The Intermediate Hurling Championship, which this season has a new sponsor in Andersonstown Social Club, is probably the most competitive in all the codes in the county and Monday evening’s draw has thrown up a few mouth watering ties. In the preliminary round last season’s Junior champions Cushendun face a tough tie when they take on Sarsfields while new St Enda’s manager Terence Sambo McNaughton will be thrown in at the deep end when the Glengormley men face Cloney Gaels Ahoghill.
There is a big north Antrim derby when neighbours Carey Faughs and Armoy meet in the first of the quarter finals and another big game battle when Oisins take on St Brigid’s Cloughmills. The winners of the Sarsfields v Cushendun game play Tir na nOg in the third quarter final while last season’s runner-up Creggan take on either Cloney Gaels or St Enda’s.
St Galls Hurling captain Joe McDaniel insists that the big positive to take in the aftermath of Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Oranmore is that they have Division One Hurling to look forward to in the season ahead.
McDaniel recounts a heavy opening day league defeat and the hands of Armoy and believes the players would have bitten somebody’s hand off, if they had suggested winning Ulster and getting to an All-Ireland semi-final at Parnell Park was possible.
The St Galls captain rued his sides failure to land a second-half goal with the game in the balance on Sunday and felt that any momentum was killed by the stop start nature of the game.
“The positives are we’ve division one Hurling to look forward to this year” McDaniel insists.
“If you had have asked us in the beginning of the year after we were beaten by Armoy in our first league game by about thirty points – if you’d have spoke to us after and told us we would have won Ulster and had a chance of an All-Ireland semi-final at Parnell Park we would have thought you’d be pulling our leg, but also we’d have bitten your hand off for it”.
“We never really got going – we said to the boys before the game if we were two or three points within them at half-time then we’d be happy and we’d make a fight for it in the last fifteen. We came out and they got the goal through a mistake – maybe that’s what we needed to get ourselves going, a goal at that stage. We never really got going to be honest.”
St Galls will also rue the failure to make use of a numerical advantage afforded to them for almost two thirds of the game – following a red-card issued to Oranmore corner-back Alan Bannon.
McDaniel was of the opinion that Oranmore coped well with the dismissal and praised the Galway sides physicality as they prevented St Galls building from defence.
“To be honest, when I said I would have been happy to come in two or three down at half-time – I was actually disappointed we hit seven wides in the first-half” reflected McDaniel.
“We should have been at least two or three up and it would have gave us a real platform to go on in the second-half and Oranmore might have panicked. If you had have came into the game late after half-time and asked who had the extra man? You wouldn’t have been able to tell”.
“They coped with it very well, they were well drilled. We struggled to find the extra-man and they were a big physical team – when we got the ball in defence they tied us up well and made it very difficult for us to get the ball into our forwards. We usually like to play the ball out of defence – we didn’t get the option to do that today”.
Another statistic that St Galls will reflect upon is the fact that only 1-04 of Oranmore’s 1-13 came from play.
Niall Burke top scored for the Galway men with 0-11 and 0-10 coming from the placed ball. McDaniel felt that his side gave away some soft fouls over the course of the sixty minutes which helped Oranmore, but admitted that his sides four point total up until their injury-time goals would not have been enough.
“If you told me today that they’d only score 1-04 from play – I would say we’d win that game” admitted McDaniel.
“I would say our lads are disciplined in the tackle – one big thing we preach is don’t be tackling with the stick, no slapping, tackle with the hands – that’s a skill we probably learn from football. Again being overly critical – I think we gave away some soft fouls, even still; you can’t be giving away the amount of frees we did and expect to win a game. Nor can you score four points and expect to win a game either”.
St Galls AIB All-Ireland Intermediate hurling dreams were ended at the semi-final stage by Oranmore Maree this afternoon as the Galway champions cruised to the final with a 1-13-2-04 win at Parnell Park.
The Milltown side will have rued their inability to press home a numerical advantage as Oranmore were reduced to 14-men on the 22nd minute after Alan Bannon tangled with Conor Burke off the ball and referee Patrick Murphy flashed a red-card in Bannon’s direction.
Leading 0-07-0-04 at the break the Galway champions hit the net through Sean McInerney and kept St Galls scoreless until the dying embers of the second period.
Despite Karl Stewart receiving a second yellow card which evened up the player count, the Galls hit two injury-time goals through CJ McGourty and substitute Antoin McCaffrey to restore a little pride at the end of a testing afternoon for the Antrim champions in the capital.
