Return to Ballinderry can bring rewards for Tir na nOg

Ulster Intermediate Club football semi-final

Tir na nOg (Antrim) v Moortown St. Malachy’s (Tyrone)

Ballinderry 1.00pm Saturday

Referee: Barry Cassidy

As I eluded to earlier in the week, a return to Ballinderry can bring further rewards for Tir na nOg when they take on Moortown St. Malachy’s this Saturday in the semi-final of the Ulster Intermediate club football championship semi-final.

On the 10th March 2019 Tir na nOg took on St. Patrick’s Gortin in the Ulster Intermediate league final at Saturday’s venue and recorded a fairly comfortable win over the Tyrone side.

That game finished 2-10 to 2-2 for the Randalstown side but the victory was made much more comfortable by the dismissal of two of the Gortin side in the first half.

Whether that result will have any bearing on Saturday’s meeting with Moortown is questionable but quite a number of the panel that featured in that victory will be involved in Saturday’s semi-final while Ballinderry should provide a firmer surface than the previously scheduled Maghera.

Moortown St. Malachy’s are likely to provide a stiffer test than St. Patrick’s Gortin did in that league final back in 2019 but it is a challenge that Micky O’Kane, Seamus Hastings and the Whitehill side will embrace and they will be ready for it.

After collecting the Antrim title when they defeated All Saints in the final, Tir na nOg were drawn against Armagh champions, Carrickcruppen in the Ulster quarter-final and will have drawn a lot of confidence from their victory over the Armagh side in Ahoghill.

Tir na nOg produced a mighty performance as they saw off the challenge of Carrickcruppen with six points to spare.  The game was only decided in injury time however with the Armagh champions staging a late comeback but the men from Whitehill were full value for their win.

Leading by three points at half time after a superb start, all three majors in the game came after the last minute of normal time.  Ciaran Dobbin and Eamon Og McAllister taking advantage of Carrickcruppen goalkeeper Blaine Hughes going walkabout as the Naomh Padraig men fought to get back into the game while James Burns looked to have got the last touch on the ball for the Armagh champions goal.

In a frenetic end to the game, referee Niall McKenna issued three red cards with Burns and Conal O’Callaghan seeing red and Barry McCormick for Tir na nOg but in reality, the dismissals had no effect on the result. 

Thankfully McCormick’s dismissal for a second yellow card will not rule him out of Saturday’s semi-final. The centre-half-back and captain is vital to the Tir na nOg cause and on his day he is one of the best in the county in that position.

Tir na nOg have been excellent this season, going through the league unbeaten before making it a league and championship double in their own county and they have carried that form into their Ulster campaign.

They are a big mobile side who retain the ball well and are capable of posting high scores as demonstrated against Carrickcruppen. Darragh Fagan is a reliable free taker and that will be important on Saturday while Eamon Og McAllister, Aaron McNeilly, Sean Duffin and Daniel Martin are all capable of taking scores.

At mid-field Chrity Sheerin and Darren McCormick are strong and combative and both have the ability to come up with scores while Sean Paul McAtamney in goals and Ciaran McGrellis, Ciaran O’Neill and Caoimhin Duffin combine with the excellent Barry McCormick to form a strong defence.

Saturday’s semi-final opponents, Moortown St. Malachys will provide a formidable opponents for the Antrim champions.

What of Moortown St. Malachy’s?

Moortown were convincing winners over Fermanagh champions Erne Gaels in Carrickmore in their Ulster quarter-final.

The Fermanagh side started the game on the front foot and they opened up an early 0-02 to 0-00 lead through converted frees by Barry McCann and Shane Rooney.

Moortown slowly started to work their way into the game and a 1-02 blast in a two minute spell swung the game in their favour.

Peter Devlin got them off the mark from a free in the ninth minute before they then bagged their first goal of the day moments later.

A great run by half back Brian McLernon resulted in the ball being fed across the goal and midfielder Blaine Ryan was on hand to tuck to the net from close range.

Another Devlin mark followed and by the 11th minute they led 1-02 to 0-02.

Barry McCann replied with a point for Erne Gaels after he exchanged passes with Rooney but Moortown were starting to dominate matters and Ryan Kelly fired over from play while Devlin converted two frees before the Red Hand’s side swooped for goal number two. Lee Kelly got on the end of a high ball close to goal and he spun and shot low to the back of the net to put them into a 2-05 to 0-03 lead.

Rooney did knock over a free for Erne Gaels but a Kelly mark left eight between the sides at half time.

A point from Christopher McGuigan extended the advantage further on the restart although Erne Gaels answered with a goal in the 34th minute, substitute Deery bundling home after Michael Og McGarrigle’s initial effort was blocked.

It was not the start of a comeback though from Erne Gaels as Moortown quickly reasserted themselves on the contest as McLernon lobbed over two scores while Devlin tapped over a free to make it 2-10 to 1-04.

Erne Gaels also lost Jack McCann to a black card and although Deery landed a lovely point, Moortown answered with a Karl Hagan point to leave it 2-11 to 1-05 at the water-break.

Corner forward Kelly plundered his second and Moortown’s third while Erne Gaels picked up a second black card, this time Ryan Lyons the guilty party.

The Fermanagh side continued to battle and Deery thundered a 25 yard quickly taken free kick to the top corner but this was merely a consolation strike as the game finished 3-12 to 2-05 in Moortown’s favour.

Tir na nOg should provide a much stiffer challenge for the Tyrone champions and if it is tight going down the finishing straight the Whitehill side have an ace in their pack and are likely to introduce ‘Super Sub’ Ciaran Dobbin who has come up with vital scores throughout the season and could prove the vital ingredient to see Tir na nOg through to the final.

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