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Small a revelation as Creggan create history

By John McIlwaine

Creggan K'ham 1-11 Ballysaggart 1-17: Creggan became the first Ulster team to win an All-Ireland Junior Hurling title when they beat Waterford champions Ballysaggart in Saturday's final replay at Cussack Park, Mullingar.

Seven days earlier, the men from the shores of Lough Neagh had come back from 10 points down to earn a draw. However this time around, they made no mistake.

They trailed at the break, but once corner-forward Conor Small brought them level with a superb goal in the 38 minute, they looked winners all the way.

Sixteen-year-old Small was a real sensation for the Antrim champions, scoring a goal and three points from play.

The St Mary's Magheralfelt student was too young to play for the senior side in 2013, but since he joined the panel at the start of the year he has been a revelation.

His three first-half points were right out of the top drawer while his goal tipped the scales in his team's favour.

With a strong breeze at their backs, Ballysaggart started well and right-half-forward Shane Bennett had them on the scoreboard.

Creggan levelled with a point from an Oran McCann free before the Munster champions regained the lead with a bizarre goal which full-forward Stephen Bennett sent to the net from a free 50 metres out, the ball rolling along the ground all the way.

Oran McCann settled his team's nerves when he sent over his second free a minute later and though Darren Meagher, Stephen Bennett and Colin Kearney had points for Ballysaggart, Small's three excellent points and one from Conor McCann left Creggan trailing by just two at the break.

Midfielder Kieran Bennett stretched the Ballysaggart lead to three points after the break.

However, when Conor Small sent an angled drive to the Ballysaggart net, all was to change. Conor McCann cut through to hammer the ball to the net 30 seconds later, only to be called back by match referee John Keenan, who then booked a Ballysaggart defender for a foul.

Oran McCann pointed the resultant free to edge his side in front for the first time, and five minutes later the game took a significant turn when the Waterford champions had midfielder Kieran Bennett sent off and Conor McCann converted the free.

Stephen Bennett cut Ballysaggart arrears in the 47th minute, but it was to be their last score of the game and three points from Conor McCann (2) and Marty Johnston sealed the win for the Antrim men.

Creggan scorers: Conor Small 1-3; Conor McCann 0-4 (2f); Oran McCann 0-3 (3f); Martin Johnston 0-1.

Ballysaggart scorers: Stephen Bennett 1-1 (all frees); Shane Bennett 0-3 (Kieran Bennett, Darren Meagher, Colin Kearney 0-1 each.

Creggan: Brendan Prenter, Brendan Maguire, Aidan Maguire, Donal Carey, Frank McAuley, Thomas McCann, Martin Johnston, Ruairi McCann, Aidan McKeown, Kevin Rice, Oran McCann , James Carey, Conor Small (1-3), Sam Maguire, Conor McCann. Subs – M Nelson for S Maguire (46); D McCann for McAuley (52)

Ballysaggart: Matthy Meagher, Bobby Ryan, Kieran Fennessy, Daniel Devine, Barry Murphy, Eugene O'Brien, Cailean O'Gorman, Christy Murphy, Kieran Bennett, Shane Bennett, Darren Meagher, Kenneth Cashell, Ronan Walsh, Stephen Bennett, Tom Bennett

Subs – Colin Kearney for Walsh (15); S Hale for T Bennett (h-t)

Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).

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