Both sides spurned early opportunities to hit the front through Niall Burke and Tomas O’Ciarain – both from the placed ball but it was Oranmore who hit the first score through corner-forward Ross Malone, though St Galls restored parity after five minutes through Sean McAreavey.
It took Galway county star Niall Burke until the midway point in the opening half before he converted his first free of the afternoon – he had spurned three opportunities until that point but turned provider for namesake Alan to edge the Galway side 0-02-0-01 to the good.
CJ McGourty levelled for St Galls through his first placed ball of the afternoon and Karl Stewart then missed the chance to give the Milltown side the advantage after ten minutes.
There was plenty of spice from the first whistle and a flare-up between Kieran McGourty and Gearoid McInerney resulted in both being cautioned by referee Patrick Murphy.
Oranmore restored their lead on the quarter hour mark from a converted Niall Burke free, his first successful placed ball of the afternoon.
A second would follow two-minutes later and at the other end CJ McGourty was off target from a 65′ and missed the opportunity to close the gap.
The first major talking point came shortly after the 20 minute mark – St Galls were awarded a free by referee Murphy and away from the whistlers attention Conor Burke appeared to be struck by Alan Bannon.
After consultation with his linesman and umpires Murphy proceeded to brandish a red-card to Bannon and the resulting free was converted by CJ McGourty to reduce the deficit (0-04-0-03).
Niall Burke (free)restored Oranmore’s two-point advantage – though a superb angled point by CJ McGourty put the bare minimum between the sides and was the wing-half forwards third successive score.
The fourteen men finished the half stronger however with Niall Burke adding two further scores – a third successive free and his first from play ensured his side would lead 0-07-0-04 at the break despite their numerical disadvantage.
Oranmore increased their lead on the 37th minute through a fifth converted Niall Burke free and the Galway side all but killed the game off from the resulting puck-out.
Piarais McCaffrey’s quick puck was turned over by Padraic Keane who burst forward and offloaded to Sean McInerney and the corner-forward batted Keane’s hand-passed effort past McCaffrey to give Oranmore a 1-08-0-04 lead.
Two further Niall Burke free’s brought the wing-half forwards tally to 0-08 (0-07f) – St Galls had failed to put Oranmore goalkeeper Rory McInerney under any considerable pressure, on the 40th minute a Niall O’Neill floated a high ball in on top of McInerney but it evaded the McGourty brothers CJ and Kieran who were queuing up inside the area.
Oranmore were firmly in the ascendancy and Niall Burke would add three further scores to his tally before the afternoon was out – one from a 65′ and the other two from frees to make it 1-13-0-04.
St Galls numerical advantage disappeared a minute from time as Karl Stewart was dismissed for a second yellow card offence and the Milltown men were staring down the barrel of a 12-point defeat. However they restored some pride in injury-time when an Aodhan Gallagher’s high ball into the danger area was flicked to the net by CJ McGourty to make it 1-13-1-04.
A second goal followed seconds later as Gallagher again played the providers role and substitute Antoin McCaffrey made a great catch under pressure and turned to rifle the ball to the net past ‘keeper Rory McInerney.
In the end the two goals were little more than consolation however as Oranmore Maree booked their place in the AIB Intermediate Hurling final but it was indication of what they were capable off and they will look back wondering why it took so long to find their spark.
St Galls: P McCaffrey, S Morrison, J McDaniel, A Hannaway, N O’Neill, S Burke, A Gallagher, K Stewart, J Hopkins, T O’Ciarain, K McGourty, C McGourty (1-03, 0-02f), M Donnelly, C Burke, S McAreavey (0-01). Subs: R Irvine for A Hannaway (30+3 mins), M Napier for M Donnelly (42 mins), A Healy for C Burke (48 mins), A McCaffrey (1-00) for K McGourty (58 mins), G McGreevy for J Hopkins (58 mins).
Oranmore Maree: R McInerney, S Bannon, S Geoghegan, A Bannon, M Hanniffy, G McInerney, L Keane, N Geoghegan, R Maher, M Quinn, A Burke (0-01), N Burke (0-11, 0-09f; 0-01 65′), R Malone (0-01), P Keane, S McInerney (1-00). Subs: E Burke for A Burke (54 mins), S Dunne for M Quinn (54 mins- blood sub), N Qualter for L Keane (58 mins), S Dunne for R Maher (58 mins), M Keane for P Keane (61 mins).
