Aghagallon secure Division 1 status

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)

Aghagallon to retain their division 1 status

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Division 1-2 Promotion-Relegation play-off

Friday 7-30pm Dunsilly

St. Mary’s Aghagallon v All Saints Ballymena

St. Mary’s Aghagallon came agonisingly close to winning their first Senior Football championship on Sunday when they lost in extra time to Erin’s own, Cargin at Corrigan Park. This Friday evening at Dunsilly they are involved in a less glamorous but arguably more important fixture to the Lough Shore club.

A less than impressive league campaign saw St. Mary’s finish second bottom in division 1 of the ACFL, their poor finishing position exacerbated by the unavailability of a host of players through injuries and a summer spent in the states by others.

Their opponents on Friday night are All Saints Ballymena who finished second in division 2 to St. Ergnat’s Moneyglass, winning 11 of their 16 fixtures in a season that finished in disappointment when they lost to Con Magee’s Glenravel in the quarter-final of the Intermediate Football championship.

That defeat was at Fr. Maginn Park back on the 11th September and the Slemish Park side have had to wait patiently in the wings as Aghagallon have put a strong Senior Championship run behind them to reach last Sunday’s decider.

St. Mary’s were drawn in group 3 of the qualifiers with Gort na Mona and Tir na nOg and topped the group with wins over both these sides. They were drawn against St. Brigid’s in the quarter-final and St. Mary’s made it three championship wins from three starts with a 0-14 to 0-7 win over the Musgrave Park side.

This set them up with a repeat of last year’s semi-final when they were drawn against Casement’s Portglenone and St. Mary’s Aghagallon produced a great come-back to earn their place for the second year in succession in the Northern Switchgear Senior Football Championship final.

That game was at Friday night’s venue, Dunsilly and the Aghagallon men will start as firm favourite to an All Saints side who have been knocking at the promotion door for a number of years but have been unable to gain access to the premier division.

St. Mary’s scored an impressive 12 goals during their Senior Championship campaign and in Ruairi McCann, Adam Loughran, Eunan Walsh and Gareth Magee they have players who can pose a serious scoring threat and Audi Kelly’s side will start as firm fasvourites.

The tag of underdogs will certainly suit All Saints and the Ballymena men have often performed better when the odds are stacked firmly against them.

James McDonnell, Paddy McAleer, Emmet Killough, Kavan Keenan, Sean McVeigh, Michael McCarry and Benny McDonnell will lead the All Saints challenge and ‘Baker Bradley’s side will give it everything but it might not be enough to prevent St. Mary’s retain the division 1 status.

Portglenone pip St Brigid’s at the post

Northern Switchgear Senior Football Championship – Group 2

Sunday 31st July

Report by Niall Kelly 

Roger Casements Portglenone 0-14       St Brigid’s  1-07

James Smith’s emphatic goal on the forty fifth minute for the Malone men proved to be the catalyst for a dominant last quarter from their hosts. Smith’s major saw his side go two points in front but Portglenone rallied superbly to score seven points in the fifteen minutes that remained while the visitors could only muster one more from substitute Peter Webb. The game itself was a perfect advertisement for the intensity and vigour attributed to Championship football with both sides going hammer and tongs. Both sides attacked with blistering place and big hits came flying in.

It was the hosts who got off the mark first with Conal Delargy sending over one of his trademark frees from off the carpet on the second minute. Wing back Ryan Convery doubled the lead after he powered through the St Bride’s defence at pace, coolly splitting the posts as he weaved in and out.

Despite having the lion’s share of much of the first half, Portglenone struggled to accelerate into a larger lead. St Brigid’s were doing a superb job in stifling the home side as their deployment of a sweeper caused frustration in the ranks of the Bannsiders. The visitors’ ability to counter attack was a prominent feature of their offence and one they utilised to great effect. Ronan Boyle got the men in blue and white on the scoreboard on the tenth minute with a pinpoint effort from range.

The battle in midfield between Niall McKeever and Jack Dowling was an integral theme of the game with both men the fulcrum of attacks for their sides. Dowling levelled matters soon after Boyle’s effort as he breached the Casements defence with a powering run before caressing a curling effort between the sticks.

The game was nip and tuck as both sides battled for the ascendancy and further points were exchanged by Michael Hagan and Patrick Finnegan. The hosts were presented with a golden opportunity on the twentieth minute. Midfield maestro Niall Delargy’s penetrating drive from deep resulted in a penalty when he was brought down as he was about to pull the trigger on goal. St Brigid’s shot stopper Declan Heery was to come out on top though as he telegraphed Conal Delargy’s effort from the spot diving low to his right to deny the hosts a goal.

In the typical tit for tat fashion of the first half, the teams exchanged further points as the first period approached its climax. Two excellent efforts saw white flags raised from the boot of St Brigid’s centre forward Conor McAleer. Portglenone’s Oisin Doherty and a fisted effort from range from Niall McKeever levelled matters deadlocked at five points apiece at the short whistle.

