CLAN NA GAEL 1-12
ST PATRICK’S CULLYHANNA 2-16
(After extra time)
WITH the sides locked all square at the end of normal time, it was St. Pat’s Cullyhanna who finished the stronger in extra time against Clan na Gael in last Sunday’s Under-21 All County semi-final played at Ballycrummy.
This meeting between north and south Armagh was a fast and furious affair in which both sides went at it tooth and nail and, although the young Blues outfit looked well in control in the opening period, they had to thank the effective Paul McKenna for an equalising point which arrived three minutes into stoppage time to force a tiring extra ten minutes each way.
The Clans had dominated Crossmaglen in their quarter-final win but were forced to hang on by a point at the end to set up last Sunday’s tie, which was highly entertaining and kept the crowd on its toes before the Dorsey men pulled clear with a Raymond O’Neill goal and the final three points of the game.
Incidentally, the sides were locked at the end of the first period of extra time. Patrick Stewart had rose highest to punch to the ball to the St. Pat’s net on 39 minutes having been alert to a McKenna effort which had come back off the post and jinking run from the live wire Caolan Campbell prised open the south Armagh defence.
Stephan Campbell and John Stewart, who is injured, both played no part. Campbell would also have missed the final considering that he is currently suspended but there is a feeling that had he been available the game would have been over by half -time.
This particular scenario looked possible, however, when the young Blues side, following a dodgy start, took complete control to lead 0-5 to a single point and Cullyhanna were looking short of ideas to break down the Lurgan defence which contained the sweeping duties of Kieran McKendrie.
Mel Patterson was a revelation at corner back alongside the tenacious Glen France and, although strong cases could be given over the performances of Paul McKenna and Caolan Campbell, and the roving Kieran McKendrie, it was the class, pace and precision of young David McCaughley, wearing number 7, which rose above the rest. With some young players peaking too soon in modern saturation football, McCaughley’s evolution could see a sustained rise and a bright future.
With Kieran Conway and Paul McKenna sharing the bulk of the scores for the Clans in the opening half, and Cullyhanna looking impatient as they searched for an opening, had the Lurgan side taken their close in chances before the break, more than a four point lead could have greeted the short whistle.
A major turning point arrived eight minutes into the second half when Conor Nugent pointed for St. Pat’s but in a bizarre twist, referee Jimmy McKee awarded a free to the winners who had protested that an injured Blues player was taking too long to reach the sideline. The Clans, who were on the attack, were turned on their heels and seconds later Cullyhanna had hit their first goal.
With renewed vigour thereafter, the winners galvanised by their fortune and went three in front. Two Paul McKenna points and a superb effort from David McCaughley put the Clans on level terms but the south Armagh men, through Nugent again, got their noses in front. Three minutes into injury time, McKenna raised the biggest cheer of the day amongst the sizable crowd with the equaliser which tested the nerves and the post before raising a white flag.
In extra time, both sides cautiously attempted to reach the finishing line. Injuries to both Aaron Toland and Paddy Lennon gave the blues further headaches and, following a brief period of domination from the winners which resulted in a hat-trick of points, Patrick Stewart squared the game with an opportunist goal with another gruelling 10 minutes pending.
The wheels, however, came off the Clan na Gael challenge in the last period of extra time. A solitary point from McKenna was the total and the south Armagh boys went on to hit 1-5 before the end.
With a little bit of luck at the right time, the Clans looked good enough to have contested this season’s under-21 final.
The odd error here and there, and the scenario of a couple of high profile absentees certainly did not help their case, but both sides did serve up a spectacle on a pitch which had an unusually high bounce and, as big as they come, extra time can be tough at Ballycrummy.