St. Gall’s defender, Niall O’Neill is looking forward to Sunday’s All Ireland Intermediate Club Hurling semi-final against Oranmore /Maree of Galway at Parnell Park. O’Neill is one of a number of duel players on the Milltown side. He was a 17 year old on the St. Gall’s panel when they won Antrim and Ulster in 2009 before losing in the All Ireland semi-final to St. Lachtain’s, Kilkenny and he is determined to go one better this time.
O’Neill looks certain to be one of the first names on Sunday’s team-sheet and has been a regular on the side all season and his strong, energetic performances have helped his side on their journey through Antrim and Ulster this year.
I spoke to the affable St. Gall’s man in the week leading up
to Sunday’s eagerly awaited encounter and posed the following questions to him.
Saffron Gael: Niall as Sunday approaches how are you feeling?
Niall O’Neill: I’ve been feeling good and just enjoying the buzz around the team and the club as the Semi-Final draws ever closer. It has been a long wait since the Ulster final back in November, so I am looking forward to the game on Sunday and getting back in action in the blue jersey.
Saffron Gael: Although you’ve been a regular on the St. Gall’s team for a number of years you would probably still be regarded as one of the younger players on the side. When did you start playing for the St. Gall’s hurlers and what honours have you won with them?
Niall O’Neill: I take a bit of abuse from the lads for being the oldest amongst the younger lads in the team, so it’s nice to still be called young now again that’s for sure. I started playing for the hurler’s right from the beginning when I was introduced to St. Galls from around age of 4. We won a couple of juvenile titles but there was unfortunately a few years where success was limited.
I was lucky enough at age 17 to be a member of the panel in my first
year of playing Senior Hurling when the club won both the Antrim and Ulster
Intermediate Hurling titles and reached the All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling
Final (2009). Ten years on and I’ve been fortunate to play a bigger part in the
same campaigns and to win those titles for the second time.
Here is hoping that the club can reach another All-Ireland Intermediate
Hurling Final and get one more, big day out in Croker.
Saffron Gael: St. Gall’s have come through a number of tight battles on their way to Ulster success this year. What are your most vivid memories of those games?
Niall O’Neill: The whole campaign of getting where we are now has not been an easy one. You could say we trickled our way through the Antrim Championship but we credited our efforts throughout, having come up against some tricky opposition. We arguably stole the game against Creggan in the Antrim final, but it was our experience that helped get us over the line. The Ulster championship was as expected, tough right from the off. We began with a physically demanding game against Lisbellaw before an extra-time victory against Swatragh in the semi-final. We even had our backs against the wall in the Ulster final playing with 14 men for the majority of the second half against a very strong Keady side. Thankfully the mix of youth and more experienced players swung the game in our favour and we were able to bring Ulster success to the club. The guys have really dug in deep and fought for each other when needed and as a team we have gotten the rewards.
Saffron Gael: How has the training been going since your Ulster success? Have you been doing anything different in training and have you played any challenge games in the build up to Sunday’s final?
Niall O’Neill: Training has been going well and we have been training regularly throughout the winter period (on some extremely cold nights and mornings may I add). The majority of our lads have been training non-stop from the beginning of last year including when we were training with the footballers so hurling training up until now has really been focused on keeping the eye in and working on our stick work and speed on the ball as always. We played a few University teams before the Christmas Break including Jordanstown and Queens, which proved a good workout for both camps. Any game in winter conditions will always prove beneficial for any team. We have quite a big panel so it was a good opportunity for other lads to stake their claim on to the team.
Saffron Gael: Gearoid McInerney and Niall Burke are the two Galway men who are best known of the Oranmore/Maree side. What do you know about the Galway and Connaught champions?
Niall O’Neill: In truth I don’t know much about Oranmore other than they are from Galway and there will be no doubt that they will be a very good hurling side. Oranmore are believed to be under achievers in Galway for the past few years so that tells in its own right that this year has been no fluke. They have some standout and exceptional players like Gearoid McInerney and Niall Burke who of course will help lead their charge but that is not to say there aren’t others throughout their team who can help make the difference. Oranmore have had a very successful year and I am sure they will be looking at ourselves as one final hurdle to pass in order to reach the All-Ireland Final but that is exactly how we will be seeing them ourselves. All we can do is prepare as a team and be ready for the challenge ahead.
