Battling Saints lose in injury time

St. Paul’s 1-11 Shane O’Neill’s 2-9

LURGAN club St. Paul’s were caught on the line by south Armagh outfit Shane O’Neill’s in last Friday night’s second division play-off final played at Clann Éireann park.

The second tier decider was one of the best games of the season with both sides serving up some excellent football with, ironically, the Tagnevan men being headed for the first time in the game deep into injury time.

The Camlough men left the north Lurgan venue a happier bunch than they arrived. Some of their supporters, players and indeed officials stressed that they were unhappy at the choice of the venue but, at the final whistle, only joy prevailed as the winners celebrated what had looked to be an unlikely victory after St. Paul’s dominated to go in at the break 1-5 to 0-3 ahead.

Last weekend’s opponents have taken similar paths over the past number of seasons, rising from Division Three football to now be included in the top flight along with St. Peter’s who also were promoted from Division Two qualifying in third place just one point behind St. Paul’s. The Taghnevan men looked good value for a win last Friday evening, particularly when they showed great character following a hectic opening to the second half when Shanes pulled the deficit back to two points.

Three brilliant strikes, however, from Daniel McDonald and a brace from Mickey Shanks who was familiar with the surroundings put the Lurgan men in a match-winning situation; four in front. Entering the final quarter, however, the Shanes hit two crucial goals in the second half which provided the catalyst to their success.

It took the Camlough outfit an eternity to settle, they looked nervous and over-hyped as St Paul’s chased down every ball and played with a composed formation which they held for most of the game. The Lurgan side were without the injured Andrew Murnan who would no doubt have made a huge contribution to the league decider. They had several players though who stood out on the night; Owen Murphy at centre full back behind an impressive half-back line of Ruairi Crilly, Kieran Nash and Daire Toman who has evolved into a decent player. Up front, the St. Paul’s attack was well supplemented by the work rate of centre men Charlie Harte and Felim O’Neill.

A hard working front six of Mickey Shanks, Daniel McDonald and Ryan McCaughley were outstanding with Ryan Lawless making no mistake from the spot midway through the first half at which point St Paul’s looked well capable of lifting the second division title.

McDonald and Shanks were the main scorers for the Saints in the opening period as the south Armagh men struggled to hit their rhythm and indeed the target; their scorer-in-chief Peter O’Brian though, who lined out at wing half forward, was a constant threat to the St. Paul’s rear-guard and the player popped up with the winning point deep into stoppage time. Although defeated, St Paul’s manager Shane McConville and his assistant Gerry Headley can look back on the performance and indeed the past season with a lot of satisfaction.