Cleary shoots Steelstown to top of promotion battle

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STEELSTOWN took a major step toward a top four league finish and a shot at a first foray into senior football thanks to an emphatic eight point victory over Moneymore which moved Brian Ogs to the Division Two summit at the expense of their south Derry opponents.

Michael Wilson was in Pairc Bhrid

Photographs: Jim McCafferty

With three games left to play, including fixtures against the bottom two sides, Hugh McGrath’s side came into the game knowing victory would represent a major step toward a place in the league play-offs. And make no mistake about it, promotion is the ultimate goal for the Ballyarnett men, despite a Championship quarter-final against Swatragh looming large.

To that end, this game was ‘must-win’ in what is developing into one of the closest leagues for years with up to eight teams having legitimate claims on a semi-final spot. And with no room for error, Brian Ogs produced a superb display against the strangely subdued visitors who never came to terms with the strong running Steelstown half-back line.

Stephen Cleary was once again in fantastic form, giving Kevin Valelly a torrid afternoon and helping himself to an impressive 0-08 which included six from play. Cleary wasn’t alone, however, with his brother, Aidan, looking back to full fitness and pulling the strings superbly for the city men in a display full of intelligent running. Ryan Devine, in an unaccustomed full-forward role, was another to catch the eye and provided a constant outlet for McGrath’s team.

Pick of the bunch though was wing-back Mickey McKinney who produced a brilliant display, sweeping up any loose ball in or around the dangerous Moneymore full-forward line and breaking forward to tremendous effect. His performance was capped by the score of the day in the 15th minute when he won possession 20 metres from his own posts, broke forward to swap passes with both Stephen Cleary and Devine before taking possession from the latter and slotting over from 30m. Outstanding.

Moneymore never really got going. After losing Stephen O’Neill before the game they had the look of a team distracted by their own forthcoming Championship clash with Lissan. Trailing 0-6 to 0-01 after 20 minutes, they did rally briefly to go in at the break 0-7 to 0-5 down, thanks in the main to Paudraig O’Neill’s free-taking, but they fell away badly in the second half with young Dean Kelly one of the few players playing to his capability.

This defeat isn’t terminal for Henry Joy McCracken’s but it does draw them back into the pack and makes predicting the league’s play-off quartet something of a lottery.

In the end it was all to easy for Steelstown who raced into a three point lead courtesy of Stephen Cleary but it probably should have been more had Cleary not opted to slot his third point over the bar when charging clean through and the goal seemingly on.

Paudie O’Neill finally got his side on the scoreboard with a free on seven minutes but Moneymore were getting precious little change out of a compact Steelstown rearguard. Brian Scallan restored the home side’s three point advantage before McKinney and Scallan again extended the deficit to five points.

As always seems to be the case in games, Steelstown appeared to ease off and with half-time approaching they paid a heavy price as Moneymore brought themselves back into the game. Adrian Gavin grabbed a nice point to kick-start his team’s revival and was then fouled to present O’Neill with the easiest of frees. Cleary had already registered his fourth of the day but Moneymore were now on top and a great ball from Paul Scullion picked out Richard Scullion who pointed for an unlikely 0-7 to 0-5 interval score.

Steelstown strength

After allowing the league leaders a foothold in the game, the second half began with Steelstown pulling the rug from under Moneymore as Aidan Cleary swapped passes with Scallan before finding his range with a good point. Scallan was on target himself seconds later when he got on the end of another flowing move involving Paul O’Hea and the two Clearys.

As conditions deteriorated, Moneymore threw the tall Christy Young into full-forward with Paudie O’Neill drifting deeper and for a brief moment they looked like making a game of it as Adrian Gavin and corner-back Gareth O’Neill made it 0-9 to 0-7 on 41 minutes.

From there however, it became a matter of how big Steelstown’s margin of victory would be. Neil Forrester found Devine who showed good strength to hold off his marker and score off the top of the crossbar. Aidan and Stephen Cleary extended the lead with two excellent points for 0-12 to 0-07 with still 15 minutes to play but Moneymore never threatened. Two more Stephen Cleary points from play within 60 seconds of each other merely demonstrated the home dominance and made it double scores.

Any hope Moneymore had disappeared with their one goal chance which saw substitute Conor Rafferty’s high ball toward goal tempt Marty Dunne off his line but Paudie O’Neill got there first. The Moneymore man, however, could only watch as his fisted effort cleared the bar by inches with the goal empty.

Another Cleary free made it 0-15 to 0-8 before the final say was fittingly left to McKinney who broke from defence, went past two men and found Devine to slot over the bar.

Steelstown Brian Ogs: Marty Dunne; Kevin Lindsay, Tony Ling, Mickey McKinney (0-1); Pearse O’Doherty, Neil Forrester, Paul O’Hea; Darren McDaid, Stephen McCauley; Conan Doherty, Brian Scallan (0-3), Liam Heffernan; Stephen Cleary (0-8, 2f), Aidan Cleary (0-2), Ryan Devine (0-2). (Subs) Mark Brennan for B Scallan, 50mins;

Moneymore: Stephen Barker; Gareth O’Neill (0-1), Ryan Barker, Kevin Valelly; Johnny Taylor, Paul Scullion (0-1) Adrian Gavin (0-2, 1f); Richard Scullion, Mark O’Neill; Dean Kelly, Barry Doherty, Jack Barton; Gerard Diamond, Christy Young, Paudraig O’Neill (0-4, 3f). (Subs) Odhran McCloy for G O’Neill; Barry O’Neill for A Gavin.

Referee: Adrian McGilligan