St Gall’s have won 10 of the last 11 Antrim senior football championship titles but skipper Sean Kelly acknowledged that they faced one of their toughest-ever battles in overcoming Lamh Dhearg by 0-14 to 0-11 in their opening assignment of this year’s campaign at the weekend.
In arrears by 0-8 to 0-7 at the interval, the Milltown outfit summoned on all their skill, craft and experience to eventually ease out their Hannahstown opponents.
“We were certainly stretched to the limit but our ability to close out games stood to us as did the fact that we have strength in depth,” said former Antrim wing-back Kelly.
Certainly his side looked to be under the cosh when Paddy Cunningham’s sublime free-taking thrust Lamh Dhearg into a relatively comfortable position but CJ McGourty, Kevin Niblock, Michael Pollock and Karl Stewart all plundered the scores that helped St Gall’s sustain their challenge for yet another title.
And also set to mount a bid for honours are St Brigid’s who beat fancied St Paul’s by 3-10 to 1-7. Goals from Ronan McGrady, Darragh Edwards and Collie Moane underpinned the south Belfast side’s victory with Liam McLarnon notching the St Paul’s goal.
St Brigid’s assistant manager Eunan Conway said: “We were maybe that bit fresher going in and the fact that we took our goal chances ultimately stood to us.”
Perennial Armagh champions Crossmaglen Rangers also got the defence of their title off on the right note when they beat a gallant Armagh Harps side by 2-12 to 2-7.
It was an unfamiliar looking Rangers outfit as Oisin McConville, Jamie Clarke, Paul Kernan and Danny O’Calaghan were among their absentees.
Two goals from Kyle Brennan thrust Rangers into the driving seat in the first-half and they led by 2-4 to 0-4 at half-time.
But when they conceded two goals within a five-minute spell after the break the champions looked to be in trouble.
But with David McKenna giving the lead they kept their shape and their nerve to hit five late points against one from their opponents and this helped seal their victory.
Pearse Og showed that they have the credentials to go all the way to the final by the emphatic manner in which they waltzed to victory over hapless Granemore (3-16 to 0-9).
In the Down championship, An Riocht, Rostrevor, Downpatrick and Ballyholland Fontenoys all progressed.
A Conor Cole goal helped An Riocht into a 1-5 to 1-4 interval lead against Newry Shamrocks and when Paddy Gartland scored a second after the break this underpinned their 2-10 to 1-9 win.
Rostrevor had it all too easy against Kilclief winning by 2-23 to 0-9.
Downpatrick’s task in overcoming Loughinisland was helped by the fact that their opponents had three players — John McCarthy, Dominic McClements and Seamus O’Hare — sent off.
Karl Oakes and Damien Turley were prominent in the scoring stakes for the winners, as little went right for Loughinisland.
An Aidan McAteer goal helped fire Ballyholland into a 1-4 to 0-3 interval lead against Liatroim Fontenoys and a second after the break from Colm Barry ensured their passage into the next round of the competition.