ANDERSONSTOWN SC IHC Semi-Final
Sarsfields 2-26 Tir na nOg 1-24 a.e.t.
Niall McKenna was the star of the show as Sarsfield’s came from behind to defeat Tir na nOg in a titanic struggle at Dunsilly on Friday night and earn themselves a place in the Andersonstown SC Intermediate Hurling final against the winners of Cushendun and Creggan who meet on Saturday afternoon.
McKenna held his nerve with Tir na nOg leading by a point to send a superbly struck free from 55 meters and near the touchline directly between the uprights deep in injury time to send the game into extra time.
Sarsfields started extra time as they had finished the first and a goal from Anthony McGarrigle and a point from Gary Lennon with just a minute gone put them in a strong position and they would push on to win by five in the end.
It was the Stewartstown Road side who made the better start to this Intermediate semi-final on a perfect Dunsilly sod as Donal McKernan from a free and Caolan McKernan with an excellent point from play moved them into an early 0-02 to 0-0 lead.
Tir na nOg slowly settled however and Sean Duffin pointed a couple of frees but another Donal McKernan pointed free had Sarsfields one in front after five minutes.
Kevin Sheerin in the Tir na nOg goals then got back to scramble the ball off his line as the city side threatened before McKenna made his first mark on proceedings when he sent over a great point and followed with another in the 9th minute.
It was the men from the Bear Pit who were controlling matters at this stage as Enda McCartan struck an excellent point to put them four ahead but it brought a strong response from the Whitehill side with EamonOg McAllister, Sean Duffin and Ciaran McKeown hitting three on the bounce to close the gap to one at the end of the opening quarter.
Donal McKernan responded from a free but Tir na nOg were beginning to get on top and Sean Duffin with a good point from play and another from a converted free had it all square by the 17th minute.
Kevin McKernan edged the ‘Paddies’ ahead again but a great point from Eamon Og McAllister and another from a Sean Duffin, long range free had the Randalstown side ahead for the first time by the 22nd minute.
Back came Sarsfields with Niall McKenna hitting a fine effort after being set up by Kevin McKernan but it was Tir na nOg who were starting to get on top and Kevin McCann, and a couple from the impressive Sean Duffin had them three in front with two minutes remaining to the break.
Sarsfields resaponded with points from ‘Kevo’ McKernan and Daniel Smith to close the gap to one but another well struck long range free from ace marksman, Duffin had the Whitehill side two in front at the break.
Both sides were guilty of early misses before Aaron McNeilly got his name on the score card to increase the Tir na nOg lead to three and then Eamon Og McAllister looked to be in for a goal after a strong run through the centre of the Sarsfields defence but was closed down and the danger cleared.
Sarsfields responded and Anthony McGarrigle pointed and a Kevin McKernan effort came back of an upright before Niall McKenna intercepted a poor clearance to beat Kevin Sheerin with a shot into the left hand corner and bring the sides level by the 7th minute.
The hits were going in hard and fast in a thrill a minute championship encounter and Eamon Og looked to be through for a goal for the Whitehill side but was penalised for over carrying as both sides wasted chances.
Kevin McKernan edged the city men ahead once more but Daniel Martin replied at the other end to leave it all square at 0-15 to 1-12 before Niall McKenna edged Sarsfield’s ahead once more at the end of the third quarter and it was clear that this one was going to go right down to the wire.
Substitute James Cunningham then robbed Sean Duffin as he raced clear on goal before Kevin McKernan edged Sarsfields two in front from a free in the 18th minute as the intensity stepped up another notch.
Tir na nOg looked in a spot of bother but they regrouped once more as substitute, Oliver McAtamney, Kevin McCann and Sean Duffin hit three unanswered point to put them one in front after 21 minutes but McKenna levelled matters once more with a good point at the other end.
A Sean Duffin long range free and another from Kevin McKernan in response from near the touchline left it all square yet again but an Eamon Og McAllister point for the Whitehill side looked like sending his side through as the game entered time added on.
There would be one more play however and Caolan McKernan was taken out as he broke forward near the touchline and 55 meters from goal.
Up stepped Niall McKenna as Dunsilly held its collective breath and he struck a stunning effort directly between the uprights, much to the approval of the Sarsfield’s supporters to send the game into extra time.
McKenna’s injury time equaliser looked to have stunned the opposition as extra time commenced and Anthony McGarrigle netted in the opening minute before Gary Lennon moved Sarsfield four ahead with a point in the second minute.
Eamon Og McAllister pulled one back for the Randalstown side but the momentum was very much with the ‘Paddies’ as Kevo pointed at the other end to restore their four point advantage.
Sarsfields were now winning a lot of dirty ball and were more measured in their attacks and Niall McKenna pointed a free and added another one from play to move them six ahead.
Sean Duffin, who had struck some excellent frees on the night, was guilty of a bad miss as the pressure began to tell and a late point from the influential McKenna had Sarsfields seven in front at the short whistle.
It was going to take something special to get Tir na nOg back into contention and when Daniel Smith added another for Sarsfields on the restart their task became even more daunting.
Ciaran McKeown gave the South West side a glimmer of hope when he got in for a good goal in the third minute but McKernan relied with a Sarsfields point before Ciaran O’Neill struck a good point at the other end.
The Whitehill side kept going right to the end but there would be no way back as the Sarsfields defence stood strong and a couple of pointed Sean Duffin frees in response to points from substitute Nicholas O’ Mullane and man of the match, Niall McKenna brought matters to a close.
Tir na nOg will look back on this one with some regret and they certainly had chances to win it in normal time but the never say die attitude of their opponents and McKenna’s injury time equaliser proved the turning point.
McKenna with Caolan and Kevin McKernan were superb in a strong and committed Sarsfields side who will feel that they can go all the way this year while Sean Duffin, Caoimhin Duffin, Aaron McNeilly Eamon Og McAllisterand Ciaran McKeown fought hard for the losers.
Sarsfields: 1 Gerard McKernan, 2 Niall McAlea, 3 Jack Daniels, 4 Mark McCavanagh, 5 Eoghan Rogers, 6 Caolan McKernan, 7 Enda McCartan, 8 Kevin McKernan, 9 Daniel McKernan, 10 Daniel Smyth, 11 Niall McKenna, 12 Ruairi McAreavey, 13 Ryan O’Neill, 30 Donal McKernan, 14 Gary Lennon, 15 Mark Rea, 16 Anthony McGarrigle, 27 James Cunningham, 22 Joe McGurk, 28 Nicholas O’Mullane
Tir na nOg: 1 Kevin Sheerin, 2 Brandon McLarnon, 3 Christy Sheerin, 4 Manus Smith, 5 Ciaran O’Neill, 6 Caoimhin Duffin, 7 Daniel Martin, 8 Aaron McNeilly, 9 Ciaran mcKeown, 10 Darragh Fagan, 11 Sean Duffin, 12 Eamon Og McAllister, 13 Joe McCormick, 14 Ciaran Logan, 15 Kevin McCann, 22 Oliver McAtamney, 23 Sean McKinley, 18 Darra Martin,
Referee: Ciaran McCloskey (Loughgiel)