Pearse's Kilrea 2-15 Michael Davitt's Swatragh 1-17
A late salvo from captain James Kielt saw Kilrea snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and move out of the H & A Mechanical Derry ACFL Division 1 drop-zone with a win over Swatragh on Saturday evening.
The home side still had to endure a nail-biting final few seconds as Conor McAtamney dropped a free agonisingly to the left and wide that would have levelled the game for the visitors in the dying embers.
After Eoghan Rua's win over Newbridge in the early throw-in, the hosts began the game knowing that a victory here would move them above Sean O'Leary's into the play-off position with two games remaining, while the visitors were sitting uncomfortably just a few places above.
Fresh from recent Twitter fame, referee Joe Mulholland got the game underway as the dark clouds threatened to unleash a downpour and it was the visitors who took an early lead, Conor McAtamney firing over an early free to get them off the mark.
The Kilrea response was as swift as it was brutal however, corner-forward Paddy McNeill getting on the end of a neat move and bursting past his man to finish high into the top corner, giving Ruairí McGurk no chance.
James Kielt followed up with a neat free from 25 yards before Niall McAtamney replied for the visitors, finishing a neat hand passing move wide on the Swatragh right.
Two identical frees from Brendan Quigg wide on the right opened up a four-point lead for Kilrea as Liam Kearney found himself going into the referee's notebook for a high tackle.
Swatragh captain James Kearney opened his account with a free of his own making and Conor McAtamney hit a lovely score from the left flank as the visitors began to hit some form. Kielt again replied for the hosts, but James Kearney again split the Kilrea posts to leave the away side trailing by two points after their good spell of pressure.
The home side punctuated the fine Swatragh spell with another neat score, John Darragh intercepting a pass in their defence and James Kielt sweeping it home after an excellent counter-attack, but the Davitt's men roared back with points from Fintan McGurk and James Kearney.
With five minutes remaining until half time, Paddy McNeill got himself on the end of a crossfield ball from Conor Gillen and a neat shimmy bought him enough space to fire between the uprights, before the two James, Kearney and Kielt swapped scores to leave Kilrea two to the good as the game inched towards half-time.
The hosts could have gone in then feeling good about the first half performance as a controlled one, but the visitors had other ideas. Michael Friel caught another high ball into the home defence, turned and had a shot on goal.
Paul Morgan pulled off a superb point blank save, only to see the ball rebound to the waiting Fintan McGurk, who showed a poacher's instinct to scramble the ball home and give his side a half-time lead.
Kilrea emerged stung by the late goal and James Kielt set about levelling the game within seconds, only for for Francis Kearney to reply, ending a Swatragh counter-attack to restore the visitors' slender lead.
A brief pause allowed referee Joe Mulholland to receive some treatment for what looked like a hamstring strain, and James Kielt had quite a wait before he was able to float over another free to once again level the scores.
Minutes later they were back on top. Larry Kielt, now sporting a Steve-Bruce-esque bandage on his forehead after an early clash of heads, was brought down as he broke the visitors' defensive line and James applied the finish.
The lead however was short-lived and Conor McAtamney levelled matters again, taking a short pass from Fintan McGurk to fire over and as the game ebbed and flowed, McAtamney again was the man to nudge his side in front from a 45 minutes later.
Substitute Patrick Kearney then extended the lead, cutting in from the left flank and letting fly right footed over the bar, before two further Kielt frees had the teams on level terms for the fourth time.
Again the period of parity was short-lived and Niall McAtamney ended a lateral Swatragh move with a curling score from the right flank before two Francis Kearney frees opened up a three-point gap with eleven minutes to play.
Amid some nervous wides from the visitors, Enda McAleese finished left-footed to reduce the lead to two and yet another Kielt free tightened things up further after Mulholland spotted holding inside on Paddy Quigg.
Swatragh responded again, Michael Friel winning another long ball in and feeding Fintan McGurk for a simple finish and James Kearney shooting low over the bar to see the three-point lead restored.
With the game entering stoppage time, it looked like Davitt's were going to ease their relegation fears but a high ball on top of their defence proved their undoing.
As the ball broke on the edge of the six-yard box, the talismatic Kielt, now operating at full-forward, dived full length to nip in front of McGurk and fist the ball to the bottom corner of the visitors net to level matters once again.
When calm heads were needed, it was the hosts who again prevailed, winning the resulting kick out and working the ball to Kielt, who once again showed nerves of steel, swinging over left footed to give Kilrea the lead in stoppage time.
With only seconds remaining, the away side won a free around midfield. Incredibly, dissent from the hosts meant it was moved forward and was now well within Conor McAtamney's kicking range.
McAtamney had not put a foot wrong all day and you would have bet on him continuing his fine form and making a draw of this game, but he had his head in his hands as he watched his effort swing to the left and drop over the end line as the Kilrea team and supporters greeted it with delight.
Joy and relief then for Kilrea at the final whistle as they move into the play-off spot with one game to play against bottom side Claudy. Swatragh have two games remaining, against Bellaghy and leaders Slaughtneil and will surely target the former for the points they need.
Pearse's Kilrea: Paul Morgan, Eamon Darragh, Ruairidh Donaghy, John Darragh, Dan Cassidy, Brian Óg McAlary, Kevin Quinn, Charlie Kielt, James Kielt (c) (1-04, 0-07f), Conor Gillen, Brendan Quigg (0-02f), Larry Kielt, Paddy Quigg, Enda McAleese (0-01), Paddy McNeill (1-01).
Michael Davitt's Swatragh: Ruairí McGurk, Liam Kearney, Diarmuid Dillon, Sean F Quinn, Sean M Quinn, Ryan Dillon, Niall Coyle, Conor McAtamney (0-02, 0-02f), Eoghan O'Kane, Brian Diamond, Francis Kearney (0-02 0-02f), Niall McAtamney (0-02), James Kearney(c) (0-03, 0-02f), Michael Friel, Fintan McGurk (1-01).
Scoring subs: Patrick Kearney (0-01)
Referee: Joe Mulholland (Henry Joy McCracken's Moneymore)