Antrim U20 Football Championship final
Con Magee’s, Glenravel 1-6 St Gall’s 0-8
Con Magees Glenravel bridged a 23 year gap at Davitt’s Park Belfast on Saturday when they won their first U20 title since 1998 with a strong second half display. It was actually the Under 21 title back then, as it was when they won the first ever competition at this age group in 1964. Victory today means they become the first winners of both the Under 21 and under 20
A goal from a Rian Lennon penalty midway through the second half was to prove the decisive score for the Glenravel side as it gave them a lead they did not lose. St Gall’s closed the gap to a single point, but though they had a couple of late chances to bring the game to extra time, the north Antrim side held out for the win.
Played on an excellent surface at Pairc Davitt both sides served up an absorbing game with no little skill throughout. A shower of rain before throw in did make underfoot conditions a little slippery, but both sides battled manfully.
However, it was the men from the tenth glen who just did enough to clinch the title, to the delight of their large support on the day, as they rounded off a hugely positive campaign with the trophy in the hands of their captain Eoin Hynds. Little did they think when they saw the draw for the competition earlier this year that they would be crowned champions, but they stuck at their task all through, despite numerous cancelations and their efforts were remarded.
Speaking after the game team manager Gareth McKeown said “It’s been a massive turnaround this year, We had been written off, but this group of player dug deep, brought everything to the table and did everything we’ve asked from them from start to finish.
“There have been ups and downs the whole way through with not knowing when games would be played, but the boys pushed it over the line today. Big congratulations to them – we’re over the moon.”
Calum Higgins, who had played in the St Louis team beaten in the Mageean Cup semi-final the previous evening at the Dub, got Glenravel off to a great start when he gathered the ball from a break and fired over.
St Gall’s hit back immediately with Dubhaltach Mac Liam weaving his way into a bit of space to drop his shot over and straight from the kick-out, the city side gained possession with the hugely impressive Niall Burns lashing over a peach of a score from range.
Mac Liam then turned provider in the next possession as he fed Darragh Ferguson to put St Gall’s two up after three minutes and it looked like the match favourites were going to justify that favourites tag.
However, the scoring slowed down and Glenravel were back level after 12 minutes thanks to pointed frees from Rian Lennon and Eoin Hynds. Glenravel have scored a lot of goals throughout this campaign and when they squandered a couple of chances it looked it might not be their day this time around.
Burns gave St Gall’s the advantage once again before the water break and they finished the half in the same position as the teams managed just one point apiece in the second quarter of the game with Lennon kicking a free to level and Burns hitting a fine score off his left for the Milltown men to give his team a 0-5 to 04 lead
At the start of the second period, Glenravel again had a sight of goal when the ball was worked to Ryan McQuillan, but the St Gall’s defence did well to crowd him out and turn the ball over, working it upfield and winning a free with Burns converting to put two between them.
Glenravel wrestled back a bit of control and were having the upper hand at midfield, which provided chances for Eoin Hynds and Sean McKay who both slotted over to level
The key moment then arrived on 44 minutes as Hynds did brilliantly to take down a high ball and move towards goal, only to be taken down by St Gall’s goalkeeper Louis McCormick who was booked for the challenge that resulted in a penalty. Up-stepped Lennon who fired the ball to the keepers right side for a the crucial score of the game.
The task became even more difficult for St Gall’s just before the water break as Oisin Crawford was black-carded for sliding in from the back on Ryan McQuillan, but they seemed to reorganise at the halt in play and gradually got back into contention with Burns kicking a free and Barra McCaffrey curling over off his left with eight to play.
Try as they might, they just couldn’t get on terms with Burns off target from a 58th minute free and then in stoppage time, Conn Doherty’s shot sailed out to the left as Glenravel took the honours.
“It was a good game,” reflected St Gall’s manager Sean Burns, who felt a few calls didn’t go his side’s way.
“Both teams tried to play a bit of football to a degree, but the score was a fair result for them.
“As long as we learn to go into senior next year… When you are down three or four points to come back into that game and never give up… Just one or two decisions went against us that I thought were soft, but congratulations to Con Magee’s.”
That spell in the third quarter when Glenravel hit 1-2 to put themselves in the driving seat was ultimately the winning of the game.
Coming out the right side of this arm wrestle of a game will be a huge confidence booster for the whole club and their manager, McKeown, paid tribute to his players for how they dug in and claimed victory.
“That was a big phase of the game when the boys stood up and took control,” he noted.
“One of our boys got wiped out at the end of that third quarter, but that’s the hits you take to win championship medals.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve been knocking on the door with Intermediate semi-finals but couldn’t push it over the line.
“This will give us the belief we need to push on with a new management coming in next year. I hope and I’m sure this will push us onto better things and Con Magee’s are on the rise.
“St Gall’s are a serious side too and I’d expect them to be right back again next year.”
GLENRAVEL: J Scullion; E Carey, S Higgins, S McCusker; J Martin, G Hynds, C Laverty; D McQuillan, S Black; C Higgins (0-1), R Lennon (1-3, 1-0 pen, 0-2 frees), R McQuillan; S McKay, E Hynds (0-2, both frees), D Donaghy.
ST GALL’S: L McCormick; C Mac Adhaimh, C McGirr, O Crawford; D Mac Liam (0-1), C Ryan, F Donnelly; C Doherty, A Mullan; D Delaney, N Burns (0-5, 2 frees), C Maguire; B McCaffrey (0-1), D Ferguson (0-1), N Fallon. Subs: C Walsh for D Delaney (21), J McKenna for C Maguire (51).
REFEREE: Eamonn McAuley (Cargin)