CLAN NA GAEL 0-13
CLAN na Gael were handed an amount of rough justice last Sunday when Maghery’s Conor Forker gave his team a share of the points with an equalising score three minutes into injury time.
This league game, played in ideal conditions at Felix Hamill Park, pitted the Clans against their north Armagh rivals who started at opposite ends of the division one table.
But the blues made a mockery of their current standing and produced a sterling display. It would be hard to argue that the Lurgan side did not deserve to be in front at the final whistle of this thoroughly entertaining affair.
The Clans had been quick off the blocks in previous outings against both Sarsfields and Whitecross and they started well against Maghery as well, leading by four points to no score after just eight minutes.
But unlike in earlier encounters, they sustained their momentum for the sixty-plus minutes and led by two at the end of normal time before being caught on the line by late strikes from Conor Mackle and Conor Forker, who equalised with what was essentially the last attack of the game.
Both teams could claim to have been missing players for this league clash, most notably for the home side was the absence of Aidan Forker who was informed by the county management that he would be unavailable considering he started against Tyrone in the recent Ulster Championship game.
Although the Loughshore men are currently sitting on top of the first division, they were forced to fight for every ball by a Clan na Gael side who held their shape for most of the game and are certainly more co-ordinated under the on-field leadership of the returned Barry O’Hagan.
In retrospect though, Maghery are very hard to beat on their home patch but, on Sunday, they never got into their rhythm against a tenacious Blues outfit who harried them at every opportunity.
With the Clans’ early lead being pulled back by Maghery midway through the first half, the Blues rallied to go two in front at the break and they pulled four clear on thirty four minutes before the home side once again, although struggling somewhat, showed determination in the third quarter.
Some of the free taking over the sixty minutes was inspiring. Stephan Forker for the home side and Stephan Campbell for the visitors hit some sublime efforts from acute angles. Maghery keeper Johnny Montgomery struck two sweet forty-fives and his point-blank save from Blues attacker Niall McCann five minutes before the break, with the sides all square, proved crucial in a game where a goal may have sealed a win for either side.
In the absence of the injured Ryan McGuinness, Steven O’Hagan pulled on the keeper’s jersey for the Clans and the big man was confident under the high ball throughout the game and his distribution was met with some aplomb.
In the opening period, David Lavery for Maghery and young Diarmaid O’Hagan for the Lurgan men were in good form and, while the game was exciting, a lot of the frees were easily won with little advantage given to either side.
Clans changed their line out from recent games. Glen France, Mickey Austin and John Stewart made up the full back line, Ronan Austin was joined at midfield by Chris Taylor and Barry O’Hagan wore the number 11 jersey. Up front, the Lurgan side were mostly reliant on Stephan Campbell scores and the county panelist hit nine of his side’s points on the day.
At the end it was Maghery who were more relived on hearing the final whistle. They had pulled themselves back into contention when Stephan Forker struck four points in succession inside the final quarter, but two efforts from Campbell for the Blues, one of which was the best score of the day, cushioned the visitors to what looked like a match winning lead.
Conor Mackle, on a run from deep, put the minimum between them on sixty one minutes and, just before the long whistle, Conor Forker, who hitherto had been having a quiet game, took a quick delivery from Stephan Forker to equalise. Ironically, a high amount of fouls were awarded in what was far from being a cynical game.
Although Maghery’s pedigree in the first division is unquestioned, they will ultimately be judged on the championship stage. As for the Clans, they have a tough second half of the season to overcome but there are signs that a positive pattern is beginning to emerge.