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St Gall’s ignore bubbly for sevens heaven

By John Campbell

When St Gall’s won their 11th Antrim Senior Football title in 12 years in September, they certainly embarked on a novel method of celebrating the feat.

No champagne corks were popped, no late-night revelry ensued — instead, the team headed straight down to Dublin to take part in the prestigious All-Ireland Sevens competition hosted by the Kilmacud Crokes club.

And despite their exertions against St John’s in the domestic decider — they won by 1-11 to 1-5 — St Gall’s captured the coveted sevens silverware for the fourth time in eight years.

A combination of a stunning level of fitness and a brash display of versatility by several key players helped to clinch two trophies for the club within a dramatic 24 hour spell.

And it’s that same stamina and flexibility that has brought the team into Sunday’s Ulster Club Championship semi-final against Down title-holders Kilcoo.

Manager Karl McCabe, unlike earlier in the year when injuries were taking a toll on his resources, finds himself spoiled for choice now that he has a full deck from which to choose.

It was in the quarter-final against Tempo that Kevin McGourty, absent for a prolonged spell because of a cruciate ligament injury, delivered a masterly performance that lasted all of 23 minutes but was sufficient to terminate the Fermanagh champions’ interest in the competition.

“We took Kevin off as a precautionary measure because he got a knock on the knee but he had helped us to build up a big lead which we sustained,” explains team boss McCabe.

Just as his value as a third midfielder was immense in that game, so too were McGourty’s reflexes as a temporary goalkeeper when he saved two shots in the penalty shoot-out against Connacht side Corofin that decided the All-Ireland Sevens final.

“With that kind of versatility it’s hard to know where to position some players,” smiles McCabe.

“But on a serious note, we will be meeting a Kilcoo side that showed their mettle in winning the Down Championship and then overcoming Ballybay in the Ulster quarter-final.

“They are a very hard-working outfit who keep going right to the final whistle.”

The enigmatic McGourty along with his brothers Kieran and CJ will again be key figures in the St Gall’s attack.

Kevin’s ball-winning ability is also certain to be deployed in the middle third especially as Kilcoo’s engine-room partnership of Paul Greenan and Felim McGreevy boast considerable aerial skills as well as an abrasive physical dimension.

Aodhan Gallagher and Sean Burke will once again form the St Gall’s midfield, the latter expected to be fully fit having also suffered a slight injury in the win over Tempo.

It’s shaping up to be an absolute cracker.

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