St Gall's taste more title joy
St Gall's clung on to their Antrim SFC title at Casement Park but they had to work hard before carving out a deserved three-point victory over the plucky young pretenders from Lamh Dhearg.
Many students of the game predicted the holders would get things mostly their own way against a Hannahstown side that had five teenagers in the ranks and another half-dozen among the substitutes. It didn't work out that way as the losers were right in the game until the end.
Still, victory rests where it belongs because St Gall's were worthy winners and had they accepted two golden goal chances in the first half the result would, most likely, have been out of question much earlier.
St Gall's dominated the first quarter while Lamh Dhearg's cause was not helped by full-back Kevin Murray having to hobble off with a groin injury after only eight minutes. With switches having to be made in defence that unsettled the rearguard for a time.
The winners led by 0-6 to 0-1 after 18 minutes but points by Stephen Tully and Ryan Murray got the challengers back into the game, helped by St Gall's misses in front of goals. Paddy Cunningham also rifled over three points from free-kicks, to leave St Gall's ahead by only 0-9 to 0-7 at the break.
Cunningham left the minimum between the sides nine minutes after the restart to put pressure on the holders but the experience and belief the St Gall's men had in their ranks was a major plus.
Points by the McGourty brothers, Kieran and CJ, who scored within seconds of entering the game, put St Gall's back in the driving seat and their defence confined the opposition to scores from free-kicks only.
Three points from Kevin Niblock, between the 49th and 52nd minutes, were the scores that really mattered with Cunningham's eighth point from a free, in the 53rd minute, being the last flag raised, leaving the holders 0-14 to 0-11 winners and lifting the trophy for the 10th time in 11 years.
"The lads put in a big effort to win this title and I'm delighted with the victory. I'm also delighted that we got a number of youngsters into the game - that keeps the momentum going in the club," enthused winning manager Lenny Harbinson.
He wasn't so pleased, however, with the free count.
"If you look at how many scoreable frees they got and how many we got, there is a blatantly obvious imbalance. That's the only thing that disappointed me about the game.
"I'm sure that neutrals watching would say that a lot of the football was played by St Gall's with a lot of passages of high quality football.
"However, we didn't make their 'keeper work hard enough and had we taken those chances in the first half, I think that the game might have taken a different dynamic. When it stays tight it is hard to break away and they were in the game right to the very end," reflected Harbinson.
Lamh Dhearg joint manager Frank Fitzsimons was disappointed but still looks on the season as a plus. "Our main aim was to consolidate our league position and we stayed in Division One and reached the county championship final. We trained hard for the past nine months and we have to look on this as a successful season. St Gall's were the more experienced outfit and deserved to win."
ST GALL'S: Ronan Gallagher; D Harbinson, C Brady, A Healy, S Kelly (0-1), A McClean, D Cummings, A Gallagher (0-1), S Burke; T O'Neill, Rory Gallagher (0-1), Kieran McGourty (0-1), K Stewart (0-1), K Niblock (0-4), M Pollock (0-3). Subs: CJ McGourty (0-2) for O'Neill (29), M Kelly for Healy (45), B Bradley for Rory Gallagher (54), P Veronica for McClean (58), D O'Hare for Pollock (61).
LAMH DHEARG: J Finucane; C Nolan, C Murray, C Kelly, M Hynds, M Herron, B McCrudden, B Herron, C Murray, G Slane (0-1), D Lynch, B McCombe, P Cunningham (0-8, 8f), S Tully (0-1), R Murray (0-1). Subs: D Stranney for K Murray (8), K Quinn for McCrudden (43), C Tumelty for Stranney (54).
Referee: E Trainor (Belfast).