AIB Ulster Club Intermediate Hurling Championship semi-final
St Gall’s 3-22 Swatragh 2-20
St. Gall’s looked to be heading out of this Ulster Intermediate championship semi-final against an excellent Swatragh at Owenbeg on Sunday when they trailed the Derry champions by a point, five minutes into injury time.
They were awarded, what looked a rather soft free as the Swatragh support called for the full-time whistle and Tomas O’Ciaran held his nerve to send over and send the game into 10 minutes each way extra time.
In extra time the greater experience and craft of the Milltown Row side saw them gain control and a CJ McGourty goal in the second period finally killed off the challenge of a brave Swatragh side.
St. Gall’s looked in control at half-time as Conor Burke’s goal helped them to a deserved 1-11 to 0-7 lead at the interval.
However, Swatragh took the game to their opponents with five unanswered points with the brilliant Eoghan O’Kane proving a handful while Ruairi Convery was deadly accurate from the placed ball as they reeled in the Antrim champions.
O’Kane and Karl Stewart exchanged goals for their sides and a late major from Fintan McGurk looked to have sealed a dramatic one-point win for the Derry side, but Tomás Ó Ciarain late pointed free sent the game into time added on.
In extra-time, St Gall’s were the better side and a goal from CJ McGourty finally put the game beyond Swatragh after an absorbing 80-plus minutes of Championship hurling.
McGourty successfully appealed a red card decision from the last round during the week and St. Gall’s will be mighty grateful that his appeal was successful as he weighed in with 1-6 before being replaced late in the contest.
The Antrim champions made a good start to the game with Kieran McGourty opening the scoring before Ruairi Convery landed his first free of the day and Eoghan O’Kane slotted over a point from play.
CJ McGourty replied for St Gall’s at the other end before the Antrim champions got in for their first goal. Burke’s weakly struck initial effort was well saved by Swatragh keeper Conor O’Kane but he failed to clear his lines and Burke sent his shot across goal and into an empty net.
Ó Ciarain added a point immediately to move St Gall’s 1-3 to 0-2 ahead with 13 minutes played.
O’Kane replied with back-to-back points for Swatragh, but St Gall’s hit a purple patch midway through the opening half and at this stage threatened to run away with the contest.
A hat-trick of points from the impressive Ó Ciarain coupled with points from Burke and two from CJ McGourty saw St Gall’s ease into a 1-8 to 0-4 lead and they looked in total control.
Convery missed a routine free for Swatragh and St Gall’s took full advantage as Sean Burke won the puck-out and set-up Ó Ciarain for another point.
CJ and Kieran McGourty then linked up for CJ to add another point and Swatragh were struggling but Convery finally stopped the rot with a good point in the 28th minute.
Mark Napier replied immediately for the Milltown men but Ruairi Convery responded with back-to-back frees in injury-time to leave six in it at the short whistle.
St. Gall’s were expected to push on at the start of the second half but instead it was the Derry champions who came racing out of the starting blocks, hitting the first five points to close the gap to one and St. Gall’s looked rattled.
Ruairi Convery led the assault as he converted four frees and a point from play by O’Kane had the South Derry supporters on their feet as they sensed a famous victory
Tomas Ó Ciarain steadied matters with a fine point before CJ McGourty added another fine score but the Swatragh men had the scent of victory in their nostrils as they came roaring back again.
Swatragh hit 1-2 without reply in a four minute spell.
Declan Quinn landed a point from play before O’Kane got on the end of a fine move involving Joseph Grant and substitute Seamus McFerran to fire past Kurtis McGreevy.
Another Convery free edged his side ahead by the 54th minute but St Gall’s found another response and Karl Stewart held off the challenge of Niall O’Doherty before kicking the sliotar into the far corner of the net to put his side 2-13 to 1-14 ahead.
Fintan McGurk replied with a fine score for Swatragh, but Sean McAreavy’s point two minutes into added time looked to have settled the game in favour of the Milltown Row men.
However, St Gall’s were punished for some slack defending as Grant, under pressure, played the sliotar across the face of goal for McGurk to bat to the net and put the Derry side 2-15 to 2-14 ahead.
There was time for further drama as Ó Ciarain landed a free five minutes into stoppage time to force extra-time, referee Colin Murray’s decision finding little favour with the Swatragh support.
It was now down to ten minutes each way extra time and St. Gall’s called on their greater experience at this stage to get on top with O’Ciaran opening the scoring.
O’Kane replied for the Derry side and Sean Martin Quinn and CJ McGourty then exchanged long-range frees as both sides battled for control.
Slowly St. Gall’s wrestled that control from the brave South Derry men and managed to put some daylight between the sides at the end of the first period of extra-time with Kieran McGourty, CJ McGourty (free) and Ó Ciarain all pointing while O’Kane replying for Swatragh.
In the second period of extra-time St Gall’s started to gain control with substitute Jackson McGreevy and Kieran McGourty setting up Stewart for a great point.
Moments later, Stewart became the provider as he set up the inrushing CJ McGourty who buried the sliotar in the corner of O’Kane’s net and put the game out of Swatragh’s reach.
St Gall’s will now face Armagh outfit Keady in the Ulster IHC final on Sunday, November 11 but will feel as much relieved as elated by todays performance.
Nevertheless this win will stand them in good stead and they will fancy their chances of pushing on and taking another Ulster title.
Swatragh: C O’Kane; N O’Doherty, M Ó hAgáin, M Cassidy; E McGuckin, Conor Quinn, Cathal Quinn; SF Quinn, SM Quinn (0-2, 0-1); F McGurk (1-1), R Convery (0-9, 0-9fs), E O’Kane (1-6); D McGuckin, D Quinn (0-2), J Grant.
Subs: S McFerran for McGuckin (48mins), N McQuillan for D Quinn (60 + 20mins), T Walsh for McGurk (60 + 20mins).
St Gall’s: K McGreevy; A Gribben, J McDaniel, A Hannaway; N O’Neill, S Burke, A Gallagher; J Hopkins, K Stewart (1-1), CJ McGourty (1-6, 0-2fs), K McGourty (0-3), T Ó Ciarain (0-8, 0-1f); M Donnelly, C Burke (1-1), M Napier (0-1).
Subs: J McGreevy for Donnelly (HT), A Healy (0-1) for Napier (51mins), S McAreavey (0-1) for C Burke (57mins), C Burke for S Burke (60 +14mins), G McGreevy for CJ McGourty (60 +20mins).
Referee: C Murray (Down)