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Saffrons hand Frank Fitzsimons a winning start

Antrim 1-07 St Mary's 0-09

By David Mahon

A late Conor McGourty free gave Frank Fitzsimons a winning start to his reign as Antrim manager as the Saffrons edged out St Mary's by a point in yesterday's Dr McKenna Cup opener at Creggan.

In a game dominated by defences, Antrim's Patrick McBride - lining out for the students -got the first score from play after 32 minutes to make it 0-3 apiece, but a sublime ball from McGourty into Conor Murray split the St Mary's defence in first half injury-time and the Lámh Dhearg man fed the on-rushing James Laverty whose dipping shot found the roof of the net.

The low-scoring theme continued after the break with St Mary's growing into the game, led by the brilliant Ciaran McGeary and free-taking of Jerome Johnston as they drew level, before McGourty stepped up in the dying seconds, after Laverty had been fouled, to give Fitzsimons the start to life in the Antrim hot-seat he had hoped for.

"I'm very pleased to get the first win. That gets us up and running now," said a delighted Fitzsimons who fielded an experimental side which included seven starters and three substitutes who were making their senior debuts.

"Altogether there were 10 who hadn't played county football at senior and I think they did alright. (St Mary's players) Paddy (McBride), 'Fitzy' (Matt Fitzpatrick) and 'Moses' (Ruairi Wilson) were out there too and they will be in and around our panel this year, so with them playing with their university, it gave us a chance to look at more men."

While there were many new faces, there were others returning including Colm Fleming, Michael Magill, who chipped in with a point in the second half and McGourty who played in a deeper role than some would associate him with. This allowed the classy St Gall's attacker to pull the strings and open the St Mary's defence with some exquisite passes as well as chipping in with four points - one a magnificent effort from play when outside the 45.

In contrast to McGourty's finishing, St Mary's were left ruing 10 wides and half a dozen shots that dropped short.

"That was the difference between the teams today - our poor finishing," said St Mary's manager Paddy Tully.

ANTRIM: G Walls; M Kane, C Burke, C O'Rawe; J Laverty (1-0), D Lynch, P McAleer; J Carron (0-1), B Hasson; C Murray, C McGourty (0-4, 3 frees), D McAleese; C Johnston,C Fleming (0-1 free), E McNeill.

Subs: M Magill (0-1) for E McNeill (HT), T Scullion for P McAleer (HT), N O'Neill for D McAleese (44 mins), N Peoples for C Fleming (50 mins), B Bradley for C Johnston (65 mins).

ST MARY'S: J Deeney; A Beattie, B Og McGilligan, D Morrow; J Morgan, A Forker, C McCoey; C McCann, E Bradley (0-1 free); P McBride (0-1), C McGeary (0-1), R Johnston; J Johnston (0-5, 4 frees), M Fitzpatrick, B O'Hagan.

Subs: N McNicholl (0-1) for B O'Hagan (HT), H Loughran for D Morrow (54 mins), R Wilson for H Loughran (56 mins, Black Card), J Grugan for E Bradley (61 mins).

REFEREE: Ryan Walsh (Donegal)

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