The Saffron Gael Speaks to St. Gall’s hurler Niall O’Neill

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.

Unfinished business for Antrim clubs as St. Gall’s face Oran-Maree of Galway

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 Intermediate glory.

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 places.

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 decider.

IHC Final

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 break.

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 Antrim champions.

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 Armagh.

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.

“It’s nice to get over the line again” Kieran McGourty

By Kevin Herron

St Galls ace Kieran McGourty insists that it was nice to get over the line and clinch a second Ulster Intermediate Hurling title after yesterday’s 2-12-0-11 victory over Keady, Lamh Dhearg.

Yesterday’s win at Pairc Esler increased McGourty’s ever growing medal haul with the Milltown men. The former dual county star believes that yesterday’s win was the first time throughout the course of the campaign that they stood up to the test and hopes it will stand up in good stead going into the All-Ireland series.

“It’s nice to get over the line again” reflected McGourty.

“It’s like anything – you enter any competition and it’s not easily won. We’ve been made to work hard and as you go up the levels and up the games it gets harder and harder. It’s probably the first time we’ve stood up to the test and we were convincing today in the end. It was nice and hopefully it will stand us in good stead going forward”.

With the game finely in the balance approaching the interval it was a goal from younger brother CJ that would prove the difference and despite Jackson McGreevy departing with a second yellow-card early in the second-half; Sean McAreavey rifled home a second to secure a second Intermediate success at Ulster level and a first since 2009.

McGourty believes that CJ’s goal came at a ‘lucky’ time and was glad his side got the lucky breaks in the game.

“CJ got the goal at a lucky time” McGourty insisted.

“Sometimes when a man gets sent-off – as you see in every sport really, you rally round and put that wee bit more extra hard work in. It paid off but on another day it could have went against us – we’ll take any break going because you need them to win big matches and finals”.

Reflecting back upon their campaign to date – McGourty admits they’ve been pushed the whole way and felt they showed what they were about against Keady.

“It’s not easy to win any competition” believes McGourty.

“Looking back on Antrim – Gort Na Mona gave us a hell of a run for a long, long period. It took us a long time to pull away against St Enda’s and against Creggan in the final; I would argue they were probably the better team on the day and we just got a few lucky breaks”.

“All matches are going to be tight at that level and we got our lucky breaks – in saying that today we kicked on ourselves and showed more of what we were about. Maybe the games will stand us in good stead and our reaction today in going down to 14-men will stand us in good stead”.

The Galls will have a short break before switching their attention to the all-Ireland series and a clash with the Connaught champions in January.

In 2010 the Milltown club were defeated in the Intermediate decider by Kilkenny side St. Lachtain’s at Croke Park before tasting senior Football success at the same venue the following month.

McGourty joked he may need a longer break than the rest – but feels that preparations will start for the semi-final within the next week or two.

“I asked Micky Culbert for a break because I’m slightly older than most of them” McGourty joked.

“I’d say we’ll take a wee break – but unlike winning the senior championship, the All-Ireland semi-finals are played off in mid February and you can take a wee bit longer for a break. I think we’re back out in the third week of January for the semi-final so we’ll have to be back out in the next week or two anyway”.

 

 

 

 

 

McGourty goal sends St. Gall’s on their way to Ulster title

AIB Ulster Intermediate Hurling Final

St Galls 2-12-0-11 Keady, Lamh Dhearg

By Kevin Herron at Pairc Esler

St Galls claimed their first Ulster Intermediate Hurling title since 2009 with a 2-12-0-11 win over Keady, Lamh Dhearg at Pairc Esler this afternoon.

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 for Milltown Row this evening.

St Galls made the brighter start at Pairc Esler – taking the lead inside of three minutes through corner forward Mark Napier.

Although Paul Green levelled the game up two minutes later the Milltown side were 0-03-0-01 ahead by the 10th minute through scores from Carl Stewart and Jackson McGreevy.

Keady levelled for a second time with back to back points from centre-half forward Conor Corvan and the sides traded further scores through CJ McGourty (free) and Paul Breen – both sides then missed from the placed ball as Corvan (65′) and CJ McGourty (free) were off target.

Corvan atoned for his miss on 22 minutes as he gave the Armagh champions the lead for the first time in the game – converting a free to edge his side 0-05-0-04 ahead.

Six minutes before the break St Galls hit the front for the fourth time and crucially the opening goal of the game.

CJ McGourty burst through towards the post and was hooked – but the corner-forward was able to untidily convert at the second time of asking, beating Joby Burke to give St Galls a 1-04-0-05 lead.