Jack Dowling opened the scoring three minutes into the second half with a delicate curling effort from range but the hosts responded positively notching two points of their own with Michael Hagan on target and arguably the score of the game with Conal Delargy finishing a slick and fluid Portglenone move.

The game changing moment came half way through the second period. Jack Dowling’s marauding run and vision for a killer pass presented James Smith with an opportunity on goal. The big full forward made no mistake and rifled a thundering effort into the roof of the net as the raucous cheers from the loyal travelling support echoed around Kelly Park. St Bride’s would’ve hoped that their major would provide the platform for victory. Two points up with fifteen to go, they needed to keep their composure and continue in the same vein. The hosts though had different ideas.

Conceding the goal seemed to revitalise the Casements men as they outscored their opponents 0-07 to 0-01 in what remained of the game. Conall Delargy’s earlier penalty miss was certainly put out of his mind as he sent over two succulently curled efforts off the deck to level matters. Ronan Kelly then reinstated the host’s lead with an excellent effort from a dead ball. The tails were well and truly up for the men in black and yellow when Niall McKeever powered his way through from midfield and tapped over much to the delight of the home fans.

Substitute Ciaran McKenna put his stamp on the game with a well taken point from range on the fifty fifth minute as the pendulum had swung well in favour of Portglenone. Peter Webb brought the gap back to two as the game approached injury time but again the hosts would have the final say. Ronan Kelly calmly despatched another free and there was just enough time for Niall Delargy to get his name on the score sheet. A typically industrious and searching run from the Portglenone number eight before splitting the posts to send the home dugout delirious. A fitting end to an excellent game of football with Delargy at the centre of all that was positive about Portglenone.

St Brigid’s will perhaps be licking their wounds after this one. They were well in this game and put together some scintillating passages of play themselves. Indeed, they can take heart from this performance and build on it when they meet Division Two Champions Moneyglass in two weeks’ time. Portglenone will use this victory as a springboard and will no doubt be looking to make it two from two when they meet local rivals Ahoghill. A win for Portglenone there would surely end the hopes of their neighbours and further bolster their own position in attaining a quarter final spot.

Teams:

Portglenone:

R O’Neill; K O’Kane, J Convery, R Delargy; C Tierney, D McAleese, R Convery (0-01;) N Delargy (0-01,) N McKeever (0-02;) R Hagan, M Hagan (0-02,) S Kelly; R Kelly (0-02,) C Delargy (0-04,) O Doherty (0-01)

Substitute scorer: C McKenna (0-01)

St Brigid’s

D Heery; F McKernan, C King, J Morgan; P Finnegan (0-01,) J Toner, N Lundy; M Cummings, J Dowling (0-02;) O Boyle, C McAleer (0-02,) P Bradley; R Boyle (0-01) J Smith (1-00,) J Finnegan

Substitute scorer: P Webb (0-01)

St Brigid’s claim victory with second half blitz

Homefit ACFL Division One 

St Galls 1-06-2-15 St Brigid’s 

Kevin Herron reports from Milltown 

St Brigid’s ended their league campaign on a high as they outscored St Galls 2-09-1-01 in the second half of their 2-15-1-06 win at Milltown on Wednesday evening. 

The visitors held a narrow one-point lead at the end of a cagey opening half, but cruised to victory in a one-sided second half, thanks to goals from Paul Bradley and substitute James Smith. 

There was nothing at stake ahead of the clash which was both sides last game before the Football Championship begins next weekend. 

St Gall’s were first off the mark when Ruairi Wilson floated the ball between the posts inside of the first 60-seconds. 

Paul Bradley swung over a leveller and St Brigid’s hit the front through a converted Conor McAteer free after Marcus Lynch had his jersey tugged. 

The Musgrave Park outfit then extended their lead after Ronan Boyle dropped the ball over the bar from range. 

Ruairi Wilson doubled his personal tally in response and the hosts pulled level through a smart Niall O’Neill point, following a nice interchange with Brendan Bradley. 

Bradley would kick a fantastic point himself a few minutes later to give St Galls a 0-04-0-03 lead, but St Brigid’s regained the advantage.

Fergal Meenagh drove forward in attack and offloaded to Bradley to pop over the equaliser before Oran Boyle swung over a fantastic point. 

St Brigid’s went two ahead for the second time in the half as Conor McAteer curled over an impressive point. 

The bare minimum would separate the sides at the interval though, Niall O’Neill claimed a mark and laid the ball to Calum Walsh off the shoulder, and he guided the ball high between the posts to ensure that his side went in at the break trailing 0-06-0-05. 

St Brigid’s had an early goal opportunity at the beginning of the second half- but Ronan Boyle opted to fist over the bar. 

Peter Lundy then angled a shot over at the near post and Conor McAteer converted his second free of the evening to open up a four-point gap.

With little over ten minutes remaining St Galls were yet to register in the half and St Brigid’s pulled clear. 

Paul Bradley had the chance to hit the net, though his shot was pushed over the bar by St Galls net-minder Niall McCurdy. 

Then substitutes Jack Dowling and James Smith combined- the later claiming the fisted score. 

