Banagher heartbreak as Swatragh claim county crown

The victorious Swatragh players lift the Derry Senior Hurling Championship trophy at Celtic Park on Saturday afternoon. 2509JM21
The victorious Swatragh players lift the Derry Senior Hurling Championship trophy at Celtic Park on Saturday afternoon. 2509JM21

STATISTICS. Graphics. Analysis. All fine additions to the modern media’s sporting arsenal, but sometimes it is as simple as the better team won and Saturday’s Derry Senior Hurling Championship Final was a case in point.

Michael Wilson was in Celtic Park

Banagher's Shane Farren is closed down by no less than five Swatragh players during Saturday's final at Celtic Park. 2509JM23

Banagher's Shane Farren is closed down by no less than five Swatragh players during Saturday's final at Celtic Park. 2509JM23

Photographs: Jim McCafferty

Seven first half wides and 13 in total will never help you in any Championship Final but Banagher manager, Gary Biggs, was not looking for excuses in the aftermath of a scrappy match. Banagher simply never got going.

In the end the unlikely final was decided by Swatragh’s two first half goals which provided the Davitt’s with an advantage Banagher never threatened to wipe out. It was no classic but no-one in Swatragh will mind as the Fr. Collins Cup made it’s way to the South Derry club for the first time and the Banagher boss had few complaints.

“We hit too many wides over the whole period of the game,” conceded the St. Mary’s stalwart who was playing the last time Banagher won the title back in 2005.

“The lads just didn’t play as a team in the way we did in the semi-final against Dungiven and Swatragh just appeared that bit hungrier on the day. Our shooting left a lot to be desired.

Against a team appearing in only their second senior final and desperate for a first title, Biggs said his team knew what to expect but also paid tribute to Swatragh.

“Against Swatragh you know you are always going to be up against it because they’re always in your face; always a dogged team to beat but you have to give them credit, they were fantastic on the day. I can’t take anything away from Swatragh, they were deserving winners.

“I don’t know whether the occasion got to the players or not but their shooting was off. Why was it off? I’m not sure. The work was put in and the players all put the effort in, just on the day we didn’t perform.”

With the club’s footballers also enjoying an extended Championship run, it would have been easy for Biggs to point the finger at what must have been a very restrictive preparation period for his team. Instead he dismissed that as the price paid for success and pointed to the crucial first half goals which shaped the game.

Both sides looked nervous from the start, a fact illustrated by missed frees from Shane Farren and Ruairi Convery inside the opening 90 seconds. Convery would make amends with the crucial first goal three minutes later but Farren, like Banagher as a whole, never found his range in the manner he can despite emphatically firing home St. Mary’s second half penalty which did offer a glimmer of hope.

On the other side of the coin, Convery’s miss was forgotten three minutes later when he flicked Michael Conway’s lobbed centre past Darrell McDermott for the game’s first score. It set the tone but was somewhat fortuitous in how it came about. Conway was fouled as he hit a shot which eventually sailed over the Banagher bar and was not best pleased when referee Alan Nash pulled play back for the free. Fast forward 30 seconds and with his second effort nestling in the back of the Bangher net courtesy of Convery’s touch, it proved the referee’s call was the right one.

There was no doubt the edge of the square was an area targeted by Swatragh because Conway’s free was well within distance but the way Convery turned and celebrated inches from Darragh McCloskey’s face highlighted what the goal meant to Convery and his team mates.

After Chrissy Convery had tagged on another point Banagher finally got going with Farren sending over two frees, the first from 55 m and when Garrie Stevenson had brilliantly split the posts there was only a point in it again at 1-1 to 0-3 with 17 minutes on the clock.

A Convery free increased the advantage to two and so the pattern was set. Each time Bangher looked like bridging the gap, Swatragh found a point or two to keep them at arms length but P. J. McCloskey could have changed that with a point between the teams at 0-3 to 1-02. The impressive Oisin McCloskey charged through, breaking two tackles but saw his shot pushed away by Swatragh keeper Conor O’Kane. However the ball fell nicely into the path of the on-rushing P. J. McCloskey but he dragged his low shot into the side netting when he should have scored.

A goal would have put Banagher ahead but this was a final they were always chasing and never likely to catch. Neither side really took an degree of control with little flow to proceedings. The half was to have a second goal though and it was the game’s defining moment.

Two minutes before the break with two between the teams at 0-04 to 1-03, great work by Ruairi Convery set up Malachi O’Hagen to send another high centre toward the Banagher goal. Chrissy Convery gathered superbly before spilling possession as he turned but the corner-forward was alert enough to pull on the sliotar and send it low into the Bangher net. The sides tagged on a point each to leave it 2-04 to 0-05 at the break but the game was now Swatragh’s to lose.

Little changed in the second half, Michael Kirkpatrick outstanding in a Swatragh back line that cope comfortably as Banagher decided to go for goals from early in the second half. The Swatragh defence was a tight, compact unit who always had the extra man when it counted.

Farren’s glimmer of hope arrived on 49 minutes when Bangher’s best player on the day, Oisin McCloskey, was brought down by a combination of Conor Quinn and Seamus Farren. The teenager’s penalty brought it back to 1-07 to 2-08 but it was Banagher’s last score. O’Hagen’s superb last ditch tackle on McCloskey as he set himself to shoot for goal three minutes from the end was as close as Banagher got to a second three-pointer and even that may not have been enough. Swatragh had the scent on victory from the moment Chrissy Convery’s shot hit the net and they never let it go. Yes, you could point to Banagher’s 13 wides but Swatragh hit 10 of their own. Whatever breaks certainly went Swatragh’s way but they looked the hungrier outfit and unfortunately they have not developed a pie chart to analyse that yet!

Banagher - Darrell McDermott; Conor Lynch, Sean Marty Lockhart; Ruairi McCloskey, Sean McCullagh, Mark Lynch; Oisin McCloskey (0-1), Peter O’Kane (0-1); Owen Biggs, Garrie Stevenson (0-1), Steafan McCloskey; Tiarnan McCloskey (0-1, 1f), P. J. McCloskey (0-1), Shane Farren (1-2, 1pen, 2f). (Subs) Gearoid O’Neill for S McCloskey, 7mins - Blood Sub, Reversed 12mins; Gearoid O’Neill for S McCloskey, 34mins; Gregory Biggs for Owen Biggs, 39mins; Ciaran Lynch for G Stevenson, 46 mins;

Swatragh - Conor O’Kane; Niall Doherty, Seamus McFerran, Michael Warnock (0-1); Seamus Bradley, Michael Kirkpatrick (0-2, 2f), Conor Quinn; Malachi O’Hagen, Cahal McQuillan; Declan McGuckin, Shamus McQuillan, Michael Conway; Chrissy Convery (1-1), Michael McKenna, Ruairi Convery (1-4, 2f). (Subs) Sean McNicholl (0-1) for D McGuckin, H/T; Declan McAlary (0-1) for S McQuillan, 46mins.

Referee - Alan Nash.