DOWN MEMORY LANE
Ulster Intermediate Football Club Semi-Final 2011
2011 was an excellent season for All Saints, Ballymena. They reached an Ulster Intermediate club semi-final and were somewhat unfortunate to lose by two points after extra time to a strong Culloville of Armagh. When the disappointment of defeat subsided there was a feeling that further success was just around the corner but, as in life, nothing is guaranteed in football and championship success has eluded the Ballymena men in the subsequent years.
Here’s my report and photographs which were included in the Ballymena Chronicle from that memorable day back in 2011.
All Saints 1-12 Culloville 2-11 AET
The dream of a place in the Ulster final was shattered in cruel fashion in Omagh on Sunday but the memories of a wonderful season will last for many years in the minds of All Saints players and their wonderful supporters.
They went into this game as rank outsiders against a Culloville Blues side who ply their trade in Division 1 of the Armagh League and indeed had recorded a win over the legendry Crossmaglen Rangers in that league earlier in the year.
It was obvious from the opening whistle that Culloville had done their homework on the Ballymena side with Sean McVeigh in particular, Sean McCambridge and Peter McReynolds coming in for a lot of unsavoury attention.
The Armagh champions opened confidently and were 3-0 up after 10 minutes through the impressive Kieran Hatzer, Seamus Watters and Niall Rowland and with Andy Kelly and Michael McCarry carrying injuries into the game, it wasn’t looking good for All Saints.
Once again however the bags of character, that has carried them through the Antrim Championship and to this stage of the Ulster, started to emerge and a good move saw Peter McReynolds race clear on goal in the 11th minute but his goal bound attempt was well saved by Blue’s keeper, Kieran McMahon. Sean McCambridge collected the rebound but he was quickly closed down by a determined Culloville defence.
Gradually though the Slemish park side began to play their way into the game and a Michael McCarry pointed free in the 12th minute followed by another from Paddy Logan gave notice of their intentions.
Things were slowly swinging in favour of the Ballymena side as the Culloville hauling and dragging tactics continued to go unpunished but when Liam Cassley was felled by towering mid-fielder, John Kingham with a blatant body-check there seemed no alternative for the referee but to administer a red card.
The Derry official, after waiting for Cassley to recover, decided on the easy option of yellow and when the same player had his close range effort foot-blocked inside the large square, two minutes later referee McErlane waved away what looked like a legitimate penalty claim by the All Saints players.
All Saints were struck another blow when Andy Kelly had to retire after about 20 minutes to be replaced by Peter McCann. Michael McCarry pointed a 25th minute free to bring the sides level but after soaking up a period of pressure which produced nothing, Culloville hit back to take the lead through Padraig Caherty who moved forward from right-half-back to send over an excellent point.
The Saints were now gaining in confidence however and they finished the half well on top as Damian Kelly converted a couple of late frees to give them a slender 0-5 to 0-4 half-time lead. The unpleasant tactics of the opposition continued however as they got involved with the All Saints men in the tunnel on their way to the dressing room with Niall Rowland being issued a yellow card.
The large Ballymena crowd who had travelled in expectation awaited the start of the second half with relish but it was Culloville who were first off the mark as Seamus Watters fired over the equaliser after 25 seconds.
Michael McCarry restored the All Saints lead as he sent over another free in the 5th minute but the Antrim men were rocked back on their heels as the Armagh side hit back with an 8th minute goal by Johnny McGeeney who beat Brian Martin to the jump after finding himself unmarked on the edge of the square.
Once again All Saints displayed their determination and resolve as a cross field lob by Peter McCann was broken down by Sean McCambridge and Peter McReynolds got the vital touch in the goalmouth scramble that ensued to finish to the net.
Their joy was to be short lived however as their opponents again exploited gaps in the All Saints defence, who were struggling badly at this stage, and Colm Watters collected unmarked to the left of the area before rounding Brian Martin and hammering home the ‘Blues’ second goal with 11 minutes gone.
Could Kevin McCarry and Timmy Connolly’s men respond again?, well respond they did, digging deep into their reserves of character they again started to carry the game to the opposition with Michael McCarry pointing yet another free to close the gap to two at the end of the third quarter.
Kieran Hartzer again edged Culloville three ahead and Peter McReynolds, direct from a ‘45’ and Rowlands exchanged further points to keep the gap at three with ten minutes remaining.
Sean McVeigh, who was outstanding throughout, began to exert his influence even more as he ran 40 yards before splitting the uprights and his mid-field partner Paddy Logan hit another to level the contest as the Ballymena side threatened to take control once more.
Culloville continued to look dangerous on the break however and the impressive Johnny McGeeney fired over to give them back the lead and it looked like this score would prove to be the winner but Peter ‘Pizza’ McReynolds kept his cool to fire over the equaliser once again, direct from a ‘45’ to send the game into extra time.
Ten minutes each way extra time was ordered and again it was Culloville who took the initiative with Fergal Rowland and Kieran Hartzer both finding the target in the 6th minute to open up a two point lead but a Michael McCarry pointed free in the 9th minute kept the Antrim men in contention at the short whistle.
When Johnny McGeeney again extended the Culloville lead to two, two minutes into the second half of time added on things looked set for a barn storming finish but it was to prove to be the last score of the game.
The Ballymena side, led by Sean McVeigh drove forward unrelentingly in an effort to pull the game out of the fire but despite incessant pressure they were unable to gain the scores that would give them victory.
They kicked four wides during this period but looked set to take the lead as Peter McReynolds placed Liam Cassley in the clear but his low shot at goal sailed just wide of the upright. With time almost up and All Saints pushing for that all important goal the ball broke to Paddy McAleer but his goal bound ground shot was blocked by corner-back Sean Liddy and cleared to safety as the full-time whistle sounded.
Bitter disappointment for All Saints and their supporters who will justifiably feel that they deserved something more for their efforts. They recovered from another poor start to take a half-time lead, might have had a goal while their opponents were fortunate to start the second half with 15 men.
In the end injuries to Kevin McAllister, Andy Kelly and Michael McCarry, who gave his all despite carrying an injury into the game, conspired to beat them and the rub of the green deserted them when it was most needed.
No one should be disappointed or desponded however. To lose by two points in extra time, seven games into a tough Championship campaign which included wins over Glenavy, St. Teresa’s, Aldergrove before beating Portglenone in the County final and then wins over Drumgoon and St, Molaise of Irvinestown in Ulster is hard to take.
Going back to the early stages of the league when Kevin McCarry and Timmy Connolly were coaxed into taking over the management of a struggling side, no one could have predicted just how successful the season was going to be.
A strong finish to their league campaign saw them finish fourth and indeed they were the equal or better than any side in their division. A Feis Cup Football final win over Division 1 side, Rasharkin added to their confidence while the emergence of Paddy McAleer, Peter McReynolds, Emmet Killough and Dara Walsh as serious senior players augers well for the future. Others from the present successful Minor side can follow, but only if they have the desire and commitment show by the afore mentioned.
Finally a hearty word of thanks from this scribe who, I believe speaks for our ever growing support for a mind bending adrenalin rush that has been my greatest in many years following the Saints. You have been great ambassadors for the club, wonderful footballers, wonderful sports men and a real pleasure to know.
And a word of praise too for our Senior Hurlers who turned in two excellent Junior Championship performances in defeating Ardoyne and St. Agnes before losing to a Creggan side who went on to win the Championship and are now in an Ulster final replay.
What a night this year’s Presentation Dinner is going to be. The futures bright. The futures Black & White!