McNeilly the man as Tír Na nÓg secure safety

Homefit ACFL Division One

Saturday 16th July

Report by Niall Kelly 

Tír Na nÓg Randalstown 3-08  Naomh Mhuire Aghagallon 2-11

Randalstown solidified their position as a Division One outfit for next season after grabbing a share of the spoils in an enthralling contest with a no doubt disappointed Aghagallon side. Aaron McNeilly’s superb point with the last kick of the game to level proceedings sparked ecstatic celebrations from the home side with a draw enough to remain in the league. Aghagallon were left stunned as they squandered a five point lead going into the final five minutes of the game. The Naomh Mhuire men held the lead from the tenth minute and looked on course for a crucial victory leaving their Division One fate in their own hands. It was not to be.

The game burst into life with a rather fortuitous goal from Eamon Óg McAllister in the opening minute. The Whitehill number eleven attempted a point from range but didn’t quite catch it sweetly; the end result will surely have pleased him more though as the ball bounced in front of the goal line and into the roof of the net as the Aghagallon defence seemed to lose flight of the ball.

Aghagallon responded well through two points from the potent Gareth Magee which seemed to steady the ship and provided a platform to build on. The momentum was now swinging in favour of the men in green and they took the lead on the tenth minute with a sensational individual effort. Davy McAlernon marauded through the home side’s defence from midfield before unleashing a low drive into the back of S.P McAtamney’s net.

The visitors continued to push forward and were linking up in attack nicely. Niall McShane pointed from close range before Gareth Magee was on hand again to split the posts after some intricate play among their offence.

The hosts needed to respond but couldn’t seem to get their range right with efforts curling wide of the mark. Ciaran O’Neill, however, sent over a floated effort off the carpet to settle his side.

Aghagallon responded with a hammer blow just before the interval though with another superb major. This time, it was all about the collective rather than the individual. A cleverly constructed and incisive move was finished off by that man Magee once again. The dangerous corner forward fisted Daryl McAlernon’s cross field ball beyond the reach of the onrushing keeper.

Aghagallon started the second half in the same vein of form as much of the first. Ruairi McCann and Gareth Magee fired over before Oisin Lenehan’s delicately curled effort split the posts to stretch the lead to eight points with nearly forty minutes played.

It was perhaps this point that sparked the hosts back to life. ‘Oggie’ McAllister notched his second goal of the game and there was nothing fortuitous about this one. The Whitehill man powered his way through the Aghagallon defence selling a few delicious feints and dummies before releasing a thundering effort low into Damien O’Hagan’s net.  Aaron McNeilly, who had been at the heart of everything Randalstown created, followed this up by slotting over two points to close the gap to three.

Yet again though, the balance of play swung in favour of the men in green as they were determined to achieve victory. Jonny Hannon, Gareth Magee and Niall McShane each fired over points to stretch the lead further with ten minutes to go.

In response, Tír Na nÓg introduced captain Caoimhin Duffin from the bench. Making an immediate impact, Duffin fired over a point which ignited the touch paper. The final five minutes were relentless as both teams went hammer and tongs. Aghagallon were desperately trying to keep the barrage of Randalstown attacks at bay but eventually the defences broke. With three minutes to play, Aaron McNeilly latched onto a loose kick out and burst through a packed defence and finished with aplomb to the back of the net to a raucous roar from the home support.

With one minute of normal time remaining, McNeilly stepped up yet again, keeping his composure to dispatch a tricky free and tie things up. Aghagallon were shell-shocked but to their credit, kept their cool and tried to negotiate an opening of their own. In the second minute of added time, Ruairi McCann pointed for the visitors to retake the lead and with little left to play, they thought they might just have done enough.

But it was to end in heartbreak and that man McNeilly was once again the incessant thorn in the Aghagallon rear-guard. With the last kick of the game, he curled a stunning point over the bar and in doing so ensured Tír Na nÓg will continue to ply their trade with the elite of the county.

Credit to both teams for an enthralling encounter. Aghagallon can still join Tír Na nÓg if they can emerge victorious from the play off meeting with second place All Saints, Ballymena in Divison Two.

Teams:

Tír Na nÓg:

S.P McAtamney; O McAtamney, E Higgins, P Cullen; C O’Neill, B McLarnon, A McNeilly; R O’Neill, C Sheerin; D Mallon, E Óg McAllister, C McKeown; C Dobbin, K Sheerin, D Martin

Scorers:

Aaron McNeilly 1-05, Eamon Óg McAllister 2-00, Ciaran O’Neill 0-02, Caoimhin Duffin 0-01

Aghagallon:

D O’Hagan; A Mulholland, S Devlin, A Doherty; Daryl McAlernon, J Lenehan, P Branagan; O Lenehan, Davy McAlernon; E McCartan, J Hannon, C Maginnis; G Magee, N McShane, R McCann

Scorers:

Gareth Magee 1-05, Davy McAlernon 1-00, Niall McShane 0-02, Ruairi McCann 0-02, Oisin Lenehan 0-01, Jonathan Hannon 0-01

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