Dunloy, Ballymena

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Battling St Brigid's Claim U21 Title

Cúchullain's Dunloy 2-07 St Brigid's GAC Belfast 2-11

The pendulum swung several times in this Antrim U21 Football Final at Spórtlann na hÉireann but it took a 58th minute goal from St Brigid's full forward James Smith to finally sound the death knell on Dunloy's dreams of double-code championships at both Minor and U21.

Having been postponed on Saturday due to the monsoon-like conditions, Sunday afternoon's weather was perfect for football and both sides served up a hugely entertaining match on the 4G that yielded four goals, a brief floodlight failure and most importantly, tension and excitement til the end.

These sides met in the 2016 Antrim Minor Football final, with many of the same personnel involved, and it was the winners on that occasion that made the brighter start, Conal Cunning, Keelan Molloy and a fine effort from an acute angle by Eoin O'Neill cancelling out Patrick Finnegan's opener for St Brigid's.

The Cúchullain's work-rate was very evident in the opening minutes, with half forwards Keelan Molloy and Eoghan McGrath tracking back to make two superb blocks. The growing frustration of the St Brigid's forward line resulted in Ethan Carleton earning himself an early black card, much to the ire of the Malone Road management on the sideline.

Dunloy's Keelan Molloy takes off on an attacking raid.

Suddenly though, Dunloy's early dominance was undone in calamitous fashion, a communication error seeing two defenders leave the ball to each other, allowing James Smith to collect the ball and feed the onrushing John Blaney, who eventually squeezed the ball past a combination of Francis Cochrane and Conor Kinsella on the line to give the Biddies the lead.

Buoyed by the goal, St Brigid's added another point through Patrick Finnegan, only for Keelan Molloy to finish the move of the game, tapping over after a full-pitch counter attack as Dunloy mixed short and long passes at pace to free up Molloy to cut the deficit to one.

Back came the Belfast men, Peter Webb launching over a huge score from the left wing and Michael Cummings cutting through to reward his side's patient build-up, before Déaglán Smith shrugged off Peter King and swung the ball between the uprights to leave two between them.

St Brigid's were having real success in the midfield area, claiming marks and snatrisching breaking ball in front of their Cúchullain counterparts, and this momentum saw them notch two more scores in quick succession from James Smith and Peter Webb, before the latter received a black card for a late trip on Keelan Molloy.

Man of the Match James Smith of St Brigid's.

Eoin O'Neill then netted his side's first goal of the day, rising highest to nip between Brogan Austin and goalkeeper John Toner to fist the ball to the net and leave a single point separating the teams going into the half-time break.

The second-half scoring was opened by Peter Henvey, breaking down the right hand side and tapping over, but Dunloy responded immediately by turning over a short St Brigid's free and counter attacking for Eoin O'Neill to sweep the ball between the posts.

From the resulting kick out, Cúchullain's took control and a superb kick pass from Déaglán Smith found the marauding Conal Cunning, who sidestepped his man and unleashed the shot, seeing his effort defect off the feet of the unfortunate St Brigid's defender and past Toner into the top corner.

A quick response from John Blaney seemed to have settled the St Brigid's men again, but yet another swift Dunloy counter attack earned them a free on the Biddies' 45m line and Seaan Elliott confidently restored the two-point lead.

St Brigid's then had a penalty shout waved away, Conor King on a raid from full back brought down right on the edge of the area. As James Smith prepared to point the free, the Spórtlann floodlights were extinguished, leaving Smith to pop the ball over in the dim light of a late December evening.

A five-minute spell followed while power was restored, and it was St Brigid's who coped best with the disruption, Smith again Dunloy's tormentor as he cut through the defence to draw the sides level once again.

With the action becoming more frenetic, chances were appearing at both ends, but crucially Cúchullain's just could not make their opportunities count. Keelan Molloy sliced a free badly to the left, before Chrissy McMahon went close and Seaan Elliott saw his effort fall agonisingly into the arms of Toner.

The profligacy was duly punished as St Brigid's captain Michael Cummings became the benefactor of a sweeping passing move, guiding the ball between the uprights to send his side into the lead with five minutes remaining.

Three minutes later, James Smith sealed the outcome of the match, yet another passing move ending with full-forward and full-back exchanging a one-two, Smith fisting the return pass first-time to the net past the advancing Francis Cochrane.

The final stages of the game were managed well by St Brigid's and Dunloy's frustration yielded a black card for Keelan Molloy, while centre-back Ryan Elliott found himself staring at a red card for what looked like a trip on John Blaney in front of a baying St Brigid's support.

Referee Sean Laverty brought the game to a close and St Brigid's delight was clear as they celebrated their success, while Dunloy were visibly bitterly disappointed to lose the match at the end of what has been a superb footballing season for the club.

St Brigid's will now go into the hat for the Ulster U21 Championship, the draw taking place on Thursday 27th December.

Cúchullain's Dunloy

Francis Cochrane, Ciaran McQuillan, Conor Kinsella, Anton McGrath, Chrissy McMahon, Ryan Elliott, Aaron Crawford, Callum Scullion, Deáglán Smith (0-01), Eoghan McGrath, Keelan Molloy (0-02), Eoin O'Neill (1-02), Anthony Smith, Conal Cunning (1-01), Seaan Elliott (0-01f)

Subs: Cathair McGuigan for Anthony Smith 39'

St Brigid's Belfast

John Toner, Daire McGarvey, Conor King, John Morgan, Brogan Austin, Henry McGuigan, Oran Boyle, Patrick Finnegan (0-02), Peter King, Peter Webb (0-01, 0-01f), John Blaney (1-01), Michael Cummings (0-02), Ethan Carleton, James Smith (1-02, 0-01f), Peter Henvey (0-01)

Subs: Brian McCarthy for Ethan Carleton - BLACK CARD - 10', Paul Bradley for Peter Webb - BLACK CARD - 25', Daniel Foster for Brogan Austin 55'

Referee: Sean Laverty (St Ergnat's Moneyglass)

Man of the Match: James Smith (St Brigid's)

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