Saints strong in second-half to set up Intermediate showdown

Shane McConville (centre) full of smiles at the final whistle following St Paul's semi-final success.INLM40-131
Shane McConville (centre) full of smiles at the final whistle following St Paul's semi-final success.INLM40-131

St Paul’s set a date with Grange to settle this season’s Intermediate Championship courtesy of a brilliant second-half fightback against Forkhill.

The October 12 showdown was secured despite the Saints entering half-time down by six at the Athletic Grounds.

However, that 0-8 to 0-2 reverse switched to finish in St Paul’s favour by 1-11 to 0-10.

A recently-confirmed Second Division championship - following a title-winning defeat of Wolfe Tones - helped preparations for the Intermediate semi-final.

A tactical switch by McConville left Andrew Murnin at full forward rather than in his traditional midfield role, with his second-half display crucial to the comeback.

Despite their second-half endeavours, St Paul’s must have harboured doubts about reaching the final when Niall McPartland blasted wide from the penalty spot six minutes after the break.

From adversity, however, St Paul’s managed to rally and produced a blistering last quarter for the final five points from Mickey Shanks, McPartland, Murnin’s double and Charlie Harte.

Two incidents above all others shaped last Sunday’s semi-final encounter.

As they managed against Clan na Gael in their quarter-final win, Forkhill attempted to strike for an early goal but when Jamar Hall raced through with just 10 seconds on the clock his low effort was brilliantly tipped around the post by the alert and acrobatic Ciaran Toman.

Secondly - and no less crucial - was the sublime tackle produced by former St Paul’s skipper Ciaran Nash around 10 minutes into the second half which thwarted a dangerous Forkhill attack and resulted in Ryan Lawless knocking over a crucial equalising point seconds later.

In the opening half, St Paul’s looked to be in trouble - they lost wing back Peadar Nash with just 20 minutes gone when the player received a black card - and struggled to make any impression on the scoresheet, registering only twice with points from a Shanks free and open play by Darren Fox.

Scores from the influential Steven Sheridan, Hall and a Darren King double tested the Lurgan side’s resolve, who had only two points to their credit on the short whistle.

The belief the St Paul’s players have in the management team of McConville, Gerry Headley and Finty McConville was evident during the highly-convincing second-half performance.

The Lurgan men were rejuvenated after the break, needing just 10 to pull level and holding Forkhill scoreless for all of 22 minutes.

St Paul’s hit scores from Daniel McDonald, Murnin, Fox, Chris Lavery and Lawless. Galvanised by that brilliant Nash tackle, it was level from a set-piece after McDonald had been hauled down.

Screaming efforts narrowly wide, Murnin and Charlie Harte kept the pressure on the South Armagh men, who were forced to live on crumbs.

St Paul’s got a break when McPartland’s long delivery grazed the fingertips of newly-introduced Ryan Gilmore to flash past the Forkhill goalkeeper five minutes from the end.

Hall, in a pressure-cooker finish, shot over for the losing side to put just a goal in it - but Harte protected the Lurgan side’s final appearance with an injury-time score to bring the winning margin to four.

With Murnin causing widespread panic in the Forkhill defence, St Paul’s proved a lot tighter in defence.

Ryan McCaughley’s marking of Hall was commendable, Dara Toal proved outstanding and the endeavour of Phelim O’Neill helped push St Paul’s home.

The sublime Murnin played a central role and Toman’s brilliant early save, in retrospect, set a crucial standard for the win.

“Fitness proved crucial in the end,” said Nash, the former St Paul’s captain.

“We have been training very hard and when you are on that pitch four nights a week you expect to be strong at the end of games.

“Another big performance will be required in the final.”