Eoin Kelly seals Errigal semi spot but controversial free leaves Dromore angry
LCC Group Tyrone Senior Football Championship quarter-final: St Dympna’s, Dromore 0-11 Errigal Ciaran 0-12
EOIN Kelly won’t have struck many sweeter than the last-gasp winning point that sailed between the sticks to push Errigal Ciaran into another semi-final, but the sour taste will take a long time to leave Dromore mouths after yet another dramatic Tyrone championship finale last night.
Kelly’s booming winner edged Errigal noses ahead when it mattered but it was the equalising score that preceded it which caused so much consternation among the Dromore ranks.
Leading by one, 0-11 to 0-10, a minute into the three added, the St Dympna’s were in the box seat to secure a semi-final showdown with Dungannon.
However, those dreams were dashed when referee Kieran Eannetta ruled that Ronan McNabb jr had pulled Cormac Quinn to the ground 20 metres from goal as Errigal sought to save their skins.
It looked a harsh call, and Peter Harte was never going to pass up such an easy opportunity.
When the long whistle went seconds after Kelly’s winner, the Dromore players made their feelings known to the Omagh ref as he made his way from the field. For them, and for boss Colm McCullagh, bowing out that way was tough to take.
“I didn’t get a right view of it myself but from the word back I’m getting it doesn’t look like it was a free. That’s referees,” said the former Tyrone forward.
“These lads will learn from this. It’s a sore one at the minute but they’ll bounce back again... maybe we’ll get the right calls the next day.”
As those scenes unfolded, it felt like a long time since Errigal had shown why they were pre-match favourites by easing into an early lead. Harte slung over twice before laying the ball back for Thomas Canavan as the two lefties left last year’s defeated finalists three to the good 13 minutes in.
When Odhran Robinson converted from an attacking mark to make it 0-4 to 0-1, it looked as though it could be a long evening for Dromore.
However, they dropped more bodies behind the ball and Errigal failed to score again in the first half, growing increasingly frustrated as time and again they ran into a blue wall, with full-back Peter Teague a tower of strength throughout.
Slowly but surely the St Dympna’s ate into that early lead before going into the break two to the good, 0-6 to 0-4.
Niall Sludden was the creative architect of so much of their best play during this period, wreaking havoc any time he picked up possession on the left side of the attack.
Indeed, it was a lovely dummy solo from the Tyrone star that created a goal chance for Eoin McCusker in the 20th minute, the Dromore captain’s shot well saved by Darragh McAnenly at the near post. Sean McNabb converted the resultant 45.
They had missed an earlier goal chance too when Sean McNabb’s effort looked bound for the net just three minutes in, only for Errigal captain Niall Kelly to get a fingertip on the ball and turn it around the post.
They would live to rue those missed opportunities, while Andrew McGrath spilled the ball at just the wrong time with a clear run in on goal 13 minutes into the second half.
By that stage Dromore had just started to regain their composure after another slow start. Without Sludden, who picked up a knock and was replaced at half-time before eventually returning to the fold for the final quarter, they suddenly looked devoid of ideas.
Errigal capitalised with three points on the spin, two from Harte (a free and a mark) and a fisted point from Mark Kavanagh.
A Sean McDonnell free made it 0-7 apiece to restore parity, and the sides swapped the lead back and forth from them until the end, a classy Harte score seven minutes from the end one of the rare moments of real quality.
It looked for all the world like this would be the third Tyrone quarter-final to go to extra-time but that controversial call – and Kelly’s brilliant winning score – ensured it was Errigal who kept their hopes alive for another week.
“The last day against Pomeroy there was a couple of clips we had pulled out where Eoin was taking on shots that weren’t on,” said boss Johnny McBride in the moments after last night’s victory.
“He kicked that big one and I suppose that’s the difference between being a good player and being an ordinary player.”
Yet, despite being delighted to see his men get over the line, McBride was far from happy with Errigal’s performance .
“We weren’t good, we definitely weren’t good... at half-time we got stuck into them and more or less told them you’ve got 35 minutes here, if you don’t change things you’re going out of the championship. That’s the answer we got.”
And the Derry man admitted he had to try and focus minds after it was revealed over the weekend that both Saturday’s Tyrone semi-finals would be broadcast live on RTE.
“Everybody was going on last night about the two games being live on RTE – if you’re not in them you don’t want to hear that.
“Then you’re waiting to the last game on the Sunday evening and you’re just saying to the boys ‘block it all out, it’s nothing to do with us, I mightn’t want to see the two games next Saturday evening’.
“Now, thankfully, we’re involved.”
Dromore: D McGale; C O’Hara, P Teague, C O’Neill; S McDonnell (0-3, frees), R McCusker, N McCarron; N Sludden (0-2), R McNabb sr; R McNabb jr (0-1), S McNabb (0-1), C Goodwin (0-1); A McGrath, E McCusker (0-1), E McNabb (0-2, 0-1 45). Subs: C McCarron for N Sludden (HT), C McCoy for McDonnell (41), N Sludden for Goodwin (45), D McNulty for McGrath (54)
Yellow cards: N Sludden (30+2), E McCusker (51)
Errigal Ciaran: D McAnenly; C Quinn, A McCrory, C Quinn (0-1); A McAnenly, N Kelly, S Tierney; B McDonnell (0-1), E Kelly (0-1); C Corrigan, T Canavan (0-1), P McGirr, P Harte (0-6, 0-2 frees, 0-1 mark); M Kavanagh (0-1), O Robinson (0-1, mark). Subs: P Og McCartan for McGirr (10), C McGinley for S Tierney (36), R McCrory for T Canavan (52), D Canavan for Robinson (56)
Yellow card: E Kelly (22)
Referee: K Eanetta (Omagh)