Aldergrove can progress in first Ulster outing

Ulster Intermediate Club championship

St. James’ Aldergrove v St. Naul’s Donegal

Corrigan Park (Sunday-2-30)

St. James Aldergrove make their Ulster Club Football Intermediate championship debut when they face Donegal champions, St. Naul’s at Corrigan Park on Sunday and it is a game the Crumlin side are quite capable of winning.

Paddy Nugent’s side trailed in their semi-final win over St. Paul’s and again in the final against St. Ergnat’s Moneyglass but came back strongly in both games to deservedly claim the Antrim title.

A late Seamus McGarry goal capped a second-half comeback against St Paul’s at Sunday’s venue which saw Aldergrove book their place in the final.

St Pauls dominated the opening quarter and Liam McKenna’s goal gave his side a 1-03-0-01 lead, though goals from McGarry and Ronan Hanna saw a rejuvenated Aldergrove hold a slender 2-04-1-05 advantage at the interval.

Liam McLarnon nudged his side ahead again with an early second-half goal and the Shaw’s Road side held the lead until injury-time when Conor Morris drew the sides level with McGarry sealing the deal moments later to see his side into the decider with Moneyglass.

There was little to suggest from that semi-final that Aldergrove would produce the performance of the season when they met a strongly fancied St. Ergnat’s in Portglenone but the Crumlin side upped their game considerably to take their first Intermediate title for more than four decades.

Aldergrove ended a 42 year wait as they came back from seven points down to take the intermediate championship.  Trailing by seven points after 20 minutes, the Crumlin side produced a breath taking second half display where Seamus McGarry and Fergal Burke were immense for their sides.

McGarry with an exhibition of quite brilliant point scoring in the second 30 minutes while Burke landed the winning score in injury time and top scored for the St James’ men with 1-4 over the hour.

Coming into the match, many saw Moneyglass as favourites and when Dermot McErlain scored the opening goal after just 15 seconds, it looked like it could be a long evening for the Aldergrove men.  McErlain added his second major midway through the first half and Moneyglass were in control of their own destiny at that point.

There were two moments in the first half that changed the course of the game, however.  Aldergrove made a tactical change, replacing Conor Totten for Corey Fogarty and he kept an eye on the influential Gavin Murray and Burke’s major with minutes to go at the end of the first half.  It gave the Crumlin side a glimmer of hope coming into the second half with a three point deficit and as they’ve shown throughout the championship, that’s all they need.

Aldergrove kept Moneyglass scoreless for 17 minutes in the second half while McGarry and Burke went to town while Brian McQuillan was also superb in midfield.  They took a three point lead with ten minutes remaining but it was Moneyglass who fought back with Colum Duffin tying the sides.  There was still time for a winner and a hero.  Burke stepped up to the plate and split the posts with a simply brilliant score from wide on the left and the acutest of angles.

Aldergrove had a moderate league campaign but hit form at just the right time coming into the championship and their quarter-final win over All Saints would surely have given them confidence going into the St. Paul’s game.

They certainly didn’t set Corrigan alight that day but never the less did enough to go through to that meeting with an excellent Moneyglass and write their names in the club’s history with that famous victory.

Team manager, Paddy Nugent and his assistant, John Jones were amongst a delegation that attended the Donegal final where Sunday’s opponents, St. Nual’s have defeated Cloughaneely in a close encounter.

After coming through a replay the previous Wednesday night, Cloughaneely led with seven minutes left but they were unable to stop the late St Naul’s surge.

St Naul’s have suffered heartbreak at this level in the past, losing three of the last four finals they have contested, but with Daniel Brennan, Peadar Mogan and Stuart Johnston lively up front, they prevailed.

St Naul’s have been one of the top Intermediate teams in Donegal for the past five to six years.They just narrowly missed out to Killybegs on getting promotion to Division One, but the victory over Cloughaneely will have given them a huge fillip.

They lost the Intermediate final to Milford two years ago but have been a very driven side under manager Barry Meehan who used to be involved with St Eunan’s.

They are a large rural parish and have a big pick and are backboned by ex -county player Stephen Griffin who is over  six foot, hits the frees and can also double as a centre back.

His equally imposing brother Barry is in midfield with another giant called Lee McBrearty.

Naul’s have a strong towering spine and Daniel Brennan, who can also hit frees, is a pretty imposing figure.

And they have Donegal senior panellist Brendan McCole who has played full-back for the county and Peadar Mogan, this year’s U-20 captain.

They have loads of pace in Mogan, John Rose, Michael Coughlan and Stuart Johnson who play a running game, but Griffin’s, McBrearty and Brennan are also good target men.

Galway native Shane Conneely wins loads of dirty ball and is very important to them.

Naul’s have a nice blend of height, power, experience and youth and they are ambitious.

The Donegal champions face an Aldergrove side with plenty of experience themselves. The Crumlin men are no strangers to disappointment but eventually overcame their Intermediate Championship hoodoo this year with wins over All Saints, St. Paul’s and finally St. Ergnat’s.

Ferdia Carson, Chris O’Kane and Chris McVeigh bring a wealth of experience to a defence which is likely to include youngster Oisin Graham while Corey Fogarty, who replaced Conor Totten early in that final could be in line for a starting spot.

Brian McQuillan and Ryan Owens form a strong mid-field partnership with McQuillan one of the best in this department on his day. Seamus McGarry can be a match winner in attack where the experienced Fergal Burke and Ronan Hanna could be joined by the youthful Kian Jones and Conor Morris.

St. Naul’s are likely to provide St. James’ with a tough challenge on Sunday but with a familiar venue and a volatile home support edging them on I believe the Antrim champions have the knowhow , experience and skill to progress to the next round.

Aldergrove v Moneyglass: Shane O’Neill; Paul Cushley, Ferdia Carson, Chris O’Kane; Oisin Graham, Chris McVeigh, Conor Totten; Ryan Owens, Brian McQuillan; Kian Jones, Fergal Burke, Ronan Hanna; Conor Morris, Gerard Mallon, Seamus McGarry.

Subs: Corey Fogarty for C Totten (27); James Trowlen for K Jones (52)

Scorers: Fergal Burke 1-4 (2 f’s); Seamus McGarry 0-6 (2 f’s); Brian McQuillan 0-2; Oisin Graham 0-1

ST Naul’s v Cloughanelly: Gavin Mulreaney; Caolan Gaffney, Brendan McCole, John Rose; Peadar Mogan (0-2,1f), Conor McBrearty, Martin Breslin; Lee McBrearty, Barry Griffin; Michael Coughlan, Stuart Johnston (0-2), Peadar Mogan; Stephen Griffin (0-2,2f), Daniel Brennan (1-3,1f), Shane Conneely (0-1).

Subs: Diarmuid Gallagher for Gaffney 39; Cathal Lowther for Breslin 41; Daniel Gallagher for Coughlan 52; John Relihan for Campbell 62

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