DERRY GAA: Banagher shock Swatragh to make Senior Championship semi-finals

Peter Hagan was superb as Banagher shocked Swatragh to make the O'Neill's Derry Senior Football Championship semi-finals.
Peter Hagan was superb as Banagher shocked Swatragh to make the O'Neill's Derry Senior Football Championship semi-finals.

O'Neill's Derry Senior Football Championship Quarter-final

Banagher 1-11, Swatragh 0-11

Someone's going to have to remind Banagher they're not supposed to be in this championship!

Conventional wisdom had them knocked out against Bellaghy and no one gave them a prayer against Swatragh. Yet, here they are, preparing for a senior semi-final after shocking the county for a second time.

Without a league win all season and relegated to Division 1B in the league, St Mary's came into the championship as cannon fodder but are fast developing into the story of 2019 and this was another fully deserved victory. Indeed, this win surpasses Bellaghy because St. Mary's had lost their surprise factor going in. Swatragh had seen what became of Bellaghy so can't claim to have been caught off guard.

Banagher's game-plan was brilliant in it's simplicity - keep the ball, be patient but when opportunities present themselves, commit everything you have. Most importantly, though was St. Mary's ability to play in the manner the match was asking them to - to adapt as the game unfolded.

Against Bellaghy, it was the speed of Niall and Tiernan Moore which unsettled the Tones with the Banagher front two running amok, especially in the early stages. The attacking duo still prospered here but once Swatragh began to deny them space, Banagher's ability to switch style from quick counter-attacking to patient keep ball was critical and all with Mark Lynch imperious in a quarter-back role.

When St. Mary's needed them, every player stood up. Gavin O'Neill and Peter Hagan were superb as link men and when the outcome was in the balance with only one point separating the sides as it entered the final quarter, Brian Og McGilligan took things by the scruff of the neck.

From patience and possession to pace and power, Banagher showed both sides of the game and it all emanated from a short kick out game that surprisingly went unchallenged for the majority of the match.

St. Mary's keeper Daryl McDermott was excellent, brilliantly denying Oisin McWilliams in the first half but his distribution was the platform on which Banagher's win was built.

Swatragh seem caught between denying space to the pace of the Banagher front two and pushing right up on a short kick out they must have known was coming. In the end they did neither the way they would have wanted to.

Ironically the game's first score was it's most important, a Banagher goal to reinforce Charlie O'Kane's pre-match team talk. It's one thing hearing a manager say you can cause a shock but when a goal inside five minutes backs that up, the confidence flows. And boy, did it flow!

The goal was fortuitous. Ciaran's Lynch's right wing free was a shot at goal but when it dropped short, Niall Moore didn't need a second invitation, leaping highest to punch into the net and the underdogs were off and running again. Indeed, it was a lead they would never lose.

With Swatragh struggling to contain the Banagher inside duo, Niall Moore's superb catch and turn drew a foul and Mark Lynch pointed for an early four point lead.

At the other end Darragh McCloskey superbly blocked Francis Kearney's shot at goal but Kearney was soon on the scoresheet with an eighth minute point.

Niall Moore got his first point of the day followed by a huge 50m Mark Lynch free and when Moore scored again, St. Mary's were six up at 1-4 to 0-1 with only 15 minutes gone.

Swatragh had gaps to plug in a defence that was far too open but they managed to do it admirably, albeit slightly belatedly dropping cover back to deny the two Moores so much room to work.

It was effective as well, the Davitt's allowing Banagher only one more score in the half as Francis and James Kearney set about reeling them in.

Francis added two more points, the second a lovely effort, before Sean Francis Quinn's driving run ended with Patrick firing over a beauty off the outside of his right boot and then adding another for 1-04 to 0-05.

Four minutes from half-time, it was Francis' turn again as a beautiful turn and shot brought it back to a one point game.

With only second remaining before the interval, McDermott made his crucial save from McWilliams but he was indebted to Shane Murphy who got in behind him to superbly punch the bouncing ball away as two Swatragh players threatened to knock it into an empty net.

Mark Lynch's late free felt like a four-point swing given the dramatic goal denial as St. Mary's turned around two in front at 1-05 to 0-06.

Peter Hagan and Stefan McCloskey combined for Conor Feeny to round off a beautiful move with the opening score of the second period only to see James and Francis Kearney reply with two for Swatragh to leave it 1-06 to 0-08.

Yet each time Swatragh came within touching distance and asked the question, Banagher found an answer, Mark Lynch this time setting Shane Farren away to tee up Feeney for another great score.

Then came Swatragh's big chance.

Forty-five minutes on the clock, the game about to enter the final quarter and Tiernan Walsh makes a superb run that takes him clear of the Banagher defence. The corner-back has time but elects to go for power only to slice his effort agonisingly wide and leave Banagher's lead intact. It was a big moment and the Banagher supporter's reaction told you they knew it.

Francis Keanry's free brought Swatragh to within a point of Banagher for the third time in the game but, again, they could not level and it would be the final time they were within touching distance.

O'Neill set up Hagan for 1-08 to 0-9 before Feeney and two excellent fisted points from Shane Farren and Hagan again took Banagher into a five point lead at 1-11 to 0-09 with 59 minutes on the clock.

Hagan was black carded for stopping a Swatragh break but there was little time for Swatragh to salvage anything despite late scores from Francis Kearney and substitute Lorcan McWilliams. Banagher had upset the odds again but you'd think from the celebrations at the final whistle that they had a chance in the semi-final.

They couldn't, could they?

Banagher scorers: Niall Moore (1-2), Conor Feeney (0-3), Mark Lynch (0-3, 3f), Peter Hagan (0-2), Shane Farren (0-1),

Swatragh scorers: Francis Kearney (0-7, 2f), Patrick Kearney (0-2), James Kearney (0-1), Lorcan McWilliams (0-1),

Banagher: Daryl McDermott; Shane Murphy, Darragh McCloskey, Micheal Anderson; Gavin O'Neill, Tiernan McCloskey, Stefan McCloskey; Mark Lynch, Brian Og McGilligan; Ciaran Lynch, Peter Hagan, Conor Feeney; Niall Moore, Shane Farren, Tiernan Moore.

(Subs) Cahir McGilligan for S Murphy, 37mins; Sean McCullagh for T McCloskey, 49mins; Oisin Roe McCloskey for P Hagan, 60mins;

Yellow Cards: Darragh McCloskey, 54mins;

Black Card: P Hagan, 59mins;

Swatragh: Sean McNicholl, Tiernan Walsh, Diarmuid Dillon, Ryan Dillon; Niall Coyle, Conor McAtamney, Sean Francis Quinn; Eoghan O'Kane, Michael Friel; Sean Kearney, James Kearney, Patrick Kearney; Fintan McGurk, Francis Kearney, Oisin McWilliams.

(Subs) Jude McAtamney for S Kearney, 36mins; Lorcan McWilliams for F McGurk, 36mins; Liam Kearney for R Dillon, 39mins; Niall McAtamney for M Friel, 43mins;

Referee: John Joe Cleary (Castledawson)