An exciting draw in semi

Paul Carville of Tir na nOg gets away from St Paul's Darragh McCluskey. INLM39-212
Paul Carville of Tir na nOg gets away from St Paul's Darragh McCluskey. INLM39-212
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North Armagh sides, St Paul’s and Tir na nOg, will have to do battle again this Sunday.

They drew their semi-final last Friday night as they bid to reach the Intermediate Championship final against Madden.

The Portadown men were the more relieved team at the end of the 60 hectic minutes. They were pinned to their collars by a buoyant Taghnevan outfit who failed to push the victory button in the dying minutes when three clear cut chances went astray.

Tir na nOg entered the semi on the back of an 18 game unbeaten run. They looked more professional in their pre-match routine and had a huge squad at their disposal, yet they found themselves hanging on by their fingertips when Andrew Murnin shot the equalising score on the stroke of full-time to give the Lurgan outfit another crack at the division two champions this weekend

Whatever about the quality of the county’s senior championship, it has been this season’s Intermediate series which has supplied most of the entertainment, Last Friday’s semi certainly didn’t disappoint, the teams were level on seven occasions with neither side able to gain an advantage of more than two points over the 60 minutes,

Although neither Ciaran Toman for St Paul’s and his goalkeeping counterpart Andrew Neeson were not forced to make a match winning save, events above the crossbar were a lot more interesting,

Crossmaglen referee Paudie Hughes should be commended for his contribution to what was an excellent game and for his assertiveness when he overruled both umpires seconds before the break to award St Paul’s a point despatched by Phelim O’Neill which proved to be a crucial decision given the nature of game.

O’Neill was, in a word, sublime. He hit three points on the night, was brilliant at midfield, and was a tower of strength under his own crossbar when the Lurgan men were in need of inspiration in the dying minutes, The industry of Ogs man Brian Mallon was un-matched however. The Armagh player covered every blade of grass, was strong in the tackle, and provided various assists to his team mates.

In the opening quarter as the fans in the crowd of 1023 attempted to come to terms with several positional switches and number changes, both teams jockeyed for early dominance. St Paul’s placed Andrew Murnin at full forward and Portadown brought their number 14 Mark Davidson back behind the midfield sector which left his marker Daragh Toal in a sweeper’s role,

In the early stages it was Tir an nOg who looked the more likely winners. They lead 0-4 to 0-2 after 14 minutes with points from Brian Mallon, Conor McCormack and Paul Carvill (0-2). Carville’s second effort came on the end of as threaded ball from Mallon and the finish complemented the delivery.

With St Paul’s keeping in touch with early scores from Phelim O’Neill, the Lurgan men found their feet in the second quarter when they shot four points in a row from Ryan Lawless (0-2), Darren Fox and the outstanding Niall McPartland.

Shay Skelton who was introduced midway through the first period made a marked improvement to the Ogs attack, who were being orchestrated from deep by Barry McDonald and his brother Damien who was one of the most outstanding players on view.

Two Brian Mallon points, an effort from Conor McCormack and Phelim O’Neill’s disputed effort which took firm judgement from the match official sent the sides in at the break all square on seven points each.

In the second half as the tempo increased both sides looked apprehensive. A sense of nervousness filtered through the crowd as young Jamie McAleanan who had been off target earlier showed composure to open Tir na nOg’s account on 33 minutes.

When Paul Carville stepped up to crash over a free from 60 yards out to put his side two in front the Ballyoran men looked to be taking the initiative.

Ryan Lawless and Johnny McGurgan swapped points and two game changing scores from Reese Marshall and Charlie Harte, who popped up on the overlap, brought the sides level with ten palpitating minutes left on the clock.

With both teams attempting to defend yet ironically push for victory Brian Mallon settled the Portadown side’s nerves with a converted free nine minutes from time, It was St Paul’s however who finished the stronger. Reese Marshall and Chris Lavery both failed to hit the target, and it was left to Andy Murnin to strike the equaliser a minute into injury time.

Darragh Toal , Ryan McCaughley and Ciaran Nash were outstanding in the Lurgan side’s defence with Mallon, Barry and Damien McDonald, Paul Carville and Shay Skelton the pick of the Ogs side.

The replay will be interesting to say the least. Which side will recover the best and re-focus? Another 60 action packed minutes are pending.