Football

Lamh Dhearg have their mojo back after seeing off rivals Portglenone

The Lamh Dhearg players gather after banking two group wins on the bounce Picture Philip Walsh.
The Lamh Dhearg players gather after banking two group wins on the bounce Picture Philip Walsh. The Lamh Dhearg players gather after banking two group wins on the bounce Picture Philip Walsh.

Northern Switchgear: Group Two: Roger Casement’s, Portglenone 0-14 Lamh Dhearg 2-13

NO fatal blows could be landed midway through the group stages of the Antrim senior football championship - but Lamh Dhearg scored a significant morale-booster by seeing off rivals Portglenone in Toome on Sunday.

At the end of a feisty encounter, the game ended 15 scores to 14 – but Declan Bunting’s men were good value for the points and now take an important step closer to the knock-out stages.

Goals usually swing games, with Declan Dunne and Pearse Fitzsimons grabbing a major apiece for Lamh Dhearg – one in each half.

Desperately unlucky not to reach last season’s decider after being undone by a late, late Aghagallon goal at Dunsilly, the Casement’s are on a mission to try and win their first-ever senior championship having already annexed the Division One league title.

But the hand that boss John McKeever has been dealt this year hasn't been kind.

The absences of Dermot McAleese and Niall Delargy – both injured - can't be understated and blow two major holes in Portglenone’s resources while Ryan Convery, who had an inspired 2022 campaign, is out for the season.

Their attacking thrusts and general craft they bring to the table is irreplaceable.

And yet, Portglenone were in a great position yesterday, leading 0-7 to 0-6, before Dunne’s 27th minute goal, and two minutes later they were reduced to 14 men when Aidan McAleese received a straight red card.

It was in those crucial few minutes the game began slipping from Portglenone’s grasp.

Up until that point, their shooting was of the highest order. Michael Hagan and Francis Cassidy found their range from 45 metres or more and Paddy Kelly was surefooted as ever from placed balls.

Of course, Portglenone had problems at the other end of the field. For the opening half, county ace and renowned line-breaker Marc Jordan was unmarkable.

Declan Lynch, playing in midfield, and Conor Murray were also very lively and both found their range to keep in touch with Portglenone.

Jordan escaped the attentions of Conor McGee down Portgleone’s left side and fist-passed across the square where Dunne hammered the ball home from close range, which helped Lamh Dhearg carry a two-point advantage in at the break (1-7 to 0-8).

The Hannahstown Road men made their numerical advantage count with goalkeeper John Finucane finding any number of targets from his short kick-outs.

A second goal was threatening before it actually arrived in the 43rd minute for Lamh Dhearg.

Substitute Paddy Cunningham and flying wing-back Owen McKeown cut the Portglenone defence open and Dunne turned provider for Fitzsimons who rippled the net and put the 2017 county champions 2-9 to 0-9 ahead on 43 minutes.

If Jordan had a storming first half, Paddy Kelly had something similar for Portglenone in the second period and hit three points in a row to narrow Lamh Dhearg’s deficit to three.

Oisin Doherty escaped Lamh Dhearg shackles to nab points in the 54th and 59th minutes but in between times Paddy Cunningham was popping over three close-range frees to dampen the prospects of a Portglenone revival.

While the Casement's had to battle on with a man less for 33 minutes plus stoppage-time, Lamh Dhearg had just over 10 minutes to negotiate with 14 men following corner-back Michael Hynes receiving a red.

Referee Conall Roberts was decisive on both red card decisions, gesturing that McAleese and Hynes were cited for striking an opponent.

Given the last couple of bruising championship contests between these two sides, there was always extra bite in the challenges and it threatened to boil over a couple of times.

Despite yesterday's morale-sapping loss, however, Portglenone will still be fancied to progress to the knock-out stages - but will be hoping that McAleese and Delargy can get themselves back on the field again to give McKeever's men a chance of fulfilling their championship potential.

As for Lamh Dhearg, they've always felt that more championships should have been banked after 2017, but they never came.

They have sufficient quality in the right areas of the field and a bit of experience in reserve to get closer than they have done in recent seasons.

Sunday's victory will have only encouraged that notion.

Roger Casement’s Portglenone: R O’Neill; R Delargy, S Delargy, J Convery; C Tierney, F Cassidy (0-1), C McGee (0-1); S Kelly, N McKeever; P Kelly (0-9, 0-6 frees, 0-2 ’45), M Hagan (0-1), C McKenna; O Doherty (0-2), A McAleese, O McGarry Subs: K O’Kane for J Convery (45), C Delargy for C McKenna (47), C McAleese for O McGarry (54), R Kelly for C Tierney (66), D McNicholl for M Hagan (60)

Yellow cards: S Delargy (19), O Doherty (23), N McKeever (55)

Red card: A McAleese (29)

Lamh Dhearg: J Finucane; M Hynes, P Mervyn, M McGarry; O McKeown, D Lynch (0-1), B Rice (0-2); M Jordan (0-2), P Fitzsimons (1-0); D Smyth, S McManus (0-1), E Matassa; T McCrudden, D Dunne (1-1), C Murray (0-3, 0-1 free) Subs: P Cunningham (0-3 frees) for E Matassa (36), Ross Murray for B Rice (55), J Quinn for S McManus (57), C Maxwell for P Fitzsimons (60+3)

Yellow card: B Rice (39)

Red card: M Hynes (50)

Referee: C Roberts

Portglenone boss John McKeever talks to his players after Sunday's five-point group stages loss to Lamh Dhearg Picture: Philip Walsh.
Portglenone boss John McKeever talks to his players after Sunday's five-point group stages loss to Lamh Dhearg Picture: Philip Walsh. Portglenone boss John McKeever talks to his players after Sunday's five-point group stages loss to Lamh Dhearg Picture: Philip Walsh.