IN ALL four previous games in Derry’s top division, Steelstown had shown considerable sparks of hope that they could survive in senior football. On Sunday however, at a windswept Pairc Bhrid, they looked a panel-stretched and worryingly devoid of ideas against a dominant Dungiven side.
Cathal Harkin was at Pairc Bhrid
Photographs: Phil Gamble
The visitors themselves have had a relatively poor start with only one victory and both teams came into the game missing key players. For Brian Ogs, both Cleary brothers, Aidan and Stephen, and Mickey McKinney were unavailable while Dungiven had to do without Mark Craig, Cathal Grieve, Ryan McElhinney and Liam Hiphney.
In the end, the absentees were felt most severely by Hugh McGrath’s team who now faced into a crucial run of four fixtures in 14 days.
“We will dust ourselves down and prepare for the next task,” explained McGrath, “We have some massive games in the league coming up against other teams down round where we are so we will get down to basics and push ourselves to be ready. The next two weeks could be the litmus test for this Steelstown team this season.”
Any hopes victory on Sunday were dashed almost as quickly as the action started with Dungiven a goal up inside the first minute. They were never behind.
When a Donal McGilligan free dropped short, Sean Bond rose highest to fist the ball past Martin Dunne to give his side three point head start despite playing into a strong gale. It looked like a good ‘six-point’ wind and it was not the first time this season the city side has been caught cold at the start of a game.
“The poor start cost us,” added McGrath, “It left us chasing the game and with that wind, we needed a good lead at half-time. Our very young squad are getting tested with an unfortunate run of injuries but we will take the positives in that they are getting a good experience from games like these.”
Steelstown immediately replied however with two James Jackson frees before James McGuigan cut in from the left wing to smartly put the ball over with his right foot inside the 21m line. Dungiven had controlled the play from the off and whenever they did lose the ball, they funnelled back to cut off the supply line to the Steelstown inside full forwards although this was helped by the sleepy fashion in which Steelstown moved the ball out of defence.
Ball was hard won in the middle third against Dungiven’s impressive pairing of Cathal McNicholl and Cathal McKeever who laid the foundations for the win. The first-half seeing the duo’s excellent containment job against the wind, the second their ability to initiate attacks. It was actually a foul on McKeever which gave Darrell O’Kane the first of three frees against the breeze. In reply Jackson scored from beyond the 40m line to leave the score at the break 1-03 to 0-03 but Steelstown had been shapeless in attack. They failed to use the wind and had it not been for James Jackson’s free-taking they would have been scoreless, Jackson, making his first start of the year, had a point to prove and he was making it but he was the only bright spot of a poor first-half for Steelstown.
Now with a mountain to climb, Steelstown actually opened the second half in positive fashion, Niall Murray converting a free to leave two points in it. However Donal McGilligan began to have a say with the first of his four scores before having a hand in the penalty which was awarded to Dungiven a few minutes later. A great run from deep by McNicholl led to the big man eventually being hauled down. Up stepped Kevin Boyle to coolly dispatch the ball past Dunne and leave six points between the teams.
Dungiven’s poor use of the wind was a slight cause for concern for Emmett McKeever’s men as they wasted numerous chances and could have been out of sight much earlier than they were. Another effort from McGilligan was a classy effort as the former Magee student began to cause havoc with his strong running. To compound Steelstown’s woes, a long hopeful punt from McKeever, via a sideline ball, bounced straight into the net as Dunne totally lost the flight of the ball to leave it 3-06 to 0-06 and, with ten minutes left, there was no way back for Steelstown.
McGilligan finished off the Dungiven scoring off his right foot and with a simple free. In reply a strong run from Michael Moore yielded a point for Steelstown in injury time.
Neither team played to their potential and both will hope to improve as they go in search of two very different targets. Dungiven will hope to give the championship a real go while Steelstown hope to gain enough points for survival. They have a lot of work to do and with only two points from play on Sunday, locating more scoring forwards must be a priority.
Steelstown Brian Ogs - Martin Dunne; Christy Beales, Kevin Lindsay, Tony Ling; Neil Forrester, Pol O’Hea, Mick Moore; Stephen McCauley, Darren McDaid; Liam Heffernan, Niall Murray (0-01f), Ryan Devine; Mark Brennan, James Jackson (0-03f), Daniel Jackson (0-01).
Subs: Conor McGoran for Stephen McCauley (45mins), Gary Cunningham for Niall Murray (45mins), Conan Doherty for Mark Brennan (50 mins).
Dungiven - Kevin Farren; Martin McCloskey, Davy McLaughlin, Kevin O’Connor; Kevin Johnson, Paddy Kelly, Craig Chewning; Cathal McKeever (1-00 sl), Cathal McNicholl; Sean Bond (1-00), Stephen McGuigan (0-01f), James McGuigan (0-01); Donal McGilligan (0-04, 1f), Darrell O’Kane (0-02f)Kevin Boyle (1-0).
Subs: Paul Murphy for Cathal McNicholl (45 mins), Sean O’Neill for Sean Bond (53mins), Stephen Kerlin for Stephen McGuigan (58 mins)
Referee - Dessie Loughrey.