Saffron Gael: How do you see Sunday’s game going and who are the players who can get you over the line in Parnell Park on Sunday?
Niall O’Neill: I see Sundays game being a battle right from the first whistle. For me the game will be decided by who wants it more and who is willing to dig that little bit deeper. It will be one of the biggest games in the majority of our lads’ careers but a game that they will be ready for and extremely look forward too. To be honest the entire team will play its part in helping us get where we want to be on Sunday. Everyone has put their shoulder to the wheel this year and drove us on game by game. We have plenty of players with dual experience such as Karl Stewart, Kirean and CJ McGourty, Aodhan Gallagher and Sean Burke to name a few that can help drive us on. Tomas O’Ciarain will prove valuable for scores and help give us the extra edge we need.
Saffron Gael: Who have been the biggest influences on your hurling and football career with St. Galls?
Niall O’Neill: I would have to say my brother Terry and my father. They have always encouraged me from an early age to take part and strive to be better. I still play alongside my brother with the Senior Footballers and have been lucky enough to share some great memories of winning silverware together. My dad always jokes that I am footballer / hurler or on a different day a hurler / footballer.
Saffron Gael: You are of course a member of the St. Gall’s football side as well and a couple of years ago you were a member of the Antrim panel. What are your thoughts on your time with the Antrim footballers and have you any ambitions to return to the saffron jersey?
Niall O’Neill: I enjoyed my time playing for the Antrim Footballers and have every ambition to play again in the near future. I was asked on to both football and hurling panels respectively this year but unfortunately I was not able to fully commit to either one. In my work as a Sport for Development Facilitator we are required to work flexible and unsocial hours limiting my time and I also travel back and forth to London, every other weekend to visit my girlfriend. It is unfortunate and disappointing but for now my focus is on the club.
Saffron Gael: Anything else you would like to add.
Niall O’Neill: I just want to thank my own club for their support throughout our championship campaign and I hope the supporters are back out in force again this Sunday for one final push. I also want to wish St. Enda’s good luck in their semi-final and hope both teams return with memorable wins.
With another year of the GAA calendar fading into the
distance we have covered the respective journeys of the clubs who achieved
success in the Saffron county and those who took it a step further to Ulster success.
While most clubs are in the process of preparing for the new
season and hoping for success in 2019 there are a number of Antrim clubs with
unfinished business from 2018. Ruairi Og, Cushendall lifted the Antrim Senior hurling championship
and went on to Ulster success and that success was replicated by St. Gall’s in
the Intermediate hurling championship while Emmet’s Cushendun came within a
puck of the ball of making it an Antrim treble in the Junior hurling final.
Add to that the success of St. Enda’s who collected their
first ever senior football title by beating Gort na Mona in the Antrim final
before going on to defeat Doohamlet of Monaghan, Taite Riabach of Tyrone and Mullahoran of Cavan on their way to Ulster
All three sides are preparing for their respective All Ireland semi-finals at present and today we are going to look back at the journey of St. Gall’s on their way to Intermediate hurling success, a journey that looked unlikely when I saw them fall to St. Brigid’s Cloughmills early in their division 2 league campaign.
The leagues had commenced a week earlier with St. Gall’s shipping
a heavy defeat to Armoy at Milltown and a week later the Biddies had six points
to spare over the Falls Road side in Cloughmills. Things didn’t appear to be
improving for St. Gall’s when Tir na nOg inflicted another heavy defeat at
Whitehill in early April, this time the margin eleven points but with a number
of key players missing Mickey Culbert wasn’t panicking.
The former Antrim football supremo got some of those players
back on board for the visit of Glenariffe on the 15th April and they
recorded their first win of the season over an Oisin’s side who were themselves
struggling for points.
A visit to Ballycastle on the 23d May saw St. Gall’s suffer
their fourth defeat in five outing to a McQuillan’s team who were to go on and
win the league but there were signs that things were improving for the Milltown Row side.
That improvement resulted in them going on a winning run
with victories over St. Enda’s, Sarsfield’s, Glen Rovers, Tir na nOg, St.
Brigid’s, Oisin’s again, St. Enda’s again and saw them climb to runners up spot
in the league and in a healthy place heading into the championship.
They began that championship campaign with victory over city
rivals, Gort na Mona in a bad tempered encounter at Corrigan at the end of
August which saw them emerge with five points to spare.
