Can lightning strike twice for Tir na nOg in Balinderry

By Paddy McIlwaine

As I looked through the Ulster club fixtures this morning I saw that Tir na nOg’s Ulster Intermediate final against St. Malachy’s Moortown has been switched to Ballinderry and immediately I reflected on the last time I had visited the Loch Shore venue.

It was back on the 10th March 2019 and the game I was covering featured our very own Tir na nOg and the opposition was another Tyrone side, Gortin in an Ulster Intermediate League decider.

Tir na nOg turned in a solid performance in far from ideal conditions that day to beat the Tyrone side convincingly so the visit to Ballinderry this Saturday could be seen as a good omen for the Randalstown men as they face Moortown for a place in the Ulster final.

Can lightning strike twice for the Randalstown men? Quite a number of the side that played that day will feature on Saturday and today we start the build up to Saturday’s semi-final with a report and photographs from that Ulster League final in 2019

Ulster Intermediate Football League (final)

                  Tir na nÓg (Antrim) 2-10 St Patrick’s Gortin (Tyrone) 2-02

Tir na nOg kept their cool against an undisciplined St. Patrick’s, Gortin to collect their first Ulster Intermediate football league title at cold and windy Balinderry today. The Tyrone side were very much architects of their own downfall, losing two players to straight reds during an opening half where they played into the driving wind.

The Tyrone side had entered the game as strong favourites but the dismissal of midfielder Ruairi Kennan at the end of the first quarter and team captain and full forward, Brian Mc Garvey in the 29th minute left them facing an uphill battle.

Tir na nOg had the strong breeze behind them in the opening period but the concession of a fifth minute goal and another in the latter stages of the half looked likely to cause them problems.

Early replacement Ciaran Dobbin made quick impact after being introduced for Ryan O’Neill who had suffered a facial injury, when he signaled arrival on the scene with a 25th minute point before quickly making the addition of a goal.

The Whitehill lads did have numerical advantage and a four point lead,1-07 to 2-00 at the short whistle but conditions, and the strength of the breeze against ensured nothing could be taken for granted.

Despite being reduced in numbers the Red Hand side started the second half on the offensive but Damien Hagen had the Whitehill men ready for action and although a 41st minute Ciaran Brolly point reduced the deficit that was to be as close as they were to get.

Tir na nOg were fully primed for rear guard action with team captain Christy Sheerin and the pace laden Sean Redmond leading the way.

The Antrim lads stood strong in defence and used their extra men to good effect. Their slick counter attacking produced points from Leigh Martin, Ciaran McKeown, and Ciaran Logan before minor star Ciaran O’ Neill, a second period replacement, blasted to the back of net to ensure the silverware was on the way to Randalstown.

In far from ideal conditions Tir na nOg and Gortin took to the field in Balinderry today to decide the destination of the Ulster intermediate football league title.

St. Patrick’s had impressed en route to the decider with eye catching wins over Castledawson and Tir na nOg, Portadown  and entered today’s final as firm favourites

Tir na nOg, with the gale force westerly breeze in their favour the opening half got off to a good start with mid-field general Christy Sheerin firing between the posts seconds into proceedings.

The Antrim side added a second point via Leigh Martin in the 3rd minute but despite the positivity offered from a good start Tir na nOg were in arrears by the 6th minute as Gortin corner man Sean Og McAleer rose to punch a Sean McKenna cross to the back of the net.

Brian McGarvey who had been assigned a ‘go anywhere role’ linked up with Sean McAleer and Tony Mossey to open the way for the corner forward to fist into the net.

Tir na nOg regained the initiative as back to back points from a Daniel Martin long range effort and a sweetly struck Leigh Martin delivery ensured they sneaked ahead, 0-04 to 1-00 and their chances were further enhanced when the opposition were reduced to 14 when Ruairi Keenan was shown red for an off the ball incident.

Another well delivered Leigh Martin score increased the Tir na nOg lead but the advantage was soon to become deficit when the Tyrone men grabbed a second major.

A strong interception from corner back Cormac Bradley initiated the score but it was a sublime inch perfect pass from Ciaran Brolly which opened the way for Sean Og McAleer to grab his second goal and make it 2-00 to 0-05 after 25th minutes.

The Whitehill side had been forced into replacing Ryan O’ Neill with what looked a bad facial injury but his replacement, Ciaran Dobbin was about to signal arrival.

The fleet footed substitute took up position in the corner and had the ball over the bar in the 27th minute after Darren McCormick interception in the central zone.

Dobbin was soon to add a second score as Christy Sheerin rose to collect the resultant kick-out before transferring to the former who quickly rounded his marker before firing firmly into the corner of the net.

The Randalstown men had regained advantage and an interception and adept delivery from Sean Redmond opened the way for a further score as Michael Dempsey split the posts.

The Antrim side had gone four points clear in the latter stages, but with the elements to face in the second half that lead looked precarious.  Gortin’s tackling was reckless at times and the Tyrone men were further reduced in number when Brian McGarvey was shown red following a strike on an opponent.

Gortin started the second half on the offensive and it was only a last minute intervention by Aaron McNeilly on his own goal line that prevented Shane Clarke finding the net.

Fiachra McNulty sent Ciaran Brolly in to raise white in the 40th minute for Gortin to reduce the gap to three but Damien ‘Scotchy’ Hagen’s men were soon back in formation and standing tall in defiance.

Christy Sheerin and Sean Redmond led by example and a fast counter and a foul on Aaron McNeilly led to the ever accurate Leigh Martin dispatching the resulting free over the bar in the 47th minute.

Martin’s score was negated at the other end a few minutes later when Sean Mc Aleer strode forward to finish in style but the Whitehill Blues quickly responded with team captain Christy Sheerin to the fore.

Ciaran Dobbin was denied by the base of the post when he shot low and hard in the 54th minute but Ciaran McKeown came strong on the right hand side to fist between the posts a minute later.

Tir na nOg had a four point advantage as the decider moved into the last five minutes and the Whitehill Blues were now in control all over the field.

Gortin kept battling but the Antrim side were immoveable and when Ciaran Logan added a 57th minute point they looked in charge.

St Patrick’s continued to battle but the Tir na nOg defence stood firm and another well laid counter attack saw replacement Ciaran O’Neill place Ciaran Logan who fired to the net and the die was cast.

Despite the addition of six minutes of injury time there was no further employment for the scoreboard attendant as Tir na nOg kept possession as they ran down the clock.

The silverware was Randalstown bound and to Whitehill and the club rooms of Tir na Nog in their centenary year as they passed the post full value for a 2-10 to 2-02 winning advantage’

Tir na nOg: Sean P McAtamney, Daniel Martin (0-01), Niall Cassidy, Sean Redmond, Barry McCormick, Caoimhinn Duffin, Darren McCormick, Ryan O’ Neill, Christy Sheerin (0-01), Malachy Og Duffin, Aaron McNeilly, Peter Cullen, Darragh Fegan (0-02), Leigh Martin (0-02), Sean Duffin


Ciaran Dobbin (1-01) for Ryan O’Neill

Michael Dempsey for Ronan O’Neill

Ciaran Logan (1-01) for M Duffin

Ciaran O’Neill for D Martin

Ronan O’Neill for S Duffin

Gortin: Cathal McCullagh, Cormac Bradley, Patrick McCullagh, Peter Bradley, Peter Keenan, Fiachra McNulty, Sean McKenna, Ruairi Keenan, Paddy Northern, Tony Mossey, Ciaran Brolly, Laurence Hollywood, Sean Og McAleer, Brian McGarvey, Shane Clarke.

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