Antrim Senior Football Division 2 Round 1:
St Brigid’s v Aldergrove, The Dub, Wednesday 18th April
As the ball hung in the air, descending slowly towards Kevin McGovern’s goal, the crowd held their breath. St Brigid’s held the ascendancy in this second half and looked poised to take the game. But a punch, a deflection or a mistake, an Aldergrove goal, and the away side were right back in contention.
Never fear, for Conor King was standing on the edge of the square. And the main difference between Icarus and Conor King is that King never gets burnt. Rising like a healthy Mayo salmon, he plucked the ball from the clouds and provoked an enormous roar from the St Brigid’s faithful. If there was to be a final blow in this match, that was it.
With a dry sod and the Sun in the sky, the gust blowing across the pitch was all that prevented ideal conditions for football ahead of the game as both sides sought to get their 2018 campaigns off to a good start. Aldergrove started with serious intent and looked sharper in the early stages, running up a 3-0 lead from the throw-in. A John Blaney point finally got St Brigid’s underway before a couple of frees from James Smith helped cancel out two (one?) Aldergrove scores. There was some confusion about the score at half-time, as one team claimed it was 5-3 only to be countered by their opponents who had it down as 4-3. We’ll let you work out who was claiming what.
So the second half got underway, and few could have predicted how much the game would change over the course of the next thirty minutes. The St Brigid’s Reserves scored a frankly ludicrous 4-3 in the second half of their Championship quarter-final against Ahoghill on Monday night and their Senior counterparts appear to have taken a leaf out of their book. Why hit the ball over the bar when there’s a perfectly good net underneath it?
“Bury it,” cried St Brigid’s club chairman Dermot Dowling as Mikey Cummings received the ball on the right-hand side of the Aldergrove goal after a good team move all the way from defence. Mikey, being the polite and well-reared young man that he is, proceeded to do exactly that, hooking his big right loafer around the ball and slamming it into the top corner.
Shortly afterwards, Ruairi O’Neill grabbed a fine point as St Brigid’s applied more and more pressure, Oran Boyle and John Blaney proving highly effective around the half-forward line and Niall McDonald causing Aldergrove tremendous difficulty from full-forward. This pressure told when through some neat interplay up front Jack Dowling found himself with just the ‘keeper to beat and rifled it into the back of the net.
Eunan Conway once remarked at half-time in a challenge game that “usually James Smith is outstanding, tonight he has just been excellent”. And if Smith scoring 1-2 while limping around the pitch like Captain Hook wasn’t so beneficial to St Brigid’s’ hopes of promotion, it might depress us lesser mortals slightly. Upon receiving an exquisite John Blaney throughball he proceeded to jink past his man and slot a classy goal. At this stage the home side were five in front.
As Aldergrove pushed forward in search of scores, gaps opened up for St Brigid’s. The defence was getting on top, well-marshalled by Ben Sinnott who seemed to be everywhere. Ciaran Mackle and Paul Finnegan were outstanding fresh from their Reserve heroics, while John Toner and Andy Brennan were totally solid on the half-back line.
During his long inter-county career, Sean Cavanagh perfected the art of making it totally obvious to his opponent, the crowd and the dog on the street that he was about to do his famous ‘jink’, before going ahead and skinning his man anyway. Ruairi O’Neill, who likes to think of himself in a similar vein, did something similar when slotting over a fine point before Niall McDonald swung over an excellent score with his left peg. A final flourish from O’Neill saw him display a cool head (!) to side-foot the ball home after good work from Smith and Peter Webb.
McDonald, despite being near exhaustion, was really digging deep on his return to Senior competitive action after a long spell out and his final action of the game oozed class: a pinpoint pass to substitute Chris Quinn, who pointed from a seemingly impossible angle.
A good win for St Brigid’s against a teak-tough Aldergrove outfit, who will no doubt be there or thereabouts challenging for Division Two honours this year.
Honourable mention must go to Dermot Harkin, whose dubious reliability as an Umpire nearly got him sacked from the role mid-game. Subtlety is key, Dermot (Eamon Convery/John Bogue, please advise).
Final score: St Brigid’s 4-9, Aldergrove 0-11.