Sunday’s battle of the Division Two ‘big guns’ at Pairc Bhrid, Ballyarnett was decided by a solitary Claudy sharp-shooter.
Aaron Kerrigan hit 0-9 in a virtuoso performance which Steelstown simply couldn’t handle. The Brian Ogs didn’t help themselves with some questionable tactics that played into the visitors’ hands but the Mitchel’s were excellent as they laid down a marker for the rest of the season.
A tightly knit defensive unit has been the hallmark of Steelstown’s ascent through the divisions over recent years but on Sunday they got it wrong, especially in the first half. With no discernible sweeper stopping the supply line into Kerrigan and Blaine Carlin, the Claudy front two caused havoc.
Kerrigan was unplayable but with leaving him with 30 yards of space in an almost vacated Steelstown ‘45’ is asking for trouble. And Steelstown paid a heavy price.
Ciaran Flanagan started on him but Kerrigan was too quick and too clever for the young player and would have been for most players in these circumstances. You can’t mark pace but you can try to curtail the space in which it operates and after Kerrigan’s three points inside the opening five minutes Steelstown were forced to act.
Gary Duffy re-organised with a not fully-fit Paul O’Hea brought into the action on 17 minutes as a sweeper. It slowed the bleed but was a bandage approach which never stemmed the flow totally.
Employing Kerrigan and Carlin as a front two, with Odhran McCloskey and Paul White tucked in behind, allowed Michael O’Kane’s team to drop deep and curtail the Steelstown runners which is a huge part of their arsenal. It forced the city team forward and left that vital space for the Claudy front men to operate.
The Claudy emphasis was on not carrying the ball into tackles. Constant quick passing meant Steelstown could never tie them down or slow them up and the quality ball going in was brilliantly gobbled up by Kerrigan who was winning frees or hitting scores every time he had possession.
He wasn’t alone though. All over the pitch Claudy were impressive. Questions were asked after the heavy defeat to Greenlough but good teams are decided by how they react to defeat and Claudy have responded so well that the Greenlough match can be viewed as a ‘blip’.
The spine of the Mitchel’s team looked excellent. As well as the front men, Eoin McGahon dominated midfield with Conor Johnston marshalling the half-back line brilliantly and doing a great job on Mickey McKinney. Fast, mobile and disciplined with Kerrigan providing that magic touch, Claudy also highlight their strength in depth with both Marty Donaghy and Paddy Hargan introduced off the bench in the second half as they work their way back to full fitness.
For Steelstown, Mark Foley’s second half return will help as scoring remains a problem. They had plenty of possession but didn’t convert enough chances and were wayward from a number of frees.
Too many times they were forced into lateral passing and, with the notable exception of Neil Forester, lacked the drive to punch holes in the Claudy back line. The Brian Ogs remain silverware contenders but still lack a high-scoring forward for the big occasion.
Kerrigan had Claudy three up inside the first five minutes courtesy of two frees and a rasping shot that only cleared the Steelstown bar by inches. His strike partner Carlin, showed he was no slouch either with the Mitchel’s fourth and it took until the 11th minute for the home side to score through an Eamonn Donnelly point.
Steelstown manager Gary Duffy was sent from the touchline on 15 minutes for something he said to referee Peter O’Connor but his team responded with points from Forester and Donnelly to make it a one point game. Claudy though replied with two more Kerrigan frees as the side went in at 0-6 to 0-3.
The second half started as the first ended, with Kerrigan on target 19 seconds in and following it with another five minutes later to make it 0-8 to 0-3. Gareth Logue got himself on the score sheet only for Shea Kerrigan to show that there was more that one Kerrigan in Claudy with the game’s best point from wide on the right hand side.
With Claudy’s ability to break and nick scores, Steelstown needed a goal but never threatened to get it with Dermot McFeely’s late black card for Claudy having little bearing on a game the visitors controlled superbly.
Steelstown brian ogs: Martin Dunne; Ciaran Flanagan, Kevin Lindsay, Shane O’Connor; Ryan McCloskey, Sebastian Cruddan, Neil Forester (0-1); Darren McDaid, Michael McKinney; Andy Moore, Oran Sweeney, Liam Heffernan; Brian Devine, Eamonn Donnelly (0-3, 2f), Gareth Logue (0-2, 1f). (Subs) Paul O’Hea for R McCloskey, 17mins; Emmett Deane for B Devine, 37mins; Rory Maguire (0-1) for M McKinney, 37mins; Ryan McCloskey for E Deane (inj), 46mins; Mark Foley (0-2, 2f) for P O‘Hea, 46mins; Paul Ferris for G Logue, 59mins.
Claudy: Aidy McLaughlin; Dermot McFeely, Fionain Smith, Lee O’Kane; Barry Cartin, Conor Johnston, Callum McElhinney; Darrell Devine, Eoin McGahon; Odhran McCloskey, Shane McGahon, Paul White; Blaine Carlin (0-1), Shea Kerrigan (0-1), Aaron Kerrigan (0-9, 6f). (Subs) Jamie Donaghey (0-1) for D McFeeley (Black Card), 49mins; Marty Donaghey for O McCloskey, 46mins; Patrick Hargan for Darrell Devine, 57mins.
Referee: Peter O’Connor