Five days later they took on Oisin’s on a Friday night under
the floodlights at Quinn Park, Ballymena and certainly didn’t get it all their
own way during a very competitive first half. St. Gall’s found something extra
however in the second half to run out winners by eight points and a few punters
were starting to fancy them to go all the way.
They were drawn against St. Enda’s in the semi-final and
repeated their league double success over the Glengormley side running out
winners by six points to set up a meeting with surprise packets, Kickham’s
Creggan in the final.
The Staffordstown Road side had played their hurling in
division 3 of the ACH League and after a good run early in the year their form
had dipped dramatically come the end of the season where they failed to gain
promotion with Clooney Gaels and Cathaoir an Ri piping them for the promotion
Come the championship however and the return of key players
Kickham’s hit a rich vein of form which resulted in them beating Armoy,
Rasharkin and Cathaoir an Ri to reach the final and despite their division 3
status they certainly presented St. Gall’s with a formidable hurdle in the
St. Gall’s 1-16 to 0-17
St. Gall’s produced a strong second half performance to
overcome the challenge of Kickham’s Creggan in a tough uncompromising
Intermediate Hurling Championship final at a windy Hannastown. Playing with the
breeze in the opening half, Kickham’s dominated the first half exchanges.
Creggan were to rue a number of bad misses in the opening
half but still led by 0-10 to 0-4 by the 25th minute and looked to be heading to the dressing room with
a fairly healthy lead. St. Gall’s had been on the back foot for a time but CJ
McGourty landed a much needed free and when Jackson McGreevey got on the end of
a Mark Napier cross in the 28th minute to finish to the net from close range
the Milltown men were right back in contention but still trailed by four at the
During the second half St. Gall’s slowly wore down their opponents with CJ McGourty leading the way They went on to win by two points in an excellent final which quite literally could have gone either way with CJ McGourty collecting the Saffron Gael man-of-the-match award.
It was now down to Ulster and a meeting with Fermanagh champions
Lisbellaw and the Fermanagh side certainly put it up to the Antrim men but second
half goals from Sean McAreavey and Mark Napier sealed the deal.
CJ McGourty led the way with 0-8 (4 frees) with Karl Stewart
and Kieran McGourty amongst the St. Gall’s scorers as they ran out 2-19 to 1-16
winners to book a semi-final spot against Derry champions Swatragh at Owenbeg.
And what a challenge the Derry champions produced! St.
Gall’s looked in control at half-time as Conor Burke’s goal helped them to a
deserved 1-11 to 0-7 lead at the interval.
However, on the restart Swatragh took the game to their opponents with
five unanswered points with the brilliant Eoghan O’Kane proving a handful while
Ruairi Convery was deadly accurate from the placed ball as they reeled in the
O’Kane and Karl Stewart exchanged goals for their sides and
a late major from Fintan McGurk looked to have sealed a dramatic one-point win
for the Derry side, but Tomás Ó Ciarain late pointed free sent the game into
time added on.
In extra-time, St Gall’s were the better side and a goal
from CJ McGourty finally put the game beyond Swatragh after an absorbing
80-plus minutes of Championship hurling to set up a meeting with Keady of
St Galls claimed their first Ulster Intermediate Hurling title since 2009 with a 2-12 to 0-11 win over Keady, Lamh Dhearg at Pairc Esler. CJ McGourty hit the opening goal five minutes before the half-time break and despite losing Jackson McGreevy to a second yellow card inside the first ten minutes of the second-half, the Milltown side remained on the front foot and a second goal from substitute Sean McAreavey ensured the title would be heading to Milltown Row.
St Galls v Keady: C McGreevy, S Morrison, J McDaniel, A
Hannaway, N O’Neill, S Burke, J McGreevy (0-01)J Hopkins, C Stewart (0-01), C
Burke, K McGourty (0-01), T O’Ciarain (0-03f), C McGourty (1-05,0-04f), A
Gallagher, M Napier (0-01). Subs: S McAreavey (1-00) for M Napier, P McCaffrey
for C McGreevy, A Healy for J Hopkins, M Donnelly for S Burke.
St. Gall’s now go forward to meet Galway champions Oranmore-Maree in the All Ireland semi-final at Parnell Park on the 20th January and the Saffron Gael will carry a preview on the week leading up to that game and will have a reporter and photographer at the game.