League Cup final
Rasharkin 0-12 Na Piarsaigh 0-9
Rasharkin greater craft and experience was the difference in the end in this division 3 football league cup final in Ahoghill tonight. The Dreen side came from 0-5 to 0-6 down at half time to run out winners by three points but the North Belfast side were architects of their own downfall when they had two players dismissed during a feisty second half.
Both sides had performed admirably in their respective semi-final at the weekend, Na Piarsaigh overcoming the challenge of league leaders Naomh Comhghall and Rasharkin beating Naomh Padraig and this one certainly looked like a hard one to call.
Both sides missed opportunities during the nervous opening exchanges before Stephen Fitzsimmons pointed Na Piarsaigh ahead in the third minute and Ethan Devine extended their lead from a close range free with 8 minutes gone.
Na Piarsaigh were playing early ball into their full-forward line and were causing the St. Mary’s defence problems but the South West side survived the early barrage before Gerard O’Hagan opened their account with a point at the other end and then brought the sides level with a second with 12 minutes on the clock.
The early momentum was with the Belfast side however and with the wind behind them they came storming back and Ethan Devine pointed another close range free before Fionn Grew’s shot was partially blocked by Pearce Kelly and ricocheted over the bar to leave it 0-4 to 0-2 at the first water break.
When play resumed mid-fielder Jack Quinn closed the gap to the minimum once more with a Rasharkin point but St. Mary’s suffered a setback when Gerard O’Hagan was forced to retire after 25 minutes of play.
O’Hagan was replaced by team captain Eamon McNeill who was unable to start because of a hamstring problem and the worry was, would he survive the rest of the game without aggravating the injury?
Survive he did and more than that for McNeill was to play a telling part in his side’s eventual victory with an assured performance on the edge of the square.
Andrew Hasson brought matters square for a second time before pointing Rasharkin ahead in the 27th minute but another Ethan Devine free brought the sides level, almost immediately. Stephen Fitzsimmons took over the free taking duties to edge Na Piarsaigh ahead once more and that was how it stood at half time with the North Belfast side holding a slender one point lead.
Despite playing into the breeze it was Na Piarsaigh who extended their lead through another Ethan Devine free in the second minute but an astute pass from Andrew Hasson set up Eamon McNeill who stepped inside his marker before reducing the gap to the minimum once more.
The game was now being played at real championship intensity and the hits going in hard and fast as Eamon Connor replaced Luca Giannetto in the Na Piarsaigh side but the South Antrim men received a bitter blow when they had a player shown Red in the 10th minute.
Despite being down to 14 men it was Na Piarsaigh who hit the next score from the boot of Piaras Donaghy to move two in front as Thomas Doherty replaced Kealan Darragh in the Rasharkin defence and Doherty’s introduction proved an excellent move.
Another Donaghy free came back of an upright as the game slowly began to swing in the direction of the men from Dreen and a point from Tiernan O’Boyle closed the gap to one once more as referee Kevin Parke signalled the second water break.
As the final quarter got under way Seamus Ellis sent over a good point to level matters again and Andrew Hasson pointed a ‘45’ to leave Rasharkin 0-8 to 0-7 ahead with ten minutes of normal time remaining.
Ruairi O’Boyle extended that lead to two with an excellent point and Andrew Hasson moved his side three ahead by the 27th minute as the South West side began to move the ball around confidently and keep possession.
Na Piarsaigh were still giving it everything as Eamon Connor pulled one back with a couple of minutes remaining but Rasharkin were now dominating possession and Seamus Ellis replied with his second point of the half before the Belfast side had a second player Red carded.
It was all over at this stage however and it is Rasharkin who take the division 3 title after an epic struggle with a good Na Piarsaigh side who may still have something to say when the Junior Football Championship gets under way.
Rasharkin: Ryan Doherty, Pearce Kelly, Kealan Darragh, Conor Doherty, Fearghal Kennedy, Donagh Quigg, Colm Kennedy, Jack Quinn, Ruairi O’Boyle, Gerard O’Hagan, Seamus Ellis, Oran McMullan, Tiernan O’Boyle, Andrew Hasson, Odhran McGarrell. Subs Eamon McNeill for Gerard O’Hagan, Thomas Doherty for Kealan Darragh, Dylan O’Doherty for Odhran McMullan, Callum Montgomery for Ruairi O’Boyle
Na Piarsaigh: Niall Largey, Luca Giannetto, Thomas McFarlane, Darren O’Neill, Cormac O’Neill, Patrick Nolan, Nathan Gorman, Ethan Devine, Gerard Campbell, Piaras Donaghy, Stephen Fitzsimmons, Sean Seamus Moreland, Liam Deegan, Daniel Magee, Fionn Grew.
Subs: Eamon Connor for Luca Giannetto, Aodhan McCavana for Patrick Nolan, Ruairi Bannon, Naoise O’Cuilin for Stephen Fitzsimmons.
Referee: Kevin Parke (St. Enda’s)