Northern Switchgear Senior Football Championship – Semi Final
Dunloy 2-8 Portglenone 0-10
Friday 22 September
Brendan McTaggart reports from Dunsilly
MAIN PIC – Dunloy’s Karl Fitzpatrick celebrates after scoring Dunloy’s opening goal during Friday evening’s Antrim SFC semi-final win over Portglenone at Dunsilly.
And the fairy tale continues. Dunloy came into this years senior football championship as rank outsiders yet find themselves two weeks away from a first decider in 83 years. Two first half goals proved to be the difference on a wet night at Dunsilly, Karl Fitzpatrick and Nigel Elliott finding the back of the Portglenone net to ensure the Cuchullains could dictate the game and play the game on their terms.
Four points at the end of the 60 plus minutes is probably harsh on the Casements who more than played their part in an entertaining game. Indeed, they had clawed their way back on terms with the Cuchullains when Paddy Kelly fired over his fourth point of the night from a mark with 11 minutes of the match remaining. It would be their last point of the evening however as Dunloy finished strong. They soaked up the immense pressure that came at them in waves of yellow and black but countered with speed and precision, defended with incredible heart, guts and determination to condemn the Casements to another year of semi-final heartbreak.
The Dunloy attack will get the plaudits but the performance of Eoin McFerran throughout this contest was simply superb. Playing at the heart of the Dunloy defence, ‘Wango’ was a constant thorn in the side of the Casements, especially at the death when he seemed to come clear with the ball time and again as Dunloy soaked up the Portglenone pressure.
The Bannsiders started the semi-final superbly and had a brace of points on the board while some punters were still making their way into their vantage points around the floodlit pitch at Dunsilly. Aidan McAleese and Odhran McGarry giving the Casements an early two point lead.
The huge crowd were treated to an exhibition of scoring from both sides at differing points of the game, Seaan Elliott’s opening score for the Cuchullains from wide on the right and sailed over the bar. No sign of nerves from one of the stars of this years championship.
The Cuchullains first major of the night came in the sixth minute with veteran Kevin McQuillan at the heart of the move. Claiming a long ball from James Scally, McQuillan laid the ball off to Fitzpatrick and he finished with ease.
Portglenone showed plenty of resolve with their response. Paddy Kelly with his first of the night before Aidan McAleese brought the sides level and all but cancelled out the Dunloy goal.
Neither side were dominating possession and with the conditions wet, handling was becoming increasingly difficult. Dunloy were happy to deliver long ball into McQuillan however and with the clock ticking into the 11th minute, scored their second major. Conor Kinsella this time with the delivery while McQuillan tussled with Shane Delargy. The Dunloy man laid the ball into Nigel Elliott’s path and he wrong footed Ryan O’Neill with a deft left footed finish that just about squeezed inside the right hand post.
The Dunloy attack looked like they could cut open the Portglenone defence at will in the opening exchanges and but for some last gasp defending and scrambling, Conal Cunning could have added another goal soon after.
With the wind at their backs, Portglenone did take an element of control however their handling and decision making let them down as they faced a well organised Dunloy defence. Oisin Doherty did fire over a super score in the 17th minute to settle the Casements, a score worthy of this or any occasion. Dunloy and Kevin McQuillan continued to make hay at the other end of the pitch, the full forward creating the yard for Nigel Elliott to fire over before Eoin O’Neill scored from an outrageous angle to send the Cuchullains into a four point lead with seven minutes of the half remaining.
They looked to the bench and the introduction of county star Dermott McAleese to inject some urgency and directness into their play and while they had the final say of the half through a Paddy Kelly free, Dunloy were well worth their three point half time lead. Score 2-3 to 0-6.
Like the first half, Portglenon started the second half on fire. A free from Paddy Kelly and a point from a mark by Oisin Doherty left the minimum between the sides four minutes after the restart. Dunloy looked to their fliers to break off the back of Portglenone pressure and won a free thanks to a surging run by Nigel Elliott. Cunning converted the free to give Dunloy their opening score of the second half on the 36th minute.
The introduction of McAleese certainly had the effect John McKeever and his team would have hoped for and almost freed Niall McKeever to push further up the pitch. He scored Portglenone’s ninth point of the evening in the 47th minute, fisting over the bar when he would have been forgiven for going for goal such was his position. He was under huge pressure however and elected to fist over while a Paddy Kelly pointed mark moments later brought the sides level and gave Portglenone the glimmer of a chance they needed to kick on.
It didn’t happen however. Seaan Elliott’s second point of the match was a simply outrageous score with the outside of his right boot with little or no angle to work with while the Cuchullains showed their pace and power with players coming off the shoulder to create a chance that Cunning duly obliged in taking to take them two clear with six minutes remaining.
Portglenone were pushing forward trying to get a yard of space in the Dunloy defence but the Cuchullains were happy to soak up the pressure and counter. They opened up a three point lead with Chrissy McMahon firing over, much like Seaan Elliott before him, outside of the boot and very little angle. The Dunloy bench knew before anyone the outcome of the shot as the umpire waved the white flag.
The Casements continued to lay siege on the Dunloy goal and went close on two occasions in the time that remained. Michael Hagan sending a high ball into the danger area and with Dunloy ‘keeper Sean Doherty missing his punch, Niall McKeever gathered but fired wide.
Moments later substitute Ciaran McKenna was put through on goal after a super move by Portglenone but Doherty saved superbly and bravely at his feet. The ricochet fell to Dermot McAleese but Eoin McFerran was in the right place at the right time for his side to deny the Casements and restore a semblance of calm in the Cuchullains defence.
With the five minutes of injury time mostly played in the Dunloy half, the Cuchullains all but sealed their place in the senior football final with Nigel Elliott taking his tally to 1-2 for the evening with a super score three minutes into the hour.
When Kevin Parke blew his whistle to call time, Dunloy celebrated and Portglenone looked shell shocked. A sense of dejavu for the Casements as their search for another senior final reaches into a 15th year while Dunloy’s fairytale season shows no sign of stopping. 11 dual players in the starting 15 and a plethora on the bench who will cast their eye to next Sunday’s semi-final against Loughgiel before looking to a first senior football final since 1940.
Dunloy: Sean Doherty; Conor Kinsella, Eoin McFerran, James Scally; Chrissy McMahon, Deaglan Smith, Oran Quinn; Ciaran McQuillan, Ryan McGarry; Seaan Elliott, Conal Cunning, Eoin O’Neill; Karl Fitzpatrick, Kevin McQuillan, Nigel Elliott
Subs: Tom McFerran for J Scally (36); Aodhan McGarry for K Fitzpatrick (49); Michael Smith for K McQuillan (49); Eoghan McGrath for C McQuillan (52); Caolan Gillan for E O’Neill (60)
Scorers: N Elliott 1-2; K Fitzpatrick 1-00; S Elliott 0-2; C Cunning 0-2 (1f); C McMahon 0-1; E O’Neill 0-1
Portglenone: Ryan O’Neill; Ronan Delargy, Shane Delargy, Johnny Convery; Caolan Tierney, Kevin O’Kane, Ruairi Hagan; Niall Delargy, Niall McKeever; Aidan McAleese, Odhran McGarry, Stephen Kelly; Paddy Kelly, Oisin Doherty, Michael Hagan
Subs: Dermott McAleese for O McGarry (28); Ciaran McKenna for C Tierney (46); Ronan Kelly for A McAleese (57)
Scorers: P Kelly 0-4 (2fs 1m); O Doherty 0-2 (1m); A McAleese 0-2; N McKeever 0-1; O McGarry 0-1
Referee: Kevin Parke (Naomh Eanna)