St Gall's remained firmly on course to land the Ulster Club Football Championship title when they brushed aside the feeble challenge of Monaghan champions Clontibret in a surprisingly one-sided semi-final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh.
Such was the dominance of the Antrim champions that, long before referee Joe McQuillan sounded the final whistle, their aspirations of reaching the decider had been left in smithereens.
Instead, it was a confident, well-drilled St Gall’s side who, taking their inspiration from former Fermanagh golden boy Rory Gallagher, booked a final meeting against Derry champions Loup a fortnight hence.
The Antrim champions’ fusion of cohesion, frenetic work-rate and polished finishing proved a potent cocktail with Gallagher providing his own special ingredient. His two goals in the 39th and 54th minute not only cemented St Gall’s authority but might just persuade Erne boss Malachy O’Rourke that the 31-year-old craftsman is poised to re-launch his county career.
With Sean Burke and Aodhan Gallagher on top at midfield and the McGourty brothers – Kieran, Kevin and C J — unveiling their vast repertoire of skills to complement Gallagher’s subtle scoring touch, St Gall’s strode imperiously through the second-half during which, apart from occasional breakaways, their Monaghan opponents were firmly shackled. Indeed, four unanswered points immediately prior to the break triggered St Gall’s almost total dominance of the remainder of the contest.
While a battalion of players shared in the St Gall’s scoring bonanza, Clontibret relied rather too heavily on the efforts of Conor McManus, his seven points from frees and two from play underlining a huge personal donation to his team’s cause but at the same time highlighting deficiencies in the rest of their attack.
The Monaghan champions were rather unfortunate to have had a 16th minute goal disallowed and saw another opportunity to find the St Gall’s net squandered in the 19th minute but their lack of real penetration and bite proved major shortcomings.
It was the talented McGourty clan, aided and abetted by the ebullient Gallagher, who ensured that St Gall’s galloped down the final furlong, their sights already set on a repeat of their Ulster Club title triumph of four years ago.
St Gall’s scorers: R Gallagher (2-3, 0-1 free), Kieran McGourty (0-3), C J McGourty (0-3, 0-2 frees), K Niblock (0-2), K Stewart, S Kelly, Kevin McGourty, T O’Neill (0-1 each).
Clontibret scorers: C McManus (0-9, 0-7 frees), A Rooney, F Mone (0-1 each).
ST GALL’S: Ronan Gallagher; M Kelly, A McClean, C Brady (capt); P Veronica, A Healy, S Kelly; S Burke, A Gallagher; Kieran McGourty, Kevin McGourty, T O’Neill; K Niblock, Rory Gallagher, C J McGourty. Substitutes: K Stewart for McClean (17 mins), D O’Hare for Kevin McGourty (51), S Burns for A Gallagher (55), M McGowan for Rory Gallagher (55) , M Kennedy for Brady (55).
Yellow card: Kevin McGourty (40 mins).
CLONTIBRET: P McElroy; C Duffy, C Greenan, E Greenan; D Mooney, D Mone, M Corey; V Corey (capt), J Golden; B Og Magennis, P McGuigan, A Rooney; F Mone, C McManus, R Gorman. Substitutes: J P Mone for Greenan (half-time), M Hughes for Magennis (45 mins), D McKeown for McGuigan (47).
Yellow cards: M Corey (21 mins), E Greenan (53), McManus (56).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)