle Aldergrove nerves with just 7-minutes of regulation time remaining. The Aldergrove team seemed to collectively decide that that gap would be sufficient and so it proved. A point from play followed quickly by a converted free with 59-minutes elapsed was all that Ballymena could muster. Even what seemed an eternal period of added time wasn’t enough for the gallant losing team as the ‘Grove held firm to record a well-deserved victory and progress to a County final encounter with St Galls
St James Team: 1. Rory McBriar 2. Emmett Magee 3. David Aiken 4. Conor Ferguson 5. Lee McCusker 6. Eoin Gough 7. Logan Fleming 8. Emmett Irvine 9. Eoin Hamill, 10. Michael Blaney (0-2)11. Ryan McCarthy (1-2, 1’45) 12. Conleth O’Toole (0-2) 13. Conor Adams (1-0) 14. Aaron O’Connor (0-1) 15. Glen Dunham (0-1)