Naomh Éanna 0-13 An Taite Riabhach 1-08
By Liam Tuney @UnitUpdates
The serendipitous introduction of Michael Morgan proved the catalyst for a Naomh Éanna victory in this thrilling Ulster Intermediate Football Championship Semi-Final in Armagh on Saturday evening.
A black card for an in-form Ethan Gibson saw Frank Fitzsimon’s scramble for a replacement, and Morgan was summoned from the bench.
Looking every bit the unwitting substitute thrust into the headlights, Morgan missed his first dip and took a while to get up to speed, but when Odhran Eastwood fed him the ball in the closing minutes of the game, he made no mistake, rounding his man to give Naomh Éanna a priceless lead, before adding the insurance minutes later to the roar of an enraptured Glengormley support.
Having seized the initiative after a frantic opening few minutes, Naomh Éanna led at half time, but a second-half goal from James Darcy saw the Tyrone champions wrestle back the lead.
Cool heads were to prevail however, with Naomh Éanna repeating their Quarter-Final composure and Michael Morgan providing the finishing touches and sealing the Final place.
Tattyreagh made two late alterations to their starting team, Declan Gallagher and Dan McGloin making way for Robert Porter and Brendan Armstrong.
St Enda’s also made two changes to their starting fifteen from the victory over Doohamlet, Diarmuid McNulty coming into corner back in place of Cormac Eastwood, and Donal Walsh dropping to the bench, replaced by Ethan Gibson.
Naomh Éanna opened the scoring through Eoin Nagle, the corner-forward cutting in onto his right foot and firing the Antrim men in front, before Colin Harkin raised the first white flag and the first chant of ‘UTT’ from the St Patrick’s faithful.
A neat free from Ruairí Scott on the Tattyreagh 45m line momentarily quelled the Tattyreagh ultras, but they were soon back in full voice as Johnny Harkin swept over a long-range effort to level the scoreline for the second time.
The Naomh Éanna defence was disciplined and committed, and Tattyreagh were left ensconced on the opposition 45m line as they probed for an opening, finally getting through when Jarlaith McDonagh nipped between two defenders to put them ahead midway through the first half.
Russ’ men roared forward again, as Ruairí Scott ended a neat move involving Peter Healy and Odhran Eastwood to level proceedings once again, before Eastwood performed heroics at the other end, racing back to volley the ball off his own goal line following a fisted Tattyreagh effort.
The omnipresent Eastwood then held his nerve in front of the baying Red Hand crowd to arrow over a superb score off the outside of his boot from under the stand, before a Ruairí Scott point opened up a two-point gap.
Joe Maskey then came close to the opening goal of the game after a thunderous James McAuley hit on Eoghain Murray won back possession on the Tattyreagh 45. The ball was worked to Maskey on the edge of the six-yard box, but his scuffed effort was palmed around the post to safety by Ryan Pritchard to see his side trail by only two points at the break.
It was a determined Tattyreagh who emerged for the second half, and within minutes they were back on terms, a Johnny Harkin brace obliterating the Naomh Éanna lead.
Eoin Nagle then saw a goal opportunity open up for him, but as the Tattyreagh masses swarmed back to plug the gaps, the corner-forward sensibly opted to fist over the bar and put his side back into the lead, before he took control of the ball on the right flank and rifled over to restore the two-point lead.
The Tyrone side were having the lion’s share of possession but failed to hurt a well-organised and determined Naomh Éanna defence and were forced into rushed shots, dropping the ball into Paddy Flood’s arms on five separate occasions during the match.
James Darcy did get them rolling again in the 38th minute, converting a free 30 yards from goal, before Paddy Flood got down well to deny a certain goal, pushing a goalbound effort from Gareth Mimnagh onto the upright and out for a 45.
Points from Odhran Eastwood and a fourth of the evening for Eoin Nagle saw the North Belfast men put three points between them and their opponents, but when Ethan Gibson was black-carded for a foul on Eoin McGinn, Johnny Harkin fired over the free and cut the gap to two once again.
A further score from a stumbling Gareth Mimnagh left only the minimum between them, before a sharp Tattyreagh counter-attack caught the Naomh Éanna defence napping.
A James McAuley foul on Johnny Harkin was waved on by referee Anthony Marron, and when the ball was worked to James Darcy, the full-forward made no mistake, rolling the ball past Flood as their supporters rejoiced on the line.
As they did in the last round though, Naomh Éanna simply rolled up their sleeves and got on with it, firstly James McAuley and then Odhran Eastwood pointing to restore parity, and in the second of six added minutes, Eastwood then fed substitute Michael Morgan, who danced around the defender and slotted his side ahead from an acute angle.
Tattyreagh pumped high balls on top of Paddy Flood for the remaining minutes, but the goalkeeper and his defence were able to repel the attacks, leaving Morgan to split the uprights in the dying embers and write another chapter into the Glengormley fairytale and set up an Ulster IFC Final meeting with Cavan champions Mullahoran, who overcame Banagher in a historic encounter before these two took the field.
Naomh Éanna: Paddy Flood, Killian Jennings, Mick McNamee, Diarmuid McNulty, Conan Lyttle, James McAuley (0-01), Conor McAuley, Philly Curran, Joe Maskey, Peter Healy, Ruairí Scott (0-02, 0-01f), Kristian Healy, Ethan Gibson, Odhran Eastwood (0-01, 0-02f), Eoin Nagle (0-04).
Subs: Cormac Ross for Diarmuid McNulty 36’, Ciaran O’Neill for Philly Curran 40’, Michael Morgan (0-02) for Ethan Gibson (Black Card) 52’, Donal Walsh for Kristian Healy 56’, Ryan Kennedy for Conan Lyttle 58.
An Taite Riabhach: Ryan Pritchard, Robert Porter, Brendan Armstrong, Fearghal Armstrong, Joe Cartin, Eoghain Murray, Damian Mullan, Colin Harkin (0-01), Johnny Harkin (0-03, 0-01f), Peadar Mullan, Kevin Gallagher, Eoin McGinn, Jarlaith McDonagh (0-01), James Darcy (1-00, 0-01f), Gareth Mimnagh (0-01).
Subs: Dan McGloin for Robert Porter 46’.
Referee: Anthony Marron (Muineachán)