Steelstown Brain Ogs were always underdogs going into this Harry O’Kane Under 21 Championship semi-final at Pairc Brid and the end result reflected the superiority that Dungiven enjoyed throughout the game.
Cathal Harkin was in Pairc Bhrid
Photographs: Stephen Latimer
The last time these two teams met at the same age group in championship football was the outstanding final of 2010 in which Dungiven managed to get over the line by a single score in what some described at the time as one of the greatest games of football in recent times. This game never reached those heights in terms of football or excitement but much of the reasoning for that could be traced to the respective line-ups. While Dungiven had only lost one player at this age grade since 2010, Steelstown could only point to one starter from their first 13 from two years ago and the gulf in class was evident.
Dungiven dominated the opening exchanges and took a firm hold around the middle of the field with their high fielding and impressive ball winning skills to the fore. However it wasn’t until their fourth attempt at the target that they registered a score when Martin Burke swung over a shot with his left foot.
This was soon followed by a goal when a long ball from Donal McGilligan fell onto the lap of Sean Murray who finished low to the net. This long ball tactic worked a treat for Dungiven throughout the game as the Steelstown full-back line struggled with the directness of the Dungiven play. When you have forwards of the calibre of the Dungiven inside duo of Burke and Murray, any pass in the direction of the forward line could be dangerous and Dungiven took advantage. Fellow front man Sean O’Neill managed to get in on the act when the classy forward dinked, turned and twisted to pop over a lovely score which was followed by a goal by the same player when he side-footed past James Morrison in the Steelstown net.
It took Steelstown until the 11th minute to register a score when ‘Badger’ McDaid slipped the ball over the bar. This was closely followed by an effort from the impressive Conor McGurk to finally get the Steelstown challenge up and running on the road. Dungiven however simply upped their performance from that point until the end of the half with the impressive McGilligan and Sean O’Kane posting their name on the score-sheet to leave the interval score, Dungiven 2-06, Steelstown 0-02.
To the city side’s credit they came out and played much better in the second half despite many fearing that Dungiven might increase their stranglehold on the game. The introduction of Brian Cooper and Ruairi McKeever gave them an impetuous and the latter scored a tremendous goal when he lobbed Kevin Farren in the Dungiven goal to oppose Dungiven’s early two point start to the second-half.
Conor McGurk then scored the point of the game when he linked-up with Shane O’Connor to give the home supporters something to cheer about. Murray replied with a free for Dungiven for their first score in 15 minutes as Steelstown managed to negate a number of Dungiven attacks, Morrison in goal being their chief spoiler as he made a couple of winderful saves.
The two teams traded scores as the game petered out, Dungiven marching into the final where they will be overwhelming favourites for a third successive championship. However, with the quality this St. Canice’s team possess - in particular McGilligan, Burke and O’Neill - they will be looking well beyond a North Derry championship with their minds already on an all-county title and even an Ulster title.
Steelstown: James Morrison; Christy Beales, Rory O’Connor; Aaron Taggart, Jamie Feeney, Ryan McCloskey; Conor McGoran, Shane O’Connor; Ciaran Flanagan, Brian Scallan (0-01 f), Paul Ferris (0-01); Conor McGurk (0-03), Emmett McDaid (0-01). Subs used: Brian Cooper, Ruairi McKeever (1-00), Ciaran Rigney (0-01), Eoghain Mag Uiginn, Tiernan O’Kane
Dungiven: Kevin Farren; Eunan Smyth, Martin McCloskey (0-01f); Craig Chewning, Paddy Kelly, Kevin Johnson; Sean O’Kane (0-01), Donal McGilligan (0-03); Eoghain Quigg, Sean Murray (1-01), Aidan Duddy; Martin Burke (0-06, 3f), Sean O’Neill (1-02). Subs used: Stephen Kerlin, Sean McNicholl, Tomas Brady, Barry McReynolds, Declan O’Kane