Odhran McDonald who scored St Gall’s opening goal
Antrim A’ minor football championship
St Galls 2-04-0-08 Aghagallon
By Kevin Herron from Corrigan Park
St Gall’s made into the Minor A football final after a dogged and determined second half showing saw them over the line against Aghagallon at Corrigan Park this afternoon.
Odhran McDonald struck the opening goal for the Milltown men and a coolly converted penalty from Lewis McGarvey had the Galls 2-03-0-02 up at the break.
Aghagallon came back strong in the second period with a strong breeze advantage and four points in a row from Mark McAfee kicked them back into contention.
St Gall’s had to see out the last minute of regulation time and eight additional minutes within fourteen men after Conaill Murray was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence – however his side held on to book a place in the county final against Dunloy in two-weeks time.
Aghagallon arguably started the semi-final as narrow favourites having clinched the all-county minor football league – though it was St Gall’s who made the brighter start at the cold and blustery Whiterock Road.
Shooting into the Whiterock Road end in the first-half it was St Galls who carved out the first opportunity as Odhran McDonald confidently took on Steven Branagan but shot inches past the far post under pressure from Luke Mulholland between the posts.
Lorcan McIlroy kicked the opening score on the fifth minute after collecting Oran McIlhatton’s pop off and composing himself to shoot between the posts.
Aghagallon were level within three minutes though – credit must go to Liam Russell who showed great determination to prevent the ball from crossing the sideline and moved the ball forward into the hands of Adam Loughran who slipped in Ruairi McShane and a point was the end result.
The games opening goal arrived after 11 minutes – Mark McKenna fisted the ball into the path of Odhran McDonald who atoned for his earlier miss – palming the ball past Luke Mulholland to give St Galls a 1-01-0-01 lead.
St Galls increased their lead through a converted Niall Burns free ten minutes later – in between times Aghagallon were unfortunate not to hit back.
Adam Loughran’s free dropped agonisingly close to the crossbar with St Gall’s goalkeeper Louis McCormick called into action.
McCormick came to his sides rescue a matter of seconds before Burns converted free – despite spilling Mark McAfee’s low drive the St Galls shot stopper was quickly alert to deny Ronan Lavery on the follow-up.
St Gall’s took a huge step towards victory with less than five minutes of the opening half remaining – Mark McKenna stole possession and slipped in Lorcan McIlroy one-on-one – McIlroy rounded Luke Mulholland but shot wide having been clipped by a covering Aghagallon defender and referee Jarleth O’Donnell signalled for a penalty.
Lewis McGarvey who scored St Gall’s second goal from a penalty
Lewis McGarvey claimed responsibility for the penalty and confidently picked his spot – rifling high into the top right-hand corner to give his side a 2-02-0-01 lead.
Aghagallon’s second point of the opening half arrived on the stroke of half-time through Ruairi McShane but Niall Burns responded through his second converted free of the half to ensure that his side 2-03-0-02 ahead at the midway point in proceedings.
St Gall’s almost hit their third goal with less than sixty seconds gone in the second-half – but a terrific block from Michael McStravick denied Niall Burns.
The Milltown sides’ final point of the afternoon arrived on 34th minute as Ronan Gilligan was able to spot the darting run of Paul McLoughlin who popped the ball off to Burns and the number fifteen had his third point of the game.
Aghagallon were beginning to gain a foothold but their poor shot selection was letting them down – eventually they hit back through a converted free from Mark McAfee, the full-forward then shot expertly between the posts to make it 2-04-0-04 and converted a 40th minute free to make it three scores on the spin.
Further scores may have followed – though St Galls were dogged and determined around the middle of the field and forced a series of turnovers from their opponents.
On 47 minutes Mark McKenna was denied at point blank range from Luke Mulholland and the Milltown sides lead was reduced to four with seven minutes remaining as Jamie Lamont’s offload picked out McAfee who let fly a terrific attempt that sailed between the posts.
A minute from time Conaill Murray conceded a free for St Galls and having already been booked – referee Jarleth O’Donnell produced a second yellow-card and the Gall’s would have to see out the remainder of the game with 14-men.
Ruairi Loughran converted the resulting free and on the stroke of allotted time Michael McStravick floated the ball over the bar to make it 2-04-0-08 with eight minutes of injury-time to come.
Aghagallon almost completed the turnaround two minutes into added time as St Galls substitute Lorcan O’Ciarnan was robbed in possession and Ruairi Loughran slipped in Mark McAfee whose hand pass to Liam Russell was too heavy and St Galls survived a massive scare.
Mark McKenna was then denied by a superb double save from Luke Mulholland in the fifth minute of injury-time – amazingly there was still enough time for both sides to threaten late on.
Only a goal would do for Aghagallon and in the 67th minute Steven Branagan floated the ball high across the face of goal, but Ruairi McShane could only palm the ball into the side netting.
McKenna also shot wide of the target with the last real opportunity – though his side were celebrating less than thirty seconds later as St Galls triumphed and set-up a final date with Dunloy in the county decider in two-weeks time.
St Galls: L McCormick, O Crawford, R Gilligan, C Maguire, C Ryan, C Murray, M McCaffrey, L McGarvey (1-00f),K Cruikshank, O McIlhatton, L McIlroy (0-01), P McLoughlin, O McDonald (1-00), M McKenna, N Burns (0-03, 0-02f). Subs: L O’Ciarnan for K Cruikshank (43 mins), C McCabe for P McLoughlin (53 mins), D Delaney for C McCabe (67 mins, black-card sub), E Burke for M McCaffrey (68 mins).
Aghagallon: L Mulholland, S Branagan, S Donnelly, D McShane, M McStravick (0-01), J Lamont, K Hamill, A Johnston, G Downing, L Russell, A Loughran (0-01f), R Lavery, J Lavelle, M McAfee (0-04, 0-02f), R McShane (0-02). Subs: P Maginnis for R Lavery (36 mins), R Doone for J Lavelle (53 mins), D McCrory for K Hamill (64 mins).
Referee: Jarleth O’Donnell (Con Magee’s, Glenravel)