Any lingering hopes of a St Galls fightback went up in smoke on 52 minutes when Ronan Boyle advanced forward, Paul Bradley peeled away from his marker and took a pass before shooting low past McCurdy to give his side a 1-11-0-05 lead. 

Paul Bradley watches on as his low shot finds the net

Oran Boyle landed a point in the immediate aftermath and things got better for St Brigid’s as found their second goal in quick succession. 

Patrick Finnegan slipped the ball into the path of substitute James Smith- who thundered low to the corner of the net to make it 2-12-0-05. 

It took St Galls 27 minutes of the second period to eventually come up with a reply through an Emmet Loughran point. 

Smith and Bradley kicked successive scores to extend their sides lead before St Galls claimed scant consolation in the form of a late goal.

Niall O’Neill measured up a shot that came off the large post and landed to Emmet Loughran to shoot low to the net. 

A third score of the evening from Oran Boyle ended the evenings scoring as St Brigid’s ran out convincing winners in the end to finish their league campaign on a high. 

Ahoghill finish on a high

ACFL Division 1B

Ahoghill 3-15 Tir na nOg 0-8

With the prize of division 1 safety for both sides already secured prior to this, the final game of the campaign it was no surprise that this one took a time to come to life. Indeed during a less than inspirational opening half only a point separated the sides at the break but it was Cloney Gaels who came to life in the second half.

Both sides started with a string of regular starters missing with the visitors more affected by absenteeism but there was little between the sides during the opening period as poor finishing on the part of both sides kept the scoring at a premium.

The sides were level at 0-2 apiece after 14 minutes with Neil O’Connell and Ronan Graham on target for the Ahoghill side and Kevin Sheerin and Daragh Fagan from a free replying for the Whitehill side. Conor McKenna edged the visitors ahead for the first time before Sean Paul McAtamney in the visitor’s goal brought off a great save to deny the lively Michael O’Connell at the start of the second quarter.

Both sides had been guilty of poor shooting up to this point though it was the home side who had been creating the better chances and James O’Connell from a free and Ronan Graham from play in the 22nd minute gave them a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the contest.

Late points from James O’Connell and Ronan Graham for ahoghill and a couple from Ciaran O’Neill for the Randalstown men left it 0-6 to 0-5 for the home side at the end of the opening half and at this stage it certainly looked like anybody’s game.

When Daragh Fagan levelled matters on the restart it looked like we might be in with another dose of the mediocrity that we had suffered in the first but a great Michael O’Connell point at the other end suddenly brought the contest to life.

O’Connell’s willingness to run at the opposition coupled with his blistering pace then saw him place Thomas McGlone for another point before Ciaran O’Neill replied with a point at the other end to leave just one in it with 10 minutes of the new half gone.

Ronan Graham’s fisted point edged the Gaels two in front again and then the same player got on the end of a flowing move to finish to the net in the 13th minute and suddenly the Ahoghill’s side’s pace and movement was creating big gaps in the visitors defence.

Michael O’Connell added a fine point and Eamonn Brady and Ronan Graham tagged on two more before Michael O’Connell palmed the ball to the net in the 21st minute with James McGlone and Boris O’Connell setting up the opportunity.

It was all Cloney Gaels at this stage and when Tir na nOg did manage to get forward they were lacking in ideas and were being continually turned over and a couple of James O’Connell points had the home side 2-14 to 0-7 ahead with five minutes still remaining.

The scoring virtually dried up at this stage with both sides emptying their bench with an Aaron McNeilly point for the Whitehill side and another reply from James O’Connell for the Ahoghill men concluding the scoring.

Cloney Gaels will have benefited more from the evenings proceedings and it will have given them something to build on going into the championship in a few week’s time but Tir na nOg will take comfort from the fact that their division 1 status had been already been secured for a second term and in the knowledge that they will have a much stronger panel available come championship time.

Cloney Gaels: 1 Noel Crossey, 2 Francis Neeson, 3 Martin Graham, 4 Bernard Graham, 5 Owen Neeson, 6 James McGlone, 7 Eamonm Brady, 8 Neil O’Connell, 9 Patrick Graham, 23 Michael O’Connell, 11 Donal Graham, 12 Dan O’Neill, 26 Fionnbar O’Neill, 22 James O’Connell, 15 Ronan Graham.

Subs: Stephen O’Connell,Shay Neeson, Ryan McPerake, Ryan Martin, Conor McGarry

Tir na nOg: 1 Sean Paul McAtamney, 2 Declan Mallon, 3 Brandon McLarnon, 4 Jude Carey, 5 Ciaran McKeown, 6 Peter Cullen, 7 Oliver McAtamney, 8 Kevin Kerr, 9 Ryan O’Neill, 10 Conor McKenna, 11 Ciaran O’Neill, 12 Daragh Fagan, 13 Darren O’Kane, 14 Kevin Sheerin, 15 Conor Hastings.

Subs: Charlie Elliott, Ciaran Byrne, Michale Higgins, Aaron McNeilly, Daniel Martin.

Referee: Kevin Parke (St. Enda’s)