With another year of the GAA calendar fading into the distance we have covered the respective journeys of the clubs who achieved success in the Saffron county and those who took it a step further to Ulster success.
While most clubs are in the process of preparing for the new season and hoping for success in 2019 there are a number of Antrim clubs with unfinished business from 2018. Ruairi Og, Cushendall lifted the Antrim Senior hurling championship and went on to Ulster success and that success was replicated by St. Gall’s in the Intermediate hurling championship while Emmet’s Cushendun came within a puck of the ball of making it an Antrim treble in the Junior hurling final.
Add to that the success of St. Enda’s who collected their first ever senior football title by beating Gort na Mona in the Antrim final before going on to defeat Doohamlet of Monaghan, Taite Riabach of Tyrone and Mullahoran of Cavan on their way to Ulster Intermediate glory.
All three sides are preparing for their respective All Ireland semi-finals at present and today we are going to look back at the journey of St. Gall’s on their way to Intermediate hurling success, a journey that looked unlikely when I saw them fall to St. Brigid’s Cloughmills early in their division 2 league campaign.
The leagues had commenced a week earlier with St. Gall’s shipping a heavy defeat to Armoy at Milltown and a week later the Biddies had six points to spare over the Falls Road side in Cloughmills. Things didn’t appear to be improving for St. Gall’s when Tir na nOg inflicted another heavy defeat at Whitehill in early April, this time the margin eleven points but with a number of key players missing Mickey Culbert wasn’t panicking.
The former Antrim football supremo got some of those players back on board for the visit of Glenariffe on the 15th April and they recorded their first win of the season over an Oisin’s side who were themselves struggling for points.
A visit to Ballycastle on the 23d May saw St. Gall’s suffer their fourth defeat in five outing to a McQuillan’s team who were to go on and win the league but there were signs that things were improving for the Milltown Row side.
That improvement resulted in them going on a winning run with victories over St. Enda’s, Sarsfield’s, Glen Rovers, Tir na nOg, St. Brigid’s, Oisin’s again, St. Enda’s again and saw them climb to runners up spot in the league and in a healthy place heading into the championship.
They began that championship campaign with victory over city rivals, Gort na Mona in a bad tempered encounter at Corrigan at the end of August which saw them emerge with five points to spare.
Five days later they took on Oisin’s on a Friday night under the floodlights at Quinn Park, Ballymena and certainly didn’t get it all their own way during a very competitive first half. St. Gall’s found something extra however in the second half to run out winners by eight points and a few punters were starting to fancy them to go all the way.
They were drawn against St. Enda’s in the semi-final and repeated their league double success over the Glengormley side running out winners by six points to set up a meeting with surprise packets, Kickham’s Creggan in the final.
The Staffordstown Road side had played their hurling in division 3 of the ACH League and after a good run early in the year their form had dipped dramatically come the end of the season where they failed to gain promotion with Clooney Gaels and Cathaoir an Ri piping them for the promotion places.
Come the championship however and the return of key players Kickham’s hit a rich vein of form which resulted in them beating Armoy, Rasharkin and Cathaoir an Ri to reach the final and despite their division 3 status they certainly presented St. Gall’s with a formidable hurdle in the decider.
St. Gall’s 1-16 to 0-17
St. Gall’s produced a strong second half performance to overcome the challenge of Kickham’s Creggan in a tough uncompromising Intermediate Hurling Championship final at a windy Hannastown. Playing with the breeze in the opening half, Kickham’s dominated the first half exchanges.
Creggan were to rue a number of bad misses in the opening half but still led by 0-10 to 0-4 by the 25th minute and looked to be heading to the dressing room with a fairly healthy lead. St. Gall’s had been on the back foot for a time but CJ McGourty landed a much needed free and when Jackson McGreevey got on the end of a Mark Napier cross in the 28th minute to finish to the net from close range the Milltown men were right back in contention but still trailed by four at the break.
During the second half St. Gall’s slowly wore down their opponents with CJ McGourty leading the way They went on to win by two points in an excellent final which quite literally could have gone either way with CJ McGourty collecting the Saffron Gael man-of-the-match award.
It was now down to Ulster and a meeting with Fermanagh champions Lisbellaw and the Fermanagh side certainly put it up to the Antrim men but second half goals from Sean McAreavey and Mark Napier sealed the deal.
CJ McGourty led the way with 0-8 (4 frees) with Karl Stewart and Kieran McGourty amongst the St. Gall’s scorers as they ran out 2-19 to 1-16 winners to book a semi-final spot against Derry champions Swatragh at Owenbeg.
And what a challenge the Derry champions produced! 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, on the restart 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 to set up a meeting with Keady of Armagh.
St Galls claimed their first Ulster Intermediate Hurling title since 2009 with a 2-12 to 0-11 win over Keady, Lamh Dhearg at Pairc Esler. CJ McGourty hit the opening goal five minutes before the half-time break and despite losing Jackson McGreevy to a second yellow card inside the first ten minutes of the second-half, the Milltown side remained on the front foot and a second goal from substitute Sean McAreavey ensured the title would be heading to Milltown Row.
St Galls v Keady: C McGreevy, S Morrison, J McDaniel, A Hannaway, N O’Neill, S Burke, J McGreevy (0-01)J Hopkins, C Stewart (0-01), C Burke, K McGourty (0-01), T O’Ciarain (0-03f), C McGourty (1-05,0-04f), A Gallagher, M Napier (0-01). Subs: S McAreavey (1-00) for M Napier, P McCaffrey for C McGreevy, A Healy for J Hopkins, M Donnelly for S Burke.
St. Gall’s now go forward to meet Galway champions Oranmore-Maree in the All Ireland semi-final at Parnell Park on the 20th January and the Saffron Gael will carry a preview on the week leading up to that game and will have a reporter and photographer at the game.