Dunloy, Ballymena

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No Shortage of Drama in Antrim U21 Football

Dunloy and Moneyglass faced a play-off after an ineligibility row. Pic by John McIlwaine.

The Derry U21 Football Championship drew to a close last night as O'Donovan Rossa Magherafelt crowned years of hard work at underage with a 2-15 to 2-03 victory over St Mary's Faughanvale.

Meanwhile in Antrim, as well as some excellent on-field score lines, the competition has become mired in controversy, with ineligibility rows and failure to field causing fixture headaches for administrators.

In my experience, the U21 grade has always carried with it an element of farce. Shoehorned into the calendar in late Autumn, and with no U21 league, it has always carried the air of a gather-up.

When I was going through the grade, games were played on a Sunday and both teams would often be feeling the effects of a heavy Saturday night, which added to the pantomime.

On one occasion our centre-back, who will remain anonymous, had fallen asleep the previous night to have his fingernails painted bright pink, and spent the moments before throw-in frantically searching for a pair of gloves to hide the incriminating cuticles.

This year, the Antrim board came up with the innovative idea of using a Group Stage, termed Phase One, to ensure the players at this grade got three good games, before the competition would split into A and B sections. They planned to use the available floodlit and 4G pitches in the county to hold midweek games so everything would run smoothly. The sound theory hasn't resulted in sound practice.

Almost inevitably, after the first two rounds of games, some teams realised their chances of entering the A competition were slim and decided to forgo the dead rubber of a third match, before Group 3 was thrown into chaos in one of the more bizarre ineligibility rows you will read about.

One of the early favourites for the competition, Cúchullain's Dunloy, fielded their side against Aghagallon in good faith. It later transpired that a new recruit for the club was over the age of 21. On investigation, the documents provided for the transfer were discovered to be false and that the player had attempted to convince the club that he was indeed eligible for the U21 grade.

With the story breaking early in the week, and Cúchullain's docked points, they clawed back an eight-point half time deficit to draw with Moneyglass, forcing a play-off with the same opposition this weekend, which the Dunloy men won to seal their place in the A section.

Just as the dust was settling in the Group 3 situation, over in Group 5 a completely different issue was developing.

Antrim IFC champions Naomh Éanna have successfully navigated the Ulster series to book a final place against Mullahoran of Cavan next weekend. With thirteen U21s on their senior panel, this was always going to pose difficulties for their U21 championship schedule.

Having beaten Rossa in their opener, their remaining two fixtures went unfulfilled and with a time-pressed county board unable to accommodate Naomh Éanna's request for flexibility, the Glengormley side finished on two points, but will be unable to participate in the A section. Installed as one of the competition favourites, they will now have to enter the B section when the curtain comes down on their Ulster IFC campaign.

However, Rossa's victory over Lámh Dhearg yesterday afternoon has left the CCC with a further migraine. The win has left the Shaw's Road side level on points with their rivals up the Hill, and the two sides must meet again on Tuesday evening in a play-off to determine who progresses to the A section.

The plot is further thickened by next Monday's county convention, reported on here by The Saffron Gael, which will see an election for the role of Chairperson. Along with St Paul's Joe Edwards, the position will be contested by Owen Elliott, current CCC Chairperson, and Ciaran McCavanagh, of, yes, you've guessed it, Naomh Éanna.

One motion of note could see a return to the Sunday morning antics of our beleaguered centre-back though, as a St Paul's motion suggests returning the games to their Sunday slot...

Taken from The Saffron Gael.

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