Ulster Junior Club Football Championship quarter-final
Newtownbutler First Fermanagh’s 3-18 Pearse’s 1-6
Pearses first foray into Ulster provided a chastening lesson for the North Belfast men as it has for the many Antrim clubs who have contested the Junior Football championship in recent years but when the pain of a heavy defeat passes it can prove to be a useful lesson.
Two years ago Pearses lost a division 4 league final and a JFC semi-final to Rasharkin but came back strongly this year to claim a first Antrim Junior Championship for over 50 years.
Sunday’s step into the unknown proved a bridge too far as they came up against a strong and very experienced Newtownbutler First Fermanagh’s who were sharper, stronger in the tackle and their combination play and accuracy saw them in a commanding position by half time.
Na Piarsaigh started the game well enough and appeared to be holding their own for a time but Newtownbutler stepped it up a gear in the second quarter with a scoring burst that the Belfast men just couldn’t cope with.
Ryan Carson led the way for the Fermanagh Firsts with the veteran attacker firing home two goals and it could have been a lot worse had it not been for the heroics of Na Piarsaigh keeper, Niall Largey who pulled off a series of excellent saves to deny the Fermanagh men.
Newtownbutler started this one on the front foot and opened the scoring after 15 seconds through O’Keefe with Diarmaid King and Ryan Carson following with points as the home side raced into an early 0-3 to 0-0 lead.
The Antrim champions were badly in need of a score to settle them and Stephen Fitzsimmons provided it when he collect a Liam Deegan delivery from a free to split the posts and when Fionn Grew followed with another in the 11th minute it was looking good for the visitors.
It could have got even better in their next attack when Sean Moreland found himself through on goal but shot over when a goal looked on.
The Fermanagh champions recovered from this period of Na Piarsaigh pressure and when a goal opportunity fell their way O’Keefe finished clinically to the Pearses net after being set up by Daniel McDaid to restore the Newtownbutler lead.
Fitzsimmons replied with a point at the other end immediately but the Fermanagh champions were growing into the contest, and after Ryan Carson shot over he would get the first of his two goals in the space of three minutes.
A flowing move saw Ryan Rooney play a one-two with Jason Flanagan before feeding inside for Carson to palm home and he followed with a point before being set up by Diarmaid King for his side’s third goal and suddenly this game had slipped away from the North Belfast side.
It could have got worse as Newtownbutler had the ball in the net for a fourth time but play had already been called back for a penalty but Niall Largey got his fingertips to Conor Courtney’s spot kick to push the ball onto the post and it was cleared to safety.
There would be not let-off for the Antrim champions however as Ger O’Keefe kicked back-to-back scores and Diarmaid King added another to leave them 3-8 to 0-4 up at the break.
The rain that poured down from the Enniskillen skies proved no deterrent to the Fermanagh Firsts as Diarmaid King extended their lead on the restart but Na Piarsaigh were unfortunate not to find a response when a free broke to Fionn Grew but his shot was deflected out for a ‘45’.
A quick move through the hands at the other end resulted in a point for Connor Courtney while the day went from bad to worse for the North Belfast men as they lost a man to a Red card as a bit of frustration crept into their play.
Piaras Donaghy ended a scoreless 30 minutes for Pearse’s from a free, while James Begley got on the board from play but it was goals they needed at this stage but chances came and went with James Smyth shooting straight as Gary Mullaney with his first touch when introduced.
To their credit Na Piarsaigh fought to the bitter end and they were eventually rewarded for their efforts when Liam Deegan pulled his pass back from the end line for Smyth who palm home from close range.
It was Newtownbutler who finished on the front foot however as they added six points in the closing stages including one from substitute Frank Mulligan that drew a huge roar from the home support, while Pearse’s misery was completed as they lost a another player to a second yellow car.
A tough baptism for the Antrim champions but it is one they can learn from as they head into Intermediate championship in Antrim next season but I’m sure promotion from division 3 will be their first goal and from what I have seen from them this season, it is one they are capable of achieving.
Newtownbutler Firsts Fermanagh: G Mulley; J McCaffrey, P O’Brien, R O’Keefe; R Rooney, J Jackman, D McDaid; S Conlon, J Flanagan (0-1); C Courtney (0-1), J Connolly (0-1), G O’Keefe (1-4); C McBride, R Carson (2-4, 0-1f), D King (0-5, 3f)
Subs: P Mullaney (0-1) for D McDaid (HT), D Martin for C Courtney (47), F Mulligan (0-1) for G O’Keefe (53), S Carson for J Jackman (56), L Martin for D King (58)
Na Piarsaigh: N Largey; D O’Neill, C O’Neill, N Gorman; A Bannon, A McCavana, T McFarlane; R Bannon, P Donaghy (0-1f); S Moreland (0-1), S Fitzsimmons (0-2), P Murray; F Grew (0-1f), L Deegan, N O’Cuilin
Subs: J Begley (0-1) for S Moreland (25), P Johnston for A McCavana (25), J Smyth (1-0) for N O’Cuilin (48)
Referee: Richie Donoghue (Derry)