St Brigid's Cloughmills 1-15 Clooney Gaels 3-28
A blistering start that saw the Ahoghill men rack up 1-10 without reply eased their passage into the next round of the Antrim Intermediate Championship as they accounted for St Brigid's Cloughmills in Cushendall this afternoon.
Billed as a tight clash of two free-scoring sides, the match didn't quite live up to expectations as the South West side ran out nineteen-point winners against a misfiring Biddies side.
Points from Ronan Graham, and an early brace from James O'Connell saw the Gaels make a flying start to the game, their work-rate clear to be seen as they suffocated Cloughmills with their early enthusiasm.
Dan O'Neill added two more points and PJ O'Connell latched onto a poor puck out from Chris McKiernan in the St Brigid's goal to open up a six-point gap before the Ahoghill men hammered home their superiority and raised a green flag.
A low James Magee effort was spilled by McKiernan and Dan O'Neill was on hand to flick the ball to the now unguarded net.
There was no let-up for the beleaguered Biddies and James O'Connell added another free straight from the puck out before Neil O'Connell caught a high ball and fed Eamonn Magee for a further white flag. Point swiftly followed from Dan O'Neill and the lively James O'Connell before Cloughmills finally got off the mark.
Connor Laverty split the posts but the Clooney pressure was incessant, captain PJ O'Connell dispossessing a Biddies defender and finding the target before the Gaels effectively ended the contest with their second goal.
Pádraig Graham collected the ball in midfield and drove at the St Brigid's defence, unselfishly laying off the handpass for James O'Connell to finish the ball to the net.
With five minutes of the first half remaining, Michael Devlin opened his account from a long range free before Bernard Graham and Aaron Smiley traded scores.
Remarkably, there was still time for another four points as Clooney Gaels went for the jugular, PJ O'Connell punishing a handling error before a hattrick of James O'Connell points heralded the half time whistle with his side nineteen ahead.
St Brigid's emerged first from the dressing room for the second half but it was the Division 3 champions who drew first blood, Ronan Graham starting the second half like he did the first by firing over the bar. Donal Graham then fed Pádraig Graham for another quick score as things began to look even more ominous for the Biddies.
Aaron Smiley lifted the siege for Cloughmills but was pegged back immediately by a James O'Connell free before the Division 2 side hit a patch of form, two Liam Kearns frees, a Smiley 65 and a huge score from Michael Devlin deep in his own half saw them narrow the lead slightly to sixteen points.
Bernard Graham then took the occasion by the scruff of the neck, plucking a high ball from the air in midfield, shipping a heavy tackle before bouncing back onto his feet and sending the sliotar between the uprights to a rousing applause from the crowd.
Substitute Gary McCollum and Aaron Smiley hit back again for St Brigid's but two more James O'Connell points rendered them null and void within minutes before St Brigid's raised a green flag, Connor Laverty getting the final touch to a long ball and guiding it past Aidan Graham in the Ahoghill goal.
James O'Connell continued to punish any Cloughmills ill-discipline and pointed another free, only to see it cancelled out by Eoin Dobbin, before Pádraig Graham and Gary McCollum also traded points. James O'Connell ended the exchange with a further free after a James Doherty foul saw him go into the referee's notebook.
O'Connell then added a major to his tour-de-force of a performance, collecting the ball around the 45 and beating numerous Biddies defenders before finding the bottom corner of the net with two minutes remaining.
Connor Laverty and Aaron Smiley did manage to split the uprights in the remaining minutes but a Dan O'Neill score and a crowning effort from Martin Graham brought the game to an end with the Gaels convincing winners in the end as they progress to the next round.
Clooney are yet to taste defeat since the opening day and were well worth their nineteen-point victory in Cushendall. They will be hoping to continue their good form and are strong contenders for the Intermediate Championship.
St Brigid's Cloughmills: Chris McKiernan, Steven Martin, John McGuckian, Sean McKendry, James Doherty, Michael Morrison, Joseph Smyth, Michael Devlin (0-01, 0-01f), Seán Óg McErlain, Aaron Smiley (0-03, 0-03f), Connor Laverty (1-02), Ruairí Laverty, Geoffrey Óg Laverty, Liam Kearns (c) (0-02f), Steven Smyth.
Scoring Substitutes: Eoin Dobbin (0-01), Gary McCollum (0-02)
Clooney Gaels: Aidan Graham, Stephen O'Connell, Francis Neeson, Diarmaid Graham, Bernard Graham (0-02), Neil O'Connell, Eamonn Brady (0-01), James Magee, PJ O'Connell (c) (0-03), Owen Neeson, Pádraig Graham (0-02), Ronan Graham (0-02), Dan O'Neill (1-04), Donal Graham, James O'Connell (2-05, 0-08f).
Scoring Substitutes: Martin Graham (0-01)
Referee: Brendan Toland (Lámh Dhearg)