Stewartstown are just the ticket after lottery of penalty hands them Ulster junior title
Ulster Club JFC Stewartstown Harps (Tyrone) 1-12 Drumlane (Cavan) 0-15 (aet) Stewartstown win 5-4 on penalties
IT all came down to the crude lottery of penalties, with drama piled upon drama as the shoot-out went to sudden death, before Stewartstown emerged triumphant to claim the Ulster Club JFC title.
Five minutes into the second half, few would have given the Tyrone side a chance of winning this remarkable Clones decider.
Soon after star attacker Gareth Devlin limped off with a hamstring injury, they had Tiernan Rush red-carded.
Trailing to the Cavan champions at that stage, and playing into the wind, the Harps needed to find inspiration from somewhere, but their 14 men clicked into a higher gear, stepped up the intensity and fought a ferocious battle.
Having trailed for almost an hour, they edged ahead for the first rime late on, and it was Drumlane who needed a late equaliser to force the game into extra-time, and again to take it to a penalty shoot-out.
In the end though, the unbreakable spirit of the Harps shone through as they were crowned provincial junior champions for the second time.
Drumlane’s disciplined tackling and high intensity prevented their opponents from finding any kind of momentum in the opening quarter, and despite playing into the wind, the Cavan men opened up a 0-5 to 0-2 lead.
Kicking off both feet, skipper Ryan Connolly struck unerringly from frees, with Daryl McGurran and Darragh Dolan also chipping in with points.
John O’Dowd and Donal Monahan were in command at the back, and the Tyrone men could only manage a couple of point from Gareth Devlin frees.
Liam Belton’s effective role as sweeper placed an additional obstacle in the way of a Stewartstown side that had become accustomed to dominance and now found frustration and struggle difficult to deal with.
Devlin kept them in touch with his accurate place-kicking, and after Cormac Flynn had finished off a well worked move with another Drumlane point, the gap was narrowed to just two at the break, following Kyran Robinson’s strong run that drew the free from which the corner forward made it 0-7 to 0-5 with his fourth conversion.
The opening five minutes of the second half heaped a double setback on the Red Hand champions.
First key attacker Devlin was forced off by a hamstring injury, with Tiernan Rush taking over the free-kicking duties, but within minutes he too was out of the action, red-carded after picking up a second booking.
Stewartstown faced a crisis, but they met the challenge with remarkable courage and commitment, stepping up the intensity to throw themselves into every challenge against a physically stronger opponent.
Turnovers were forced, 50-50 balls were won, and the Harps swept forward as a unified, fearless force.
Substitute Anton Coyle, a veteran of the club’s 2004 Ulster JFC success, nailed every single opportunity that arose from free kicks as they chipped away at the lead.
With the extra man, Drumlane were able to deploy John O’Dowd as sweeper, while Stewartstown had to place their trust in their defence to survive without that protective element.
As the game wore on, the Tyrone men were driven by frenzy and passion, with the game plan no longer applicable. Stephen Talbot and Cathal Devlin were beginning to edge Dane O’Dowd and Ciaran Crowe at midfield, and Coyle’s third free brought the sides level at 0-9 each at the end of the third quarter.
Connolly added two more to his tally to get Drumlane back in front, but in the latter stages, the Harps found their tune, going in front for the first time as defender Connor Quinn thumped over their only score from play.
There was still time for Connolly to equalise with his ninth score, tying it up at 0-12 each.
Dan Lowe slotted home a penalty in the first period of extra-time to give his side daylight fir the first time, but despite the excellent full back play of Darren Devlin, two Michael Owens scores tied it up again at 0-15 to 1-12.
On to the penalties, and Drumlane missed their first two, one of which was saved by Greg Kelly, but a couple of Stewartstown misses had the sides tied at 3-3, and so it was sudden death.
Coyle and Theo Lowe netted two each from the spot as the sequence was repeated, before Connolly, whose finishing had been impeccable throughout the game, smashed a kick against the crossbar.
Stewartstown: G Kelly; J Park, D Devlin, C Quinn (0-1); K Robinson, M Rooney, T Rush (0-1 free); S Talbot, C Devlin; G O’Neill, D Lowe (1-1, 1-0 pen, 0-1 frees), D McElhatton; T Lowe (0-1 mark), M Quinn, G Devlin (0-4 frees).
Subs: A Coyle (0-4, 4f) for G Devlin, Q O’Neill for Park, N Dillon, C Lowe for Robinson
Drumlane: H Clarke; F Lunney, D Monahan, J Dolan; J O’Dowd, J McCahill, M Maguire; C Crowe, D Dolan (0-1), R Connolly (0-9, 0-8 frees); C Flynn (0-1, f), M Owens (0-2), D McGurren (0-2).
Subs: J Marsden for Lunney, G Tubman for Flynn
Referee: M Dorrian (Donegal).