LAST-GASP Championship heartbreak is becoming an all-too familiar tale for Steelstown Brian Ogs.
Michael Wilson was in Foreglen
Photographs: Jim McCafferty
Last year it was Paddy Henry’s injury time point for Castledawson that denied the city men a first ever Championship win. On Saturday it was Darren Donnelly’s fiercely struck penalty five minutes from time after a foul on substitute Niall Convery that swung a game Steelstown should have had wrapped up. It may not have been quite as dramatic as that ‘edge of the seat’ Celtic Park finale but the result was the same.
What is different this year though is Henry’s winner left no time for Steelstown to recover in the Championship. Not so with Donnelly’s winner. Rather, it represents a chance for Hugh McGrath’s team to learn a lesson, regroup and comeback to emulate what Castledawson’s achieved last year after they were defeated at the same stage by, ironically, Steelstown.
There is no doubt the talent is there and when you consider this was a game they should have won despite missing the services of players like Daniel Jackson and Michael Moore among others and with Aidan Cleary only fit enough for the final ten minutes, there is no reason for panic.
Their ultimate goal remains senior football but for that to happen, McGrath’s team needs to put away sides like Lissan who recovered superbly in the second half and deserved the win simply for their stubborn refusal to accept defeat against a side which, 1 to 15, had the better footballers.
A number of strange positional switches didn’t help the city men who recovered from a sluggish start to lead by three at the break at 0-7 to 0-4, that despite a superb performance from Lissan full-forward Paddy Coey who single-handedly kept the Steelstown defence busy all afternoon.
The introduction of the experienced Convery late in the first half was the catalyst for the Lissan revival and almost immediately he set about upsetting the Steelstown play to great effect.
That was a far cry from a game that was proceeding along pre-match predictions when, after early Lissan pressure had brought scores from Ronan Laverty and a Coey free, Patrick Brennan and Stephen Cleary began to inspire Brian Ogs, the half-back grabbing two fine points from Steelstown’s first four.
In between, Coey had brilliantly collected a Kevin O’Hagan ball under pressure from three defenders before showing great strength to turn and crash a shot off Marty Dunne’s cross-bar. It was a lucky escape for Steelstown and a warning of what Coey was capable of.
With Brennan helping himself to four first half points from his right half-back position, the second half decision to move him into the wing-forwards seemed strange and it took some of the fluency out of the Steelstown game, especially with Neil Forrester looking ill at ease in an unfamiliar centre-half forward role.
Within eight minutes of the restart, Jude Donnelly’s rejuvenated side had reduced the deficit to one point at 0-8 to 0-7 thanks to three points from Coey, including two from harsh looking frees which were moved forward for late challenges around the middle of the field.
However, just when it looked like Lissan were back in the game, Steelstown, and Cleary in particular, found another gear. Three scores, two on the end of flowing Steelstown moves, had the gap at a safe-looking four points with 15 minutes left but Lissan would not lie down.
Stephen McCrory’s fine score on the turn showed they were still in the game before Coey, with another free, and Peter McGlone left only the minimum between the sides once again with seven minutes to play. Steelstown’s No. 7 then showed his class as Brennan picked up possession on the Lissan ‘45, feinted to go one way before turning inside to score a point which seemed to suggest Steelstown had enough to keep Lissan out of reach.
That scenario was turned on its head when Sean Hamill pointed to the spot. Steelstown were not happy but it looked the right decision as Barry McCrory’s high ball was broken down to the onrushing Convery who was upended by a combination of Kevin Lindsay and Chris Beales as they desperately tried to block his shot on goal.
Whatever the debate over the award, there was no doubt over Darren Donnelly’s finish. It was emphatic and gave Dunne no chance.
Now trailing by a point, Brennan then sent an effort wide before that man Coey showed a cool head to score his fifth free of the day following a silly foul by Ryan Devine on Lissan substitute Kieran Donnelly.
It proved the cushion Lissan needed as Steelstown threw everything forward during four breathless minutes of injury-time that yielded only Devine’s late point.
The final whistle was tough on Steelstown for whom Brennan and Cleary, until he was moved into the full-forward, were excellent but it was hard to take anything away from Lissan. Coey and Convery in particular deserved every plaudit possible after driving their side forward on a day when sheer ‘will-to-win’ won out.
Steelstown Brian Ogs: Marty Dunne; Chris Beales, Tony Ling, Mickey McKinney; Kevin Lindsay, Paul O’Hea, Patrick Brennan (0-5, 1’45), Darren McDaid, Stephen McCauley; Brian Scallan (0-1), Liam Heffernan, Stephen Cleary (0-6, 2f); Conan Doherty, Neil Forrester, Gary Cunningham. (Subs) Ryan Devine (0-1) for S McCauley, 51mins; Aidan Cleary for B Scallan, 51mins; Pearse O’Doherty for L Heffernan, 60mins.
Lissan: Stephen Conway; Barry McGarvey, Oran Donnelly, Colm Canavan; Barry McRory, Peter McGlone (0-1), Ryan Donnelly; Kevin O’Hagan, Michael Quigley; Stephen McCrory (0-2, 1f), Darren Donnelly (1-0, 1pen); Ronan Laverty (0-1); Charles McCann, Patrick Coey (0-7, 6f), Eamon McElduff. (Subs) Niall Convery for R Donnelly, 30mins; Kieran Donnelly for Stephen McCrory, 54mins; John Redmond for C Canavan, 59mins;
Referee: Sean Hamill (Ballerin)