Hugh McGrath believes that Steelstown have now lost the ‘surprise factor’, after his team met Ballinascreen in a prelude of this week’s Championship clash in Foreglen.
The City side secured a vital victory in their battle against relegation on Saturday, digging deep to pull ahead of Ballinascreen in the final 10 minutes of a frantic encounter to secure two much-needed points.
With Banagher easily seeing off Kilrea, the win takes on more importance, with Glen and Greenlough now adrift at the bottom.
And with Craigbane losing to Coleraine, there are now three teams tied on eight points ahead of the bottom two, meaning there is still plenty of work to be done at Steelstown if they are to stay away from that dreaded relegation play-off.
But for now, Steelstown will shift their focus to Friday’s Championship battle, and they must figure it all out again against a wounded Ballinascreen, this time at a neutral venue.
They may have lost the surprise factor but McGrath will have also learned a thing or two about his opponents.
He will know that Benny Heron does not need an invitation to shoot from all sorts of crazy distance and he will know that Ballinascreen’s blanket defence will attempt to snuff out the threat of Stephen Cleary.
But he will also know that his team are fitter than Ballinascreen, the last 10 minutes showing as much.
And the Steelstown manger will be urging his team to avoid the basic errors that very nearly turned this into another disappointing day at the office for the home team.
“We get frustrated when we make simple errors and we made a huge amount of them in the first half,” he explained afterwards.
“We’re in a position where we’re threatened with relegation but we have played some super football this year.
“It’s just small pieces of inexperience where errors creep into the game and that’s the difference between the top teams and the bottom teams. If we can get the error count lower we’ll be pushing to stay in this division.”
The win takes Steelstown’s unbeaten run to four games and McGrath believes that his team are picking up some form at a vital period in the season.
“We’ve been playing very well in the last few weeks,” he said. “Every point at this stage of the year is massive so the two here are very much appreciated. With the work we put in we definitely deserved something out of the game.”
It took Stephen Cleary only 40 seconds to make his mark in this game, intercepting a pass from Heron before charging 40 metres to hook the ball between the posts. Heron made amends moments later with his first score.Just five minutes in, Stephen Cleary’s free kick dropping short, but with goalkeeper Danny Devlin hesitating, Stephen McCauley simply jumped up and punched the ball into the net.
A double from Eunan Murray quickly brought Ballinascreen back into it.
An Aidan Cleary point came from good pressure but Heron pointed from distance before a hopeful free into the vicinity of Dunne was allowed to bounce over the goalkeeper and between the posts as the game levelled at 1-2 to 0-5.
Another Cleary free was quickly snuffed out by another beauty from Heron, and the visitors went into the lead for the first time just before the break, Ciaran Conway scoring after collecting a pass from Murray.
That left ‘Screen leading by 0-7 to 1-3 at the break.
Steelstown enjoyed a blistering start after the break with three unanswered scores, Brian Scallon, Stephen Cleary and a monster score from Ryan Devine putting the hosts back into the lead.
Heron’ then took the direct route, running unchallenged at the Steelstown net before exchanging passes with Eunan Murray before drilling the ball low past Dunne into the net.
Mickey McKinney levelled the game once again and the teams were tied at 1-7 apiece heading into the final ten minutes.
It was here that Steelstown took the game by the scruff, hitting 1-04 in five minutes to leave Ballinascreen dazed.
Shane O’Connor showed great determination to get the ball to Cleary and as the Steelstown forward bore down on goal, he was sandwiched, fouled twice in one movement and the result was a Brian Og’s penalty.
Cleary dusted himself down and hammered the ball into the left corner of the net and victory was in Steelstown’s sights.
The home lot then blitzed Ballinascreen, Aidan Cleary, Mark Foley, Mickey McKinney and Gary Cunningham all hitting the target in an unforgettable spell.
Ballinascreen did their best to make a fight of it, and Benny Murray scrambled the ball into the net in the last minute.
But the gap was too wide and Steelstown hung on for what could prove a huge win.
Steelstown - Martin Dunne, Mickey McKinney (0-02), Kevin Lindsay, Tony Ling, Shane O’Connor, Neil Forrester, Conan Doherty, Ryan Devine (0-01), Paul O’Hea, Brian Scallon (0-01), Stephen Cleary (1-03), Aidan Cleary (0-02), Gary Cunningham (0-01), Stephen McCauley (1-00), Liam Heffernan; Subs - Michael Moore for Conan Doherty (30);-Mark Foley (0-01) for Brian Scallon (44); Dan Jackson for Paul O’Hea (30); Chris Beales for Liam Heffernan (60).
Ballinascreen - Danny Devlin, Philip McGlade, JF Bradley, Dermott Scullion, Mickey McShane, John Scullion, Kieran Conway (0-01), Dermot McBride, Benny Murray (1-00), Gary Conway, Eamon Murray, Emmet McKillion, Benny Heron (1-03), Gavin Bradley, Eunan Murray (0-02); Subs - Gavin Kelly for Gavin Bradley (30), Philip Bradley for Gary Conway (42); Mickey McBride for Eamon Murray (47).