Conor Corvan watched in frustration as his free hit an upright and drifted wide in the aftermath and just before the break CJ McGourty converted from a similar scenario to send St Galls in 1-05-0-05 ahead at the interval.

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St Galls increased their lead four minutes after the restart through a converted Tomas  O’Ciarain free, though Conor Corvan held off pressure and responded at the other end.

On 38 minutes St Galls were awarded a free after a foul on Jackson McGreevy – already on a yellow-card McGreevy took his protests too far and replacement referee Colin Murray gave the number seven his marching orders.

CJ McGourty converted the resulting free with Paul Green quickly responding at the other end to leave it 1-07-0-07 after 40 minutes.

McGourty (free) and James King traded further points and just after the midway point in the second-half St Galls were denied a second goal.

Substitute Sean McAreavey saw his low drive parried to safety by Joby Burke and the Keady goalkeeper needed to react quickly and avert the danger with CJ McGourty lurking in close proximity.

Ciaran McGourty edged St Galls four points to the good with twelve minutes remaining and four minutes later the Milltown men sealed their win with the second goal.

Six minutes after being denied by Joby Burke it was Sean McAreavey who rifled home the second to move St Galls 2-09-0-08 ahead and surely on their way to their first Intermediate crown since 2009.

Conor Corvan responded for Keady once again but the Armagh champions were in urgent need of a goal.

They found it difficult to negotiate a way through a strong St Gall rear-guard and it was the Milltown men who found the next two scores – CJ McGourty conjured up an outstanding point off the back foot and Tomas O’Ciarain converted his second free of the half.

Stephen Renaghan and Corvan (free) responded in turn although it was O’Ciarain who finished the scoring with a late free to ensure that St Galls ran out 2-12-0-11 winners.

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St Galls: 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 (31 mins), P McCaffrey for C McGreevy (31 mins), A Healy for J Hopkins (46 mins), M Donnelly for S Burke (62 mins).

Keady, Lamh Dhearg: J Burke, L McKee, N Green, B Breen, O Keenan, J King (0-01), E McDonnell, D McKenna, S Reenaghan (0-01), P McCormack, C Corvan (0-06, 0-01f; 0-01 65′), J Havery, P Breen (0-01), P Green (0-02), J Corvan. Subs: J Shortt for D McKenna (33 mins), M McDermott for E McDonnell (39 mins), O Fullerton for J Harvey (50 mins).

Referee: Barry Winters (Tir Eoghain) replaced by Colin Murray (An Dun)

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Mickey Culbert guides another team in an Ulster final

In the build up to Sunday’s Ulster Intermediate Hurling Championship final against Keady Lamh Dhearg, St. Gall’s manager Mickey Culbert shares his thoughts with the Saffron Gael. Mickey took over the management duties with St. Gall’s at the start of last season but is no stranger to management at the club having won championships with their Senior footballers in 2001-2002-2003.

Mickey also trained Cushendall hurlers for a couple of seasons and had a spell as Antrim football manager. He is one of the most knowledgeable and respected managers in the game.

The Saffron Gael spoke to Mickey Culbert this week:

Saffron Gael: Mickey this is your first Ulster final with St. Gall’s hurlers, did you win Ulster honours with the footballers and if so what year and who against

Mickey Culbert: I won Antrim senior football championships with St. Gall’s in  2001/2/3. The club also won minor and U21 Antrim football championships those same years. We got a treble-treble.   So we had a great production line with plenty of young lads coming through. Got to the Ulster final my last year but were defeated.

Saffron Gael: How many Antrim football titles did you win with St. Gall’s.

Mickey Culbert:  3

Saffron Gael: You were involved with Cushendall hurlers for a number of years. What years was it and what did they win.

Mickey Culbert: I trained them for  a couple of their all Ireland campaigns but didn’t manage them. A great bunch of fellas. Nothing was too much for them.

Saffron Gael: What do you know about Keady Lamh Dhearg and just how much threat do they pose on Sunday

Mickey Culbert: They are a big threat. A big strong and fit outfit. Not unlike the opponents we had to struggle against in earlier rounds. They will be treated with utmost respect.

Saffron Gael: Tell us about your first season in charge of the hurlers and how you feel they have improved as the season has progressed

Mickey Culbert: This is actually the second year that I have managed the squad. Last year we struggled to avoid relegation from division 2 . This year we have won promotion and the championship. Very pleased with the efforts the squad has put in this year.

Saffron Gael: Mickey anything else you would like to add on your thoughts about Sunday’s final

Mickey Culbert: hope it’s a good hard clean game – a battle, but a bloodless one.