SOMETIMES victory can be worth more than simply two points. Sometimes it can be a statement of intent - to yourself as much as anyone else. Saturday’s dramatic Division One encounter in Pairc Bhrid had that feel about it.
Michael Wilson was at Pairc Bhrid
Photographs: Jim McCafferty
A pulsating finale which saw Steelstown keeper Marty Dunne save Lee Moore’s penalty and follow-up before being red carded alongside the Craigbane forward and his brother, Ruairi, only tells half the tale of a match both sides contrived to ‘win’ and ‘lose’ on numerous occasions throughout 60 minutes.
Backed by a stiff breeze, Steelstown were superb in the opening half, Stephen Cleary firing six points on what was his last appearance before departing overseas and on this display he will be sorely missed. With Aidan Cleary excelling in an unfamiliar two-man full forward role alongside young debutante Paul Ferris, the Brian Ogs went in 0-11 to 0-03 ahead at the break and deservedly so. They had been rampant against a Lilywhites team that never found their range.
The wind was never going to change Steelstown’s fast breaking, short passing approach when they appeared for the second period but it transformed Craigbane’s. Blaine Gormley and the impressive Adie McLaughlin took complete control of the middle sector and within seven minutes that secure looking interval lead had become 0-11 to 1-6 as the visitors’ more direct approach and ability to take scores from range started to pay dividends.
The Craigbane goal on 35 minutes may have owed something to Steelstown’s lack of concentration at it’s outset but the finish from Lee Moore was brilliant. Adie McLaughlin’s long ball was misjudged by Tony Ling allowing Moore to gather the ball before, from an acute angle on the right side, he beautifully lobbed the advancing Dunne. Superb!
Steelstown were struggling to maintain the possession that had allowed them to dictate proceedings in the first half with precious little ball going into the forwards. Mickey McKinney’s superb 41st minute point did stem the tide but only temporarily and by the 54th minute Craigbane were level and looking likely winners with McLaughlin, Moore, Gormley and Gavin Conwell in total control.
Twelve months ago in Craigbane Steelstown faced a similar scenario. An impressive first half which could have won them the game giving way to a tepid second period which handed the initiative to the hosts. That day Steelstown folded. On Saturday they proved how far they have come.
Six minutes left and with only one point to show for 24 second half minutes, Hugh McGrath’s men needed a spark and, as so often in the past, Stephen Cleary provided it. There was little on when Cleary gathered possession 50m from the posts before shaking off Ruairi Moore, turning and out-pacing two more Craigbane backs to split the posts from 25m for a one point lead.
Cleary’s point was like an adrenalin shot for Steelstown and within 30 seconds he provided what should have been the killer blow when he won the poor kick-out and sent substitute Brian Scallan clean through. Scallan steadied himself before finding the back of the net superbly and within 60 seconds a match Steelstown appeared to be losing looked to be won once more.
Four points up, three minutes left but still there was work to be done for the home side. Ryan Moore’s point left a goal in it and panic set in every time Craigbane attacked. As the clock ticked into added time, Adie McLaughlin - as he had been doing the entire second half - surged in off the right wing before being hauled to the floor by Paul O’Hea. Referee Sean Curran awarded the penalty, Steelstown’s only possible complaint being the offence may have occurred outside the area.
Up stepped Lee Moore but his well struck spot-kick was brilliantly pushed away by Dunne, diving to his left, with the Brian Ogs keeper alert enough to recover and block the forward’s follow-up. It was a match winning contribution but within seconds Neil Forester was lying on the floor and players from both side were caught up in a melee as predictable as it was unseemly. Teams can tell you they don’t target certain matches but the scenes that followed Dunne’s penalty save suggested both teams knew this was about more than simply two points.
Once the dust had settled Dunne - who appeared to have been struck himself - received his marching orders alongside Lee Moore with Ruairi Moore following them seconds later, seemingly for something said to the referee. It was all incidental though as the final whistle brought looks of disbelief on Craigbane faces after a match they looked to have lost, won, lost again and finally drawn was taken away from them.
The manner of victory said everything about Steelstown though. Last year they would not have won this game. This time when the questions game,as they always will in Division One, they found a way of answering them and they will need to find that again. It wasn’t always pretty, seldom composed but they got the job done and will be better for it. How much Stephen Cleary’s departure will effect them remains to be seen but a new determination not to allow teams to physically impose their game on them will stand to them is they can repeat the dose.
It remains only two points but the true value of this victory will only be discovered over the next few weeks.
Steelstown: Martin Dunne; Kevin Lindsay, Paul O’Hea, Tony Ling; Neil Forester, Ryan McCloskey, Eamon Donnelly (0-1); Darren McDaid, Shane O’Connor; Michael Moore, Stephen Cleary (0-7, 5f), Mickey McKinney (0-2); Conan Doherty, Aidan Cleary (0-1), Paul Ferris (0-2). (Subs) Brian Scallan (1-0) for P Ferris, 47mins; Ryan Devine for S O’Connor, 52mins; Eoin Heraghty for B Scallan, 61mins.
Craigbane: Ryan O’Neill; Aaron McLaughlin; Fergal Crossan, Cathal McLaughlin; Marty McGinty, Ruairi Moore, Adrian Devine; Blaine Gormley (0-1), Adie McLaughlin (0-1); Brian Rainey, Cathal O’Kane (0-1), Gavin Conwell (0-4, 4f); Ryan Moore (0-1), Lee Moore (1-2, 1f),Shane McMenamin.
Referee: Sean Curran (Faughanvale)