St Joseph’s Ballycran 3-13 Naomh Eoin 2-20
St John’s snatched victory from defeat’s snarling jaws in a pulsating game of hurling against Ballycran at McKenna Park this afternoon, with injury time goals from Domhnall Moran and Dannan McKeogh overturning a two-point deficit to take home the points.
Played in blistering sunshine on the Ards Peninsula, an ill-tempered first half ended with a Conor Woods goal putting five between the sides at the break, but with the hosts registering only 1-04 in the second half, the Belfast side chipped away at the lead, eventually reaping the benefits in added time.
Despite opening the scoring after a matter of seconds from midfielder Shea Shannon, the hosts assumed control of the early stages and points from Conor Woods and Cormac McAllister had the Down side in front with the next two attacks.
St John’s then had their first sight of the ‘Cran goal, Conor Johnston attempting an audacious reverse shot after a goalmouth scramble, but goalkeeper Stephen Keith was alert to the danger, springing low to his right to turn the sliotar around the post.
Ciarán Johnston converted the 65 to level matters, but a brace from Christopher Egan and a neat Michael Ennis point once again pegged back the Johnnies, only Conor Johnston’s reply attempting to stem the flow.
On 9 minutes the Naomh Eoin defence looked on helplessly as the ball fell kindly for Brendan Ennis, who swept the ball home on the ground past the advancing Simon Doherty for the game’s opening goal.
The early stages had been fraught with off-the-ball exchanges and there was a lengthy stoppage as the home side lost corner-back Sean Ennis to injury and referee Darren McKeown appealed for calm among warring backs and forwards, but with play restored, Stuart Martin helped himself to a score to extend the Ballycran lead to six.
A further brace followed from the clinical hurl of Conor Woods but as it looked like the hosts were gaining momentum, St John’s corner forward Conal Bohill plucked a high ball from the Peninsula air and tapped over the bar to reduce the arrears to five.
Bohill’s intervention inspired a revival for the Whiterock men and points followed from Ciarán Johnston, Mícheál Bradley and Conor Johnston, the latter a beauty from under the stand, before Shea Shannon notched his second with another long-distance effort.
Conor Woods then pounced on a loose sideline ball to put four between the sides, but St John’s hit back immediately with a brace of Ciarán Johnston frees, before Woods caught the Johnnies with a sucker punch right on the bell.
Fielding a high ball in the full-forward line, the lively Woods wriggled free of his marker and buried the ball into the bottom corner of Doherty’s net to leave St John’s reeling and trailing by five at the break.
Woods and Ciarán Johnston began the second half by trading frees, before Ciarán and Conor channelled their inner Paul and Barry Chuckle with a short free routine that ultimately ended up wide of the mark.
Domhnall Moran restored order with a long-range point before Ciarán Johnston won another free. No training ground set play on this occasion and he landed it from 45 yards to leave three points between the sides.
A further Johnston free and another huge effort from Moran saw the deficit cut to the minimum, but as the danger grew for Ballycran, they found a cushion, scores from Woods and Niall Breen edging them back into a three-point lead.
Another Moran-Johnston double followed before centre-back Barry McFall drove forward to level the score on 53 minutes after some neat stick work from Shannon and Aidan McMahon.
Just as the Johnnies manoeuvred into a promising position to mount a winning challenge, St Joseph’s hit them again. Doherty’s acrobatic save from a Christopher Egan shot fell into the path of Stuart Martin, who made no mistake with the rebound, pulling the ball into the empty net to leave them three ahead once again.
The action continued to be intense as Shannon swapped points with Woods, before another massive Barry McFall effort left two separating the sides in the 59th minute, when the visitors lost Ciarán Johnston to a second yellow card.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, St John’s were thrown a lifeline minutes later. With the ball ricocheting towards an empty net, Gerard Hughes got his hand to it and brought it clear, only for referee McKeown to rule he had touched it on the ground.
Up stepped Moran and with the goal line packed, somehow managed to squeeze the ball to the net in the 64th minute. Substitute Dannan McKeogh then added the proverbial insult to injury, wriggling through a minute later to poke the ball past Keith.
A cruel ending for Ballycran, who had done more than enough to warrant something from the game, but ecstasy for the Belfast men who refused to panic, continuing to pick off scores and clinical when the match-winning opportunity arose.
St Joseph’s Ballycran: Stephen Keith, Michael Hughes, Patrick Hughes, Sean Ennis, Gerard Hughes, Pádraig Flynn, Aaron Dorrian, Scott Nicholson, James Coyle, Michael Ennis (0-01), Conor Woods (1-07, 0-03f, 0-02 – 65), Christopher Egan (0-02), Brendan Ennis (1-00), Cormac McAllister (0-01), Niall Breen (0-01).
Subs: Stuart Martin (1-01) for Sean Ennis 12’, Huw Flynn for Aaron Dorrian 45’
Naomh Eoin: Simon Doherty, Jack Bohill, Ryan McNulty, Aidan McMahon, Conal Morgan, Barry McFall (0-02), Pádraig Nugent, Shea Shannon (0-03), Sean Wilson, Ciarán Johnston (0-08, 0-07f, 0-01 – 65), Mícheál Bradley (0-01), Oisín Donnelly, Conal Bohill (0-01), Conor Johnston (0-02), Donal McKernan.
Subs: Dean Madden for Pádraig Nugent 12’, Domhnall Moran (1-03) for Donal McKernan 12’, Dannan McKeogh (1-00) for Conor Johnston 51’
Referee: Darren McKeown (Naomh Gall)
Peninsula Sports Man of the Match: Shea Shannon (Naomh Eoin)