Portglenone come strong to avoid another scar from their neighbours
Antrim SFC: Ahoghill 0-12 Portglenone 0-15
HAVING been beaten in Ahoghill in the last two championship campaigns, Portglenone dug in to avoid the psychological scarring another loss would have left.
The Roger Casement's have been knocking lightly at the door in recent seasons but any sense of superiority over their nearest and dearest rivals was once more firmly tested.
John McKeever's side led by 0-8 to 0-4 at half-time, a gap that was marginally kinder to the hosts, who took a while to get motoring.
An early barrage of wides, four in the first 15 minutes, stopped Portglenone from capitalising on their early dominance, which was built on being sharper around the breaks on Noel Crossey's booming kickouts.
The visitors looked lively in attack, with Conall Delargy, Oisin Doherty and Aidan McAleese all having good moments, although it was Michael Hagan who pieced his 60 minutes together best of all, finishing with four points from play.
Portglenone's was a running game, with well-timed and punchy arrivals on to the ball helping pick apart Ahoghill, who had Fionnbhar O'Neill dropping back as their combative sweeper.
They'd been forced into a defensive reshuffle with the loss of Francis Neeson to a hurling injury from last week. It took them 20 minutes to settle into it.
Up until then, James O'Connell kept them in the game. Their plan was just to get the ball to him. It was predictable but bloody effective.
The quality of his movement and the kick-passing, as well as Portglenone's decision to push up rather than keep a spare man in front of him, allowed Ahoghill to stay in touch.
If O'Connell's handling hadn't let him down a few times on the greasy turf in the first period, there were more scores there for him.
As it was, he got two while Ronan Graham and Eamonn Brady got their others, but Portglenone had been sharper and more fluid and deserved to be four up at the break.
It might have been killed before it got started when Michael Hagan came off the shoulder and crashed a shot off Crossey's crossbar four minutes after the restart.
By the end, the winners were glad to get out.
They had started to kick more ball and a lot of it was breaking down, releasing the endorphins of turnovers into the Ahoghill bloodstream.
Ahoghill kicked five of the third quarter's six scores to draw level at 0-9 apiece.
They were also getting more joy off their own kickouts which started to bypass midfield altogether and create havoc in behind.
Ronan Graham put over a half-chance before Dan O'Neill cut in along the endline to do the same off his left foot, levelling the game.
Portglenone came straight down and Hagan put them back in front before James O'Connell rounded Ronan Delargy and was fouled. Ronan Graham's penalty was hit at a nice height, parried by Ryan O'Neill and falling back on Graham's weaker left foot, with which he could only swipe the bobbling rebound over the bar.
That was the big chance but with six minutes to play, James O'Connell kicked Ahoghill in front for the first time and it seemed they were going to repeat the trick again.
But just as they had against St Brigid's, faced with the threat of defeat, Portglenone kicked on and hit the next four scores.
The introduction of Paddy Kelly saw him land two brilliant monster frees, while Ciarán McKenna also contributed a point from the bench.
Ahoghill loaded the square with bodies for the seven minutes of stoppage time and managed to create a couple of half chances, but corner-back James Magee flashed the best one wide while Conor Crossey also had one blocked.
Portglenone got their own last-gasp penalty on the break but Paddy Kelly pushed it high and wide.
“The most pleasing thing was our fellas showed a lot of character after the penalty, they came back and scored three or four points on the bounce, which settled us a bit,” said Portglenone boss John McKeever.
“It's happened the last two years, we've come up to Ahoghill and got beat by a point, so it was important to get a win today.
“We'd rather not be in those positions but the most important thing is that we grinded it out.”
Ahoghill joint-manager Danny O'Neill, who takes them along with Gareth Neeson, feels his side is overdue a bit more respect.
“We've a good team. I don't understand how, every year, every team in the county expect Ahoghill to go down. We're in this league ten years and if there's anything I want as manager of this team, I want people to have a bit of respect for us instead of telling we're favourites to go down every year.
“We're here on merit and we could chin anybody here, not just Portglenone.
“Where did we lose the game at? Well it wasn't on effort, it wasn't on commitment, it wasn't on pride in the jersey.”
Ahoghill: N Crossey (0-1 45'); J Magee, M Graham, B Graham; F O'Neill; E Graham, T McGlone, E Brady (0-1); N O'Connell, P Graham (0-1); M O'Connell, R Graham (0-3), D O'Neill (0-1); J O'Connell (0-4, 0-1 free), PJ O'Connell (0-1)
Subs: C Crossey for M O'Connell (41), D Graham for F O'Neill (54)
Black card: M Graham (63)
Portglenone: R O'Neill; S Delargy, J Convery, R Delargy; C Tierney, D McAleese (0-1), R Convery; N McKeever, N Delargy; R Hagan, M Hagan (0-4), A McAleese (0-1); C Delargy (0-2, 0-1 free), O Doherty (0-2), R Kelly (0-2)
Subs: P Kelly (0-2 frees) for C Delargy (43), C McKenna (0-1) for R Kelly (48), P Carey for O Doherty (60), C McGhee for R Convery (62), S Kelly for R Hagan (65)
Yellow cards: D McAleese (30), N McKeever (37)
Referee: E McAuley (Cargin)