Steelstown 1-11, Castledawson 0-15
History repeated itself in heartbreaking fashion for Steelstown Brian Ogs as Castledawson were crowned 2016 Derry Intermediate Football champions thanks to injury time points from Aidan Keenan and Niall McNicholl.
It was a finale that bore more than a little resemblance to the dramatic 2010 final in which Paddy Henry’s point won the title for St. Maclchy’s and once again, this decider had nothing between the teams.
A late red card for Mickey McKinney for stamping on Aidan Keenan summed up the feeling of Steelstown frustration after a match in which Castledawson’s greater experience eventually proved decisive. Both sides had chances to win the game and Steelstown felt aggrieved at a free count which saw Casteldawson score seven from nine scorable efforts while the city side were awarded just three, two of which they converted.
The game entered injury time level at 1-10 to 0-13. Young forward Paul Ferris had a chance to edge the Brian Ogs ahead when he found himself in space on the right. He pulled his effort just wide when he could have advanced further. That could be chalked down to inexperience.
At the other end when Aidy Bradley picked out Keenan, there were no such problems. McNicholl’s brilliant 45m free two minutes later was simply a captain doing what a captain should but it was difficult to stomach for a Steelstown team who have lit up the Championship with some superb attacking performances.
Brian Ogs had the chances to win it, notably when full-back Shane O’Connor found himself clear on goal after great work from Mark Foley 10 minutes after half-time. In a game as tight as this, a second Steelstown goal could have been terminal for St. Malachy’s but O’Connor pulled his shot wide, though it is difficult to be overly critical after a run that took him 80 yards from his own posts.
Castledawson refused to buckle. For all the Brian Ogs strong running and movement, Castledawson held firm. St Malachy’s led briefly in a first half that finished all square after Neil Forester had hit one of the goals of the Championship but you don’t win three Championships in six years by being lucky. This ‘Dawson team knows how to win Championship matches. It is testament to St. Malachy’s team ethic that it was difficult to pick out a star performer. Their strength was their collective
The first half was as enjoyable as it was close, both sides attacking in waves with some score of the highest calibre.
Paul Ferris got proceedings underway with a lovely score after superb work by Forester and Eoghan Concannon in the build up but it wasn’t long before Niall McNicholl scored the first of his three first half frees.
Brian Ogs were struggling to win possession in midfield but they were clever enough to work it short when possible in an attempt to by-pass the aerial authority of Aidan McElhone and Declan Lavery. The city side’s strength was the runner off the shoulder and once they navigated safe passage passed a high first line of Castledawson pressure designed to stop short kick-outs, there was plenty of green space for the city men to attack.
In contrast, Castledawson were taking full advantage of the ball they were winning in the middle third. Almost as soon as possession was secure, corner forwards Conor McTaggart and Kieran O’Kane were seeking space and the ball coming in was of the highest standard meaning even the tight marking Steelstown back line was struggling to contain the St. Malachy’s.
It all added up to a classic first 30 minutes. The sides continued to trade some excellent scores, Conor Scullion and McNicholl (free) for ‘Dawson replaying either side of Mark Foley point.
Then came Forester’s goal on nine minutes and it was quite a strike. The hard running half-back picked up possession just inside the Castledawson and with St. Maclchy’s defence retreating, Forester feigned to pass left before advancing further and finding the top corner with a superb shot for 1-2 to 0-3.
Castledawson lost midfielder McElhone to injury, though he would return later, but neither side was able to fashion any space on the scoreboard that read 1-5 to 0-8 at the interval.
The second half was just as tight. Any time one side looked to be edging ahead as Castledawson did when they went 0-12 to 1-7 up after 45 minutes, the other responded, a Ryan McCloskey point signally the Steelstown fight back at that point.
And so it continued toward injury time, not a kick between them when Casteldawson’s greater experience told thanks to Keenan’s and McNicholl’s composure in front of the posts.
It was a cruel end for a brave, young Steelstown team who have a great future ahead of them if they stay together. For ‘Dawson, they can go into Ulster with real ambition.
Steelstown: Martin Dunne; Ryan McCloskey (0-1), Shane O’Connor, Andrew Moore; Neil Forester (1-0), Liam Heffernan, Eoghan Concannon; Darren McDaid, Ryan Devine; Gareth Logue (0-1), Mickey McKinney (0-2, 1f), Oran Sweeney (0-1); Paul Ferris (0-1), Mark Foley (0-4, 2f), Eoghan Bradley (0-1). (Subs) Emmet Deane for R Devine, 37mins; Emmet McBride for P Ferris, 43mins; Stephen McCauley for D McDaid, 45mins; Gary Cunningham for L Heffernan (inj), 55mins; Paul Ferris for G Logue, 57mins;
Castledawson: Dara Shivers; Manus McAllister, Niall Keenan, Martin O’Kane; Conor Scullion (0-5, 3f), Paddy Henry, Rian Connery;Aidan McElhone, Declan Lavery; Aidy Bradley, Ruairi Shivers (0-1), Niall McNicholl (0-4, 4f); Conor Taggart (0-1), Aidan Keenan (0-2), Kieran O’Kane. (Subs) Danny Devlin for A McElhone (inj), 19mins; Aidan McElhone for /R Shivers, 58mins; Luke Doyle for R Connery (inj) 61mins;
Referee: Cyril Hargan (Ardmore)