‘Lilywhite’ fightback stuns Steelstown
TWO teams, two points, two very different halves of football but only one objective . . . Division One survival.
Michael Wilson reports from Páirc Gheárod Uí Chrosaín
To that end, reigning Derry and Ulster Intermediate champions Craigbane claimed the honours as the first of last year’s promoted sides to register a victory in senior football and it was a result that could prove more significant as the season progresses.
The two clubs hold similar aspirations for 2012, aspirations which begin with avoiding relegation and end with establishing themselves among the county’s top tier. Opening day defeats for both had been lined by optimistic performances which suggested both are capable of achieving that aim, provided they learn quickly. On Sunday it was the Lily Whites who appeared to have best heeded their opening day ‘lesson’.
After letting Glenullin off the hook with a wide count that hit 17, Kevin Moore’s team turned in a much more clinical 60 minutes (including only five wides) which highlighted the importance of the experience that runs through the spine of his team, even without Aidy McLaughlin and Ruairi Gormley.
Fortunate to be only trailing by a point at 0-5 to 0-4 going into the break, a different Craigbane emerged second half to score 1-5 inside a blistering 12 minute opening period that Steelstown never looked capable of recovering from. Instrumental in that was Blain Gormley’s dominance of a midfield sector which the city men had previously bossed. Throw in Lee Moore finding his range to finish with 0-6 and Craigbane had the game won from a fair way out thanks in no small part to Jude McLaughlin’s crucial 41st minute goal.
They displayed that same grit and determination which carried St. Joseph’s to last year’s success and the brink of an All-Ireland final but central to Sunday’s victory was their efficiency in front of the posts.
In contrast Steelstown battled gamely but the sense of inevitability which descended following McLaughlin’s goal adequately summed up the problem for Hugh McGrath’s men. It was going to take a goal to get them back into the game but shorn of the services of both Stephen Cleary and Daniel Jackson, they never looked like clawing back the deficit. But it could have been a very different story.
Brian Ogs started superbly with Aidan Cleary stringing play together and feeding a front line in which the impressive Brian Scallan was giving Cathal McLaughlin and Marty McGinty the run around. The Steelstown problem? Accepting responsibility.
Too often the first thought in a Steelstown forward’s mind appeared to be ‘pass’ even in situations when they had already got the better of the Craigbane back line and a shot was there for the taking. Inexperience may have played its part in that decision-making but senior football is unforgiving if you don’t take your chances.
Like the opening day defeat to Kilrea, this is a game Steelstown could have taken something from but they were severely punished for not utilising their opportunities.
Within two minutes of the start Aidan Cleary had given his side a two-point lead, one superb effort from the right and one from a free after he had been fouled by David Lowry.
Craigbane were struggling against the city side’s short passing, quick running game to the extent the Lee Moore was being starved of any meaningful possession though he did manufacture a fourth minute point for brother Ruairi with some great work in the corner.
That was a first half exception though as Steelstown came forward in waves, Paul O’Hea and Neil Forrester breaking up play and surging upfield at every opportunity. With Cleary pulling Fergal Crossan and Brian Rainey about, it left plenty of space for Brian Ogs to find the front two of Scallan and Devine with runners going into the spaces.
Despite this dominance, Craigbane were level with only their second shot on goal as Jude McLaughlin was fouled by Chris Beales and sent the subsequent free between the posts.
Back came Steelstown with Scallan scoring a superb individual score as he out-muscled Cathal McLaughlin to collect Cleary’s high pass before turning and shooting over for 0-3 to 0-2.
Craigbane were indebted to keeper Paul Sharkey three minutes later when another flowing Steelstown move saw Forrester burst through on the end of Scallan’s pass and bearing down on the Craigbane goal. The county player’s well struck shot looked destined for the top corner but Sharkey’s superb reaction save pushed it over the bar for a ‘45. From that, the ball was eventually worked left to Scallan who scored his second of the game.
Cleary’s second free of the game made it 0-5 to 0-2 on 22 minutes but within 60 seconds Lee Moore had cancelled that out. When Moore took advantage of Stephen McCauley’s cynical trip on Rainey to score another free, Craigbane had gone from wishing for the half-time whistle to seeking an unlikely parity at the break. It should have came on the short whistle from Blain Gormley but he skewed wide badly from a decent position. Still after the opening exchanges the home side would have gladly taken the half-time deficit.
That scenario changed drastically after the restart. Now winning the midfield, Fergal Crossan dropped deep when required to thwart any possibility of the early ball into the Steelstown front line which has caused them problems in the first half and most crucial, Lee Moore and Cathal O’Kane started to find space.
That duo had the home side in front within four minutes of the restart with two superb scores from 45m out, wide on the right hand side. It was just the tonic their side needed.
When Tony Ling unfortunately slipped on the heavy surface, Moore increased the lead and they could have grabbed a goal when Gavin Conwell picked up a break but opted to slot over after Moore’s high centre.
The goal wasn’t long in coming though and in almost a carbon copy move to the first half one that sent Forrester through for Steelstown, McLaughlin found himself in the clear and calmly rolled the ball under the advancing Marty Dunne for 1-08 to 0-5.
Another brilliant Lee Moore point left Steelstown shell-shocked but they could have came back almost immediately had Mark Brennan’s excellent fisted point on 44 minutes dropped into the net rather than bouncing off the top of the bar and over with Sharkey beaten.
From there to the whistle the result had that air of inevitability about it. Craigbane had enough experience in the likes of Crossan, Kieran McElhinney and Gavin Conwell to see the game out. They will see this as their season’s start and if they can find another reliable scorer to compliment Lee Moore they look capable of achieving their goal.
Steelstown simply didn’t come out after the break and by the time they woke the game had gone away from them. The problem for them is not one of talent but experience which cannot be taught. The city side must learn to take their chances and learn fast.
St. Joseph’s, Craigbane: Paul Sharkey; Cathal McLaughlin, Fergal Crossan, Marty McGinty; Brian Rainey, Ruairi Moore (0-1), David Lowry; Blain Gormley, Kieran McElhinney; Shane McMenamin, Cathal O’Kane (0-1), Ryan Moore; Jude McLaughlin (1-1, 1f), Lee Moore (0-6, 2f), Gavin Conwell (0-2, 1f). Subs Cathal Kerlin for S McMenamin, 53mins.
Steelstown Brian Ogs: Marty Dunne; Chris Beales, Kevin Lindsay, Tony Ling; Paul O’Hea (0-1), Neil Forrester, Michael McKinney; Darren McDaid, Stephen McCauley; Conan Doherty, Liam Heffernan, Aidan Cleary (0-5, 4f); Ryan Devine, Mark Brennan (0-2, one ‘45), Brian Scallan (0-2). Subs: Niall Murray for R Devine, 35mins; James Jackson for C Doherty, 46mins; Gareth Logue for B Scallan, 50mins.
Referee: Aidan McAlynn
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