Lamh Dhearg made to sweat but top the group against gutsy St Enda's

Odhran Eastwood (left) of St Enda's and Marc Jordan battle for possession Picture: Seamus Loughran
Odhran Eastwood (left) of St Enda's and Marc Jordan battle for possession Picture: Seamus Loughran Odhran Eastwood (left) of St Enda's and Marc Jordan battle for possession Picture: Seamus Loughran

Northern Switchgear Antrim Senior Football Championship Group Two: Lamh Dhearg 0-10 St Enda’s Glengormley 0-10

FOR a nerve-shredding 10 minutes or more of the second half, Lamh Dhearg’s championship hopes hung by a thread.

Nobody quite anticipated the sheer gutsiness and shooting accuracy of St Enda’s in the second period up in Hannahstown on Saturday evening that saw the Hightown Road men overturn a two-point half-time deficit and go three clear after 47 minutes.

With little between Portglenone and Ahoghill for a long time, scoring difference in Group Two looked like tipping the balance, with St Enda’s putting themselves back in the frame.

Lamh Dhearg boss Deaglan Bunting was fit to be tied midway through the second half as Odhran Eastwood and James McAuley threatened to dump his side out of a championship they have designs on possibly winning.

Trailing 0-9 to 0-6, Lamh Dhearg showed tremendous composure to draw level with four minutes remaining through a Paddy Cunningham free and actually edged in front before St Enda's grabbed a last-minute equaliser.

Before the final whistle sounded, Lamh Dhearg’s stress levels had eased somewhat with Portglenone pulling away and making scoring difference less of an issue in the group and, in the process, doing irreparable harm to St Enda's prospects.

As it turned out, a draw was more than enough for the Red Hands to top the group and book their quarter-final berth.

Bunting, though, had no idea of how the scoring was going between between Portglenone – who also go through to the knock-out stages – and Ahoghill.

“The other game was irrelevant because I was that annoyed and disappointed with our performance,” Bunting said afterwards.

“Listen, we were very good the last day out [beating Portglenone], but the question is can we be consistent day in, day out?

“I’m not going to criticise the players because they’ve given us everything over the last five or six months. We’ve gone heavy this week and were maybe thinking ahead too much – and I’ll take that on the chin,” he said.

“We knew we weren’t good enough today but when you strip it all back, we topped the group and we fought back in the last 10 minutes.

“It was horrible conditions but credit to St Enda’s – they have a very good manager [Carl McCabe] and a very good team and I don’t think the league was a fair reflection on them.”

Regarded as one of the nearest challengers to defending champions Cargin this season, Lamh Dhearg were doing just enough in the opening half hour on Saturday.

Despite Fionn Nagle and Eastwood putting the visitors two up, their hosts started to dominate around the middle of the field and relied on Cunningham and Conor Murray to put a few scores on the board.

Leading 0-5 to 0-3 at the break, St Enda’s found some attacking rhythm in the second half with Eastwood, Donal Walsh and Michael Morgan hitting points without reply.

With Ahoghill staying close to Portglenone, a narrow win might have been enough for St Enda’s - who were without county ace Peter Healy and Philly Curran - to gatecrash the knock-out stages at Lamh Dhearg’s expense.

Bunting made three substitutions between the 46th and 50th minutes to try and spur his side into action. Marc Jordan’s direct running from midfield yielded a couple of frees which Cunningham converted while Jordan himself narrowed the deficit to a point in the 54th minute [0-9 to 0-8].

Still Eastwood and Walsh were causing plenty of stress among Lamh Dhearg’s defence, while McAuley’s raids from deep were also hurting them.

But Lamh Dhearg are a seasoned outfit. Even though some of their play was untidy in the second half, they had the muscle memory to steady themselves and worked the ball into enough scoring positions to grab a deserved draw.

“We don’t get too high or too low,” added Bunting. “And, to be fair to the boys, they hurl as well and it’s sometimes hard to come from what seemed like a knock-out game against Portglenone to this game. We know we’ve a lot to improve on ahead of our quarter-final.”

St Enda's bow out of this year's championship at the group stages, comforted by a spirited second half display on Saturday, while Lamh Dhearg have room for improvement ahead of the knock-out stages.

Not a bad head space for Bunting's side to be in as the championship nears the business end.

Lamh Dhearg: J Finucane; R Murray, P Mervyn, M McGarry; E McKeown, D Lynch, B Rice; M Jordan (0-1), P Fitzsimons; D Smith, S MacManus, E Matassa; P Cunningham (0-7, 0-6 frees), D Dunne, C Murray (0-2) Subs: A McAufield for E Matassa (44) A Murray for D Dunne (46), D Mervyn for B Rice (50)

St Enda’s, Glengormley: T Gilmour; C McKeown, D McNulty, K Jennings; C Lyttle, J McAuley (0-2, 0-1 free), R O’Neill; M Morgan (0-1), F Nagle (0-1); R Carr, D Walsh (0-1), C Morgan; E O’Hare, S O’Connor, O Eastwood (0-5, 0-2 frees)

Yellow cards: D McNulty (26), R Carr (51), R O’Neill (59)

Referee: R Matthews