Clann Eireann see off dogged Ballymacnab to make first Armagh Championship final in over half-a-century
Cormac Leonard Armagh Senior Football Championship semi-final: Clann Eireann 3-11 Ballymacnab 2-12
From Andy Watters at the Athletic Grounds
THE heavens opened at the final whistle but the Clann Eireann players went through their post-match warm-down with broad smiles on their faces.
Fifty-three years since their last appearance in an Armagh senior final, the proactive Lurgan club are back and they will face Crossmaglen in the decider on November 14 having shown the determination and composure needed to complement their pace and skill and get past dogged Ballymacnab yesterday.
The ’Nab played their part in a thriller, battling back from six points down to get their noses in front with three minutes left only to lose out in injury-time. All things considered, this talented Clann Eireann side deserved their victory and the quality shown by Barry McCambridge, Tiernan Kelly and Conor McConville among others augurs well for their prospects in the decider.
“Talk about making life hard for ourselves!” said manager Tommy Coleman afterwards.
“In fairness, Ballymacnab played some terrific football in the second half, they moved the ball and they were running off it well. We found it hard and we dropped off and let their runners come through so we were glad of the last water break to get them steadied up again.
“Thank God we were able to keep it tight and get the scores to get us over the line.”
Losing was tough on a Ballymacnab side that has come so close to winning the Gerry Fegan Cup in recent years. Manager Mick O’Dowd said his side’s positive attitude had actually counted against them after they took the lead in the closing stages.
“They pushed and pushed to try and win the game and probably it was our downfall at the heel of the hunt,” he said.
“But fair play to Clann Eireann, it was a game that could have gone either way and they caught us with two great goals in first half on the counterattack and I wish them all the best. Our lads died with our boots on – they lost the game by trying to win it.”
Ciaran Connolly’s early hit on Tiernan Kelly set the tone for a whistle-to-whistle battle and O’Dowd’s men fell behind when their opponents sliced through them in a brilliant team move. Conor McConville raced down the left and played in the equally pacey Conor Turbitt, who burst past Ryan Kennedy. Kelly joined the attack from midfield and his fisted pass was punched into the net by Danny Magee at the far post.
The Grugan brothers, Jack and Rory, had both registered scores by the time outstanding McCambridge scored Clann Eireann’s second goal. Gambling on Kelly winning the ball in midfield alongside Conor Bell, McCambridge raced forward from full-back. Magee turned provider by sending him through and he gave Conor McGivern no chance with an excellent finish.
The sides managed two points each before the break and Clann Eireann led 2-4 to 0-8 at the interval and Ballymacnab, second best in a lot of the exchanges, would have taken that.
However, with the wind at their backs, the Lurgan men looked a good bet to march on to victory and it appeared they had one boot in the final when Ryan Henderson played in Magee on the right and he found the net again with a well hit shot.
But Ballymacnab replied immediately. Rory Grugan passed to Pauric Gribben who shot past Eoghan Mulholland and then Gribben turned provider with a superb ball for Grugan whose unerring finish left it level - 3-6 to 2-9 – with 20 minutes left.
As Clann Eireann dropped deeper and deeper, patient Ballymacnab hemmed them inside their own 45. Meanwhile, Conor Turbitt looked isolated in attack but he slipped marker Kennedy and sweeper Ruairi Gribben and edged Clann Eireann back in front.
Ballymacnab fought back again. Jack Grugan landed the point of the game from the sideline and then his brother gave the 2018 and ’19 finalists the lead for the first time with just three minutes left.
Kelly equalised but as the board went up to signal four minutes of injury-time, Ballymacnab probed patiently for weaknesses in the Clann Eireann defensive line. All that was required was the right pass to Grugan but they couldn’t work a scoring opportunity as Clann Eireann pushed out and forced them back. The tipping point came when energetic Kelly got away with a borderline tackle on Pauric Gribben and raced into open space in opposition territory.
Cheers rang out from the Lurgan contingent as his shot split the posts. A 45 from ‘Turbo’ sealed the deal and next up is Crossmaglen. To be the best, Clann Eireann will have to beat the best.
Ballymacnab: C McGivern; N Cosgrove, R Kennedy (0-1), D McParland; R Watters (0-1 free), C Connolly, M Beagan; P Meegan (0-1), N McKee; P Gribben (1-0), R Grugan (1-5, 0-4 frees), P Kennedy; R Gribben, J Grugan (0-3), K Hughes (0-1)
Subs: F Nugent for D McParland (38), O McGivern for Hughes (50), C Loughran for Meegan (59)
Yellow card: R Grugan (27),
Clann Eireann: E Mulholland; C O’Carroll, B McCambridge (1-1), D Leathem; S McCarthy, S Heffron, A Kelly; C Bell, T Kelly (0-3); D Magee (2-0), R Henderson, C McConville (0-2); D McCarthy, C Turbitt (0-3, 0-1 free, 0-1 mark, 0-1 45), A McConville
Subs: J Conlon for A McConville (HT), R McDonald for Magee (47), O McCafferty for Bell (52)
Referee: Philip Conway