Ulster Club Junior Hurling Championship semi-final 2006
Cloney Gaels 1-15 Lisbellaw 2-5
Having dismissed Mullahoran of Cavan in the quarter-final with a convincing victory, the Ahoghill men entered this Ulster semi-final in a confident mood but also with a degree of caution having been paired against an unknown quantity in Fermanagh champions, Lisbellaw.
With so much at stake the first half was fiercely contested but it was their second half scoring blitz that helped the Gaels on their way to their first ever Ulster championship final. From the outset this one was played at a blistering pace and there was no doubt that both sides were up for a win.
The Cloney men showed signs of nerves in the opening 10 minutes and seemed a bit disorganised, Lisbellaw on the other hand settled down straight away and within two minutes Ryan Bogue had fired home the Fermanagh men’s first goal giving them a dream start.
Lisbellaw dominated in the early stages and when centre field player Kevin McGarry picked off a point in the fourth minute the Cloney men were forced to take stock. The Gaels never lost their cool however and upped their game in a bid to get back into the match.
Aiden Graham led the way with a point over his left shoulder eight minutes in and Captain Sean O’Connell added another five minutes later. When Neil O’Connell was brought to ground, free taker Gerard Graham brought the gap to the bare minimum between the sides.
No sooner had Lisbellaw keeper Peter McEvoy pucked the sliothar out than Gerard Graham gained possession again and made no mistake bringing the sides level much to the delight and relief of the large and vocal travelling Ahoghill support.
The Antrim champions began to get to grips with the game and began to dominate their opponents. Goalkeeper Declan Scullion took a puck out which was gathered by Aiden Graham, who found his man in Gerard Kelly. Kelly played a clever ball to Sean O’Connell, who had a goal chance but opted to flick the sliothar across to the unmarked Donal Graham who brought an end to what could only be described as poetry in motion as he rattled the ball to the top right hand corner of the net.
Lisbellaw, now trailing, pulled one back through Declan McGarry and when Kevin McGarry converted a free on the thirty minute mark they were on level terms for a second time. Cloney’s Declan Graham gathered possession from the puck out and when he was fouled, brother Gerard stepped up to send over the final score of the half leaving it 1-5 to 1-4 in favour of the Ahoghill side at the interval.
The second half saw the emergence of a rejuvenated, more focused and determined Cloney Gaels side as they came out all guns blazing. John Friel got his side going with a superb point from a sideline cut just two minutes from the restart.
Gerard Kelly too got in on the scoring action when he received a pass from Aiden Graham and when Gerard Graham added another to his personal tally, the Ahoghill men were four points clear. Lisbellaw were now struggling against a Cloney Gaels side who were now dominating throughout the field and were doing the simple things well.
Mid-fielder Kevin McGarry replied from a free in the 39th minute but this was to be their last point as the Gaels went on the rampage. The industrious Dominic Neeson found himself surrounded and opted for a long hand-pass which found John Friel who picked off a long range point and when Gerard Graham converted another free the game look out of reach of the Fermanagh champions.
Cloney introduced minor star, PJ O’Connell with ten minutes remaining and within seconds he had registered a score and in a four minute spell Declan Graham, Donal Graham, Sean O’Connell and PJ O’Connell added unanswered points for the Antrim champions.
With five minutes remaining Lisbellaw went in search of a goal with the Cloney men falling back in defence but in the dying minutes the Fermanagh side were awarded a 21 yard free and Kevin McGarry stepped forward to rifle an unstoppable shot to the net.
It proved to be only a consolation score however as referee, John Devine brought matters to a close leaving the final score, Cloney Gaels 1-15, Lisbellaw 2-5.
Cloney Gaels: Declan Scullion, Francis Neeson, Brian Kelly, Pearse Close, Neil O’Connell, Bernard Graham, John Friel (0-2 1 sideline), Dominic Neeson, Joe Downey, Declan Graham (0-1), Sean O’Connell (0-2), Gerard Graham (0-5 – 2 frees), Donal Graham (1-1), Aiden Graham (0-1), Gerard Kelly (0-1).
Subs: John Kelly for Joe Downey, Ryan Doherty for Francis Neeson, PJ O’Connell (0-2) for Gerard Kelly, Sean McMahon for Donal Graham, Diarmaid Graham for Aiden Graham. Subs not used: Malachy Friel, Jerard Keenan, Barry Drain, Michael Graffin, Martin Graham, Kieran Convery, Sean Gavigan, Dessie McGuigan, Fergal Doherty.