A freak goal and big hearts see Aghagallon over the line against St Enda's
Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship Group Three: St Mary’s Aghagallon 1-13 St Enda’s, Glengormley 2-8
AGHAGALLON manager Kevin Murray breathed a huge sigh of relief after a nerve-shredding victory over St Enda’s saw them advance to the knock-out stages of this year’s Antrim SFC.
Trailing by four points in the 43rd and 53rd minutes, Aghagallon found the necessary reserves to topple the Glengormley men to set up an intriguing quarter-final tie with St Brigid’s later this month.
A freak goal from Darryl McAlernon with four minutes of normal time remaining propelled Murray’s charges over the finish line in a game played at times in beautiful sunshine and sheeting rain.
When Odhran Eastwood clipped over his third and final free of the day in the 53rd minute, it proved St Enda’s last as their hosts hit 1-3 without reply in the closing stages.
Far from their best, Carl McCabe will still be left wondering how his St Enda’s side lost this make-or-break Group Three tie after fashioning, and then surrendering, two commanding leads in the second period.
Aghgallon, who led 0-6 to 0-3 at the break, conceded two second-half goals in the 40th and 43rd minutes – expertly finished by classy wing-forward Dónall Walsh – and their afternoon appeared to go from bad to worse when free-scoring attacker and county ace Eunan Walsh was forced out of the game due to injury just before the visitors' second goal.
But in the face of adversity, Aghagallon found a way to win.
“It was tight right to the wire,” said Murray.
“Everybody knew that with Lamh Dhearg, ourselves and St Enda’s in the group but the boys dug deep there in the last few minutes and I’m proud of them.
“They were two soft goals and we were well down at that stage, St Enda’s kept the ball pretty well, then we got a couple of turnovers and we were probing and probing, we got a bit of momentum and a few boys stepped up there to get a few scores.”
With the home side struggling to find a way past the visiting defence, Darryl McAlernon dropped a ‘Hail Mary’ ball on top of the St Enda’s square in the 56th minute and with Ruairi McCann making a nuisance of himself and dangerously close to the square, the ball was allowed to bounce and finished in the roof of the net.
St Enda's cause probably wasn’t helped with regular ‘keeper Paddy Flood unavailable for yesterday’s win-or-bust encounter.
Outfield player Ruairi Scott deputised in goal and was clearly distracted by McCann beside him.
If Aghagallon’s concession of two goals were soft, St Enda’s was an absolute giveaway.
McAlernon’s speculative major brought Aghagallon to within a point of St Enda’s [2-8 to 1-10] and momentum suddenly swung in their favour.
Gareth Magee levelled with a placed ball as the game tripped into stoppage-time and the lively Adam Loughran turned the heat up on St Enda’s, putting Aghagallon ahead before Magee slotted over his sixth of the day with the final kick of the afternoon.
St Enda’s struggled for rhythm in the opening half.
Any decent passages of play inevitably came through the ever resourceful Odhran Eastwood in the St Enda’s attack while at the other end they struggled to contain Eunan Walsh’s impressive dashes, the county ace hitting two smashing first-half points.
However, within eight minutes of the restart, St Enda’s had clawed back the three-point deficit thanks to a hat-trick of placed ball conversions - a Ruairi Scott ’45, an Odhran Eastwood free and a well taken ‘mark’ from Fionn Nagle.
And the Glengormley men looked to have the winning of this game when Dónall Walsh found oceans of space in opposition territory; he exchanged passes with Odhran Eastwood before planting the ball in the bottom corner of Aghagallon’s net.
Three minutes later, Aghagallon’s defence was cut open again when Fionn Nagle off-loaded to Dónall Walsh who grabbed his second goal of the day.
St Enda's should have been able to close the game out but couldn't. A freakish goal and a late Magee-Loughran show saw Aghgallon through.
Asked if there's a championship in this Aghagallon side, Murray said: “I suppose three years with the group and coming out of intermediate and maintaining their position in Division One was probably the first priority and getting more championship games.
"Every campaign you’re trying to learn and bring new players through. You’re trying to bring them up to senior championship level where they haven’t really been before. But those games will stand to them, tight games like that. There’s a big way to go though.”
Aghagallon: L Mulholland; P Brannigan, D Donnelly, A Mulholland; Darryl McAlernon (1-0), R O’Neill, P Magennis (0-1); D McAlernon, J Lenehan; E Walsh (0-3), A Loughran (0-2), M McAfee; G Magee (0-7, 0-6 frees), R McCann, C McAlinden Subs: O Lenehan for C McAlinden (35), S Donnelly for E Walsh (43)
St Enda’s, Glengormley: R Scott (0-1 ’45); F Eastwood, M McNamee; C Maxwell; C Thompson, J McAuley, C McAuley; E Nagle, N McKeown; P Healy (0-2), K Healy (0-1), D Walsh (2-0); O Eastwood (0-3 frees), M Morgan, F Nagle (0-1 mark) Subs: J Maskey for K Healy (63), C Lyttle for E Nagle (63)
Yellow card: E Nagle (41)
Referee: D McKeown