ACFL Division 1-2 Promotion-Relegation playoff
St.Mary’s Aghagallon 3-13 All Saints Ballymena 0-3
Photographs: Bert Trowlen
St. Mary’s Aghagallon secured their division 1 status for another season following, what in the end was a comprehensive victory over division 2 runners up, All Saints Ballymena at Dunsilly on Friday night.
The margin of victory doesn’t quite tell all the story however as the blanket defence employed by the Ballymena men frustrated St. Mary’s until 10 minutes into the second half when All Saints lost full-back, Sean McVeigh to a second yellow and after that the flood gates opened.
All Saints plan from early in the game was obvious as they set up to frustrate their division 1 opponents with a blanket defence that saw all 15 players behind the ball at times and relied on hitting on the break.
Aghagallon started brightly however and two pointed Gareth Magee frees and a point from play from Eunan Walsh saw them 0-3 to 0-0 ahead after five minutes and everything appeared to be going to plan.
Slowly though the All Saints defence began to get to grips with the opposition attack and finally broke forward for a point of their own when Shea O’Brien pointed a free in the 7th minute but they were unable to add to that early score.
Play slowed to a walking pace as the Ballymena side conceded possession and dropped deep to frustrate the opposition who were content to keep possession for long periods as they probed for an opening that was not forthcoming.
They were nearly made to pay when All Saints broke forward in the 15th minute as Conor Stewart raced through the heart of their defence but the county man blazed wide of the target with the goal at his mercy.
Naomh Muire replied with a long range point from Eunan Walsh which was hotly disputed by the opposition and manager Liam Bradley got his marching orders for protesting too strongly.
Walsh’s point was to prove the final score of the opening half but the Ballymena men might have added to their meagre total in the closing stages but were unable to convert a number of opportunities but still looked in with a shout as the sides headed to the dressing room.
It was Sunday’s beaten senior championship finalists who were first on target as play got under way again as Enda McCartan extended their lead to four with a fine point in the 4th minute but Conor Stewart replied with a good score for All Saints to keep his side in touch.
Gareth Magee restored his side’s four point advantage before disaster struck for the Slemish Park side when they lost full-back Sean McVeigh to a second yellow card in the 9th minute and suddenly the space that Aghagallon had been denied up to this point started to open up.
Two quick points from Eunan Walsh and Ciaran McGuinness and a pointed free from Gareth Magee moved the Lough Shore side seven ahead and then Jamie Lamont set Ruairi McCann up for a well worked goal after a slick move opened up the All Saints defence.
Aghagallon began to play with the swagger and confidence that saw them reach last Sunday championship decider against Cargin and suddenly an All Saints defence that had coped so well in the opening half were being stretched in all directions.
Oisin Lenehan got in for a second goal and when Adam Loughran placed Ciaran McGuinness for a third in the 23d minute it was well and truly over.
To their credit All Saints kept going to the end but it was Aghagallon’s Jamie Lamont and Adam Loughran who added to their total with late points before substitute Brendan McDonnell replied with a consolation point for the Ballymena side deep in injury time to conclude the scoring.
So it will be St. Mary’s who will play their football in division 1 again next season and it is where they belong and just how they got themselves into this situation in the first place was very much of their own making.
Relegation would have been unthinkable for a side who have contested the last two senior championship finals and with all their players back on board they are a match for anyone on their day and I would expect them to be back challenging for honours in the 2023.
Aghagallon: 1 Damien O’Hagan, 2 Stephen Devlin, 3 Daniel Donnelly, 4 Paddy Brannigan, 5 Ciaran Maginnis, 6 Padraig Gowdy, 7 Jamie Lamont, 8 David McAlernon, 9 Oisin Lenehan, 10 Eunan Walsh, 11 Adam Loughran, 12 Ruairi McCann, 13 Gareth Magee, 14 Enda McCartan, 15 Jack Lenehan.
Subs used: Pauric McGuinness, Daryl McAlernon, Aidan Mulholland
All Saints: 1 Connor Brennan, 2 James Gillan, 3 Sean McVeigh, 4 James McDonnell, 25 Kavan Keenan, 6 Sean O’Callaghan, 7 Connell Lemon, 8 Paddy McAleer, 9 Emmet Killough, 10 Peter McReynolds, 11 Ciaran McGarry, 12 Shea O’Brien, 13 Eoin Campbell, 14 Conor Stewart, 15 Ronan McKillop
Subs used: Cal O’Brien, Peter McNicholl, Benny McDonnell
Referee: Brendan Toland (Lamh Dhearg)