St. Gall’s conquer Ulster in 2005

St. Gall’s collected their second Ulster Club football title when they defeated Bellaghy in Omagh in 2005. I was there to cover the game and here is a report from the Irish Times to accompany the photographs I took on the day. St. Gall’s turned out in the Antrim colours while Bellaghy wore the colours of Derry as both sides normally played in blue.

Ulster Club FC Final St Gall’s 1-8 Bellaghy 0-8:

Club finals at this time of the year are generally a slog and yesterday’s AIB Ulster football decider at Healy Park, Omagh was no exception.

A heavy pitch, intermittent rain and a chilly glowering sky gave notice that this wouldn’t be a day for champagne football, but in the end this was a competitive and interesting match, which yielded up Antrim champions for the first time since 1982 when St Gall’s won their only previous title.

Manager John Rafferty, the former Armagh player who has been with the Belfast club for 16 years, gently expressed the hope afterwards that his unsung team would get credit for this latest milestone on a road of surprises. “All year these players have had an aspiration to be recognised as good footballers. Today we came in as underdogs and I’d like to think that after today, the players of St Gall’s would get recognition for the good lads they are.”

There was no denying the winners’ merits. They gave an implacable team performance, tackled and covered superbly and generally exploited the weaknesses in a subdued Bellaghy display. The Derry champions lacked much cut in attack and relied too much on full forward Joe Cassidy’s accuracy from placed balls until that too wavered as the match ticked towards its conclusion.

For all that, there was a frantic conclusion with Cathal Scullion bending a spectacular shot off the underside of the crossbar with four minutes left and the margin was down to two points.

As has often been the case this season St Gall’s shuffled their declared hand before the start and brought in Mark McCrory at centrefield despite the injury scare that had threatened his participation – “If you have a Rolls Royce, you drive it; you don’t keep it in the garage,” was Rafferty’s gnomic explanation. Ciaran Gallagher also came in at full forward and five other positional switches completed the line-up.

The early exchanges were Bellaghy’s as they drove forward off the solid base of their excellent half-back line. Centrefield was a rush-hour of compressed play with neither side getting a grip.

Where the match was ultimately decided though was in Derry side’s last line of defence.

Their full backs struggled somewhat but diasastrously compounded their troubles by indulging in a death-wish, short game at the back. It was at the heart of the afternoon’s decisive score. In the 12th minute goalkeeper Brian Scullion was given a hand pass, attempted to work his way out before playing a short ball out only for centrefielder Ciarán McCrossan to block the pass and steer the ball past the stranded Scullion for a 1-1 to 0-2 lead that was never overturned.

The goalkeeper spilled another ball when Gallagher dropped a shot short and looked as if he might have picked the fumble off the ground. In fairness to Scullion he recovered his composure in the second half and brought off a great save from Gallagher to keep the game alive in the 53rd minute.

Gallagher had another chance to hit the net before half-time after a brilliant through-ball from Karl Stewart but hit it over the bar for a 1-3 to 0-5 interval lead.

Just after the break Ciarán McNally – whose rallying presence at centre back deserved more – equalised, making him the joint top scorer from play – but Bellaghy couldn’t impose their rhythm on energetic opponents. In fact Stewart nearly had a goal in the 38th minute after sneaking in behind the defence to sweep a shot wide.

Bellaghy obligingly talked a couple of frees forward to within scoring range and the Derry men could never quite close the gap again.

Joe Diver put in a storming final quarter at centrefield to try to drag his team through the challenge but Cassidy’s inability to kick two right-sided frees was exacerbated when Seán Burns and Stewart (in injury time) struck for points to give the Antrim club a deserved three-point win.

Captain Seán Kelly, having missed the provincial campaign through injury, was brought in for the last minute and was able to lift the cup. The victory gives him the recovery time to be able to strenghten the team’s challenge in the new year.

ST GALL’S: P Murray; C Brady, A Mclean, S Kennedy; P Gribben, G McGirr, A Healey; M McCrory, C McCrossan (1-0); A Gallagher, S Burns (0-4, three frees), T O’Neill; K Stewart (0-4, two frees), K Gallagher (0-1), Kevin McGourty. Subs: Kieran McGourty for O’Neill (20 mins), C McGourty for Gallagher (56 mins), K Niblock for McCrossan (59 mins), C Smyth for Gribben (61 mins), S Kelly for Kieran McGourty (63 mins).

BELLAGHY: B Scullion; M McGoldrick, M McShane, D O’Neill; P Diamond, C McNally (0-1), K Doherty; F Doherty, J Diver; F Glackin, G Doherty, L McPeake; D Graffin, J Cassidy (0-7, six frees), G Diamond. Subs: C Scullion for G Doherty (24 mins), C Doherty for Glackin (48 mins), E Brown for G Diamond (54 mins).

Referee: B Crowe (Cavan).

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