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Matthew Fitzpatrick inspires St John's to comeback victory

Matthew Fitzpatrick inspired a St John's comeback against Cullyhanna on Saturday 
Tomas McGurk in Creggan

Bank of Ireland Ulster U21 Paddy McLarnon Cup semi-final:
St John’s (Antrim) 3-7 St Patrick’s, Cullyhanna (Armagh) 1-9

ST JOHN'S produced a stunning comeback to deny Cullyhanna in a dramatic Paddy McLarnon Cup semi-final in Creggan on Saturday afternoon. 

The south Armagh men looked to have done enough to book a place in next weekend’s final when they took a three-point lead into the closing minutes of the game. However, in Matthew Fitzpatrick, St John’s have a leader of immense quality. Having plundered a fisted goal in the first-half, Fitzpatrick sliced through the Cullyhanna defence and blasted a shot into the top corner with two minutes of normal time remaining to level the game. 

Not content with extra-time, the Antrim champions took the lead through midfielder Ryan McNulty in injury-time before Fitzpatrick unselfishly set up Jude McCurdy for a third goal to seal a slightly flattering four-point win. 

The comeback was even more remarkable considering St John’s were reduced to 13 men for the final 10 minutes after Ross Hannigan (two yellows) and Padraig Nugent (straight red) were given their marching orders. Cullyhanna also lost Shea Hoey and Phelim Savage to two bookings after 20 and 58 minutes respectively, while St John’s full-back Jack Hannigan was shown a black card 10 minutes from time. 

Winning manager Locky McCurdy insisted the game didn’t merit so many cards and felt referee Gavin Corrigan could have shown more leniency given the slippery underfoot conditions: “We thought that Padraig Nugent had just jumped for the ball and had his foot out,” he said.

“The ref has it down as a kick, but it wasn’t a kick. I think it was very harsh on him to get a straight red. The conditions didn’t help, the lads were slipping into tackles.”

The opening 10 minutes failed to yield a single score, but Cullyhanna’s first meaningful attacks produced a goal as sloppy defending from St John’s allowed Hoey and Jason Duffy to set up Sean Connell, who finished from close range. St John’s hit back with points from Hannigan and Fitzpatrick before the former set up the latter for a goal which put the west Belfast men ahead. 

The loss of Hoey to a second yellow and the concession of a goal spurned St Pat’s into life and they outscored their opponents 0-4 to 0-1 in the last five minutes to lead by two at the break. Duffy and Aidan Nugent were proving a handful for St John’s, while captain Gareth Mackin scored a point on the restart after coming on at half-time. That gave Cullyhanna a three-point cushion, which they maintained for the majority of the second-half. 

Needing a goal, St John’s pressed forward, but their chance appeared to be gone when Hannigan and Nugent were dismissed within a minute late in the half. However, Fitzpatrick’s solo effort drew them level at 2-6 to 1-9. Still reeling from Fitzpatrick’s second goal, the Cullyhanna defence were caught out by McNulty’s run down the near touchline and the midfielder slotted over a left-footed shot to give the Johnnies the lead. 

McCurdy’s late major was the icing on the cake for St John’s, who lost out to Watty Graham’s at the semi-final stage of last year’s competition. They now meet in this year’s decider.

 

MATCH STATS
St John’s:
M McKenna; C Carland, J Hannigan, L Laverty; P Nugent (0-1 free), M Bradley, C Hanna; R McCafferty, R McNulty (0-2); P McKenna, C McEvoy, R Hannigan (0-1); O McKenna, M Fitzpatrick (2-2), F Morgan; Subs: P McCallin (0-1) for Hanna (21), J McCurdy (1-0) for McKenna (45); Black card: J Hannigan (52) replaced by O McKenna.
Cullyhanna: J Carragher; S Irwin, F O’Rourke, C Donnelly; S Connell, P McArdle (0-1), P Brecknell; P Savage, S Conlon; G Mackin, A Nugent (0-6, 0-3 frees), C Nugent; A Conlon, J Duffy (0-1), S Hoey; Subs: G Mackin (0-1) for Brecknell (h-t), C Connelly for C Nugent (50). 
Referee: G Corrigan (Down). 

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