Wolfe Tones Bellaghy 6-11 Crossmaglen Rangers 0-08
The assertive advice of Damian Cassidy echoed from the Bellaghy dressing room at half time, and the sentiments were well-absorbed by a dominant Wolfe Tones side as they hit five second-half goals to demolish Armagh champions Crossmaglen Rangers in the Final of the fonaCAB St Paul's Ulster Minor Tournament (supported by Belfast City Council) on New Year's Day.
The Derry men were eight points clear at this stage following a late burst in the first half, including a goal from midfielder Conleth McShane, but the management demanded more from their charges in the second period.
They were correct to be wary, Bellaghy having let slip a nine-point lead in the second half against St Eunan's before eventually rallying to see them through, but there was to be no Lazarene recovery from the boys of the county Armagh this time as Bellaghy claimed their third Jimmy McConville Cup.
The Tones assumed control from the outset and began to attack the Sarsfields end of the ground. Their early efforts were somewhat askew and fell to the left and right of the posts, before a goal chance opened up, full-forward Paul Cassidy's effort clawed away by an alert Stephen Morgan in the Crossmaglen goal.
It was left to outstanding midfielder Kealan Friel to open the scoring a minute later, working a free short and swinging over confidently, before Cassidy got himself off the mark with a trademark sidestep and finish from an acute angle on the left.
Crossmaglen responded well, the in-form Cian McConville slipping his man on the end line and bursting across goal, only for a swarming Bellaghy defence to force him out, the full-forward settling for white rather than green.
Winning a free wide on the left, Lorcan Spier replied for the Oakleaf men, taking a one-two and slotting between the posts before Bellaghy opened up the Cross defence again, Kealan Friel bursting through before squaring the ball agonisingly beyond the outstretched fingertips of Paul Cassidy with the goal at his mercy.
A foul on Dara O'Callaghan allowed McConville to tap over his second of the afternoon and keep his team in touch, but his goalkeeper was again called into action moments later, getting his hand to a Ronan Lee shot, only for Oisín McErlean to rescue a point.
Spier and McConville then traded points before Bellaghy clicked into gear. First Lorcan Spier swept over his second of the game, before a foul on Kealan Friel saw them win a free 30 yards from goal. As the Cross defence readied themselves for a shot on goal, Friel kicked it short to the marauding Conleth McShane, who buried it past Morgan.
A further brace from Spier before the half time whistle had the Armagh men reeling, and their situation was not helped as the sides emerged for the second half, referee Eamon McHugh seemingly having spotted an incident involving Odhran Kieran, and issuing the Crossmaglen half forward with a second yellow card and his marching orders before the ball was even thrown in.
Cian McConville raised a white flag in the 32nd minute, but this was merely a furtive jab before the knockout blow was delivered, a Charlie Diamond free dropping into the all-encompassing arms of Paul Cassidy, who turned and slotted the ball with aplomb under the despairing Stephen Morgan.
Cross responded with a Dara O'Callaghan score, but were again battered back by a buoyant Bellaghy barrage, Kealan Friel arriving late in the box to sweep home after a dramatic double save from the besieged Morgan between the posts.
The Orchard side were attempting to drop the ball short in the hope of grabbing a goal, but they looked devoid of both ideas and belief in the face of a tenacious and well-drilled Tones defence, and despite a Patsy Finnegan effort, back came Bellaghy again to leave the Cross net rippling.
Their quick handpassing and lightning movement saw the Derry side break through repeatedly on the Cross goal, Oisín McErlean this time the benefactor. Having won the ball, Paul Cassidy bore down on goal and despite Morgan narrowing the angle well, he managed to squeeze the ball through into the path of McErlean, who fisted low into the net.
Charlie Diamond registered the first Bellaghy point of the half in the 45th minute, before slipping a short pass to captain Cassidy to increase the gap to sixteen points in front of the huge crowd assembled on the Shaw's Road.
James Teelan battled manfully on, his neat flick up and run seeing him create some space, but his shot fell into the arms of Daire McErlean, who began the attack that would end with his side's fifth goal, the full-pitch counter attack being swept to the net by Conleth McShane as the men in black and amber looked hopefully at the ground and willed a chasm to appear.
A second point from O'Callaghan barely raised a rippled from the crowd, but acted as the precursor to McShane completing his hattrick. Again torn asunder by Bellaghy's superb movement, man of the match Friel found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Rather than roll home his second, he drew Morgan and slipped the ball to his midfield parter who punched first the ball to the net and then the air with delight at an Ulster final hattrick.
Credit to Crossmaglen though who kept sniping at their opponents until the final whistle, Patsy Finnegan collecting a recycled ball and swinging it between the posts, but Bellaghy would have the final word, Ronan Lee slipping over a late free kick against a now 13-man Cross, Shane Morgan having been dismissed in the 59th minute.
Paul Cassidy, named as One to Watch in last week's Unit Updates Team of the Year, raised the Jimmy McConville Cup first to his teammates on the field and then in a nice moment, turned and saluted those remaining on the terrace.
Earlier in the season we spoke to Damian Cassidy in the build-up to his Cargin side's Antrim final. When asked about the work in Bellaghy and his hopes for future senior success, he told us:
"I’m very confident we’ll be there. It’s just a matter of waiting to see when that will occur. Will it be in two or three years time or will it be four or five years time, it’s just a matter of when will it be, we know it’s gonna happen but when will it be?"
Sooner rather than later, on this showing.
Wolfe Tones: Daire McErlean, Ronan McFaul, Cormac McLarnon, James Diamond, Peter McErlean, Conan Milne, Odhran Lee, Conleth McShane (3-00), Kealan Friel (1-01), Oisín McErlean (1-01), Lorcan Spier (0-05), Lee Brady, Charlie Diamond (0-01f), Paul Cassidy (1-02), Ronan Lee (0-01f).
Substitutions: Oisín McClafferty for Cormac McLarnon 50', Sean Turner for Charlie Diamond 57', Fearghall Murray for Lorcan Spier 59'
Crossmaglen Rangers: Stephen Morgan, Declan Stuttard, Ryan Duffy, Thomas Cassidy, Liam Finnegan, Tony O'Callaghan, Míceál Murray, Shane Morgan, Eoghan McMahon, Odhran Kieran, Patsy Finnegan (0-02), Dara O'Callaghan (0-02), Oisín Doyle (0-01f), Cian McConville (0-02, 0-01f), James Teelan.
Substitutions: Ruairí Kieran for Eoghan McMahon 32'
Referee: Eamon McHugh (Aghyaran St Davog's GFC, Tír Eoghain)
Man of the Match: Kealan Friel (Wolfe Tones Bellaghy)