Cardinal O'Donnell's 2-11 Naomh Comhghall Antrim 2-09
Two late frees from the ice-cold Pádraig McKissock saw O'Donnell's edge this thrilling Antrim JFC clash over Naomh Comhghall at Woodlands on Friday night and set up a Semi-Final tie with either Na Piarsaigh or Con Magee's.
The game had swung from end-to-end in a superb advertisement for Junior football, with both teams going hell for leather for a place in the last four. The lead changed hands a number of times throughout the course of the game, with the Whiterock men eventually seeing it home in the final few minutes.
O'Donnell's were slow to emerge from the changing room, and were indeed slow to start as the Antrim side took an early lead, Conor McAuley winning a free for Miles Devine to point before taking a score of his own to leave them two ahead.
The Belfast men, sporting wristbands in support of suicide awareness, set about their task and settled themselves, Pádraig McKissock skipping away from a tackle and slipping in Caoilan Loughran for their first score. Mark McKenna then capitalised on some slack passing in the Naomh Comhghall back line to level the match.
O'Donnell's then found themselves in the lead, midfielder Steven Seawright collecting the ball in his own half and making a surging run forward, neatly guiding the ball between the uprights.
The lead did not last long, however, as Patrick O'Connor showed the O'Donnell's defence a clean pair of heels, racing through the middle to level matters once again, before Pádraig McKissock wrestled back the lead with a close-range free up the other end.
With the hits going in and a real championship edge to the game, McKissock then failed to make the most of the game's first clear-cut goal opportunity, his effort flashing across the face of the goal after being put clear by Caoilan Loughran.
From the resulting kick out, Antrim worked the ball well up the pitch and Miles Devine fired over after twisting and turning to create some space, before Conor McAuley kept the pressure on and put Naomh Comhghall back in front with 20 minutes gone.
A further Devine free saw Antrim open up a two-point lead before some indiscipline in the Naomh Comhghall ranks allowed O'Donnell's to hit the first goal of the game.
Antrim conceded a free kick in the forward line and got involved in some needless pushing an shoving. O'Donnell's simply got on with the free and launched a counter attack, the ball finding its way to Caoilan Loughran, whose long ball landed into the arms of Fergal McNerney, who fielded it well and made no mistake from close range, finishing to the net.
Minutes later the lead again changed hands, a foul on Miles Devine in the O'Donnell's box allowed Conor McAuley to slot a penalty past Conor Walsh to restore the Antrim lead.
Ciaran Ferran then found himself on the end of a neat ball into the O'Donnell's forward line and he slotted the score to leave the minimum between them at the break.
The Cardinals made two changes at half time, introducing Jamie Walker and Joe Rafferty and it was the former who made an instant impact, marauding forward and unleashing a powerful shot. Antrim goalkeeper Ben Johnston got a superb hand to the ball and turned it away, only for the onrushing Conor O'Donnell to volley it home in an explosive start to the second half.
Antrim's response came in the form of another Miles Devine free, wide on the right flank, before Pádraig McKissock again turned provider, catching a high ball and slipping it to Fergal McNerney to float over the score to leave his side two points up.
Peter McAuley then reduced the gap to one with a close range free that had been moved forward for dissent, and as Antrim pushed hard for an equaliser, Conor Walsh had to be alert to turn away a strong effort from Patrick Cooke before Antrim managed to net their second of the game.
Corner forward Miles Devine channelled his inner Owen Mulligan, selling two outrageous dummies, leaving defenders dazed in his wake, before playing a one-two and burying the ball into the bottom corner of Walsh's net. A superb piece of play.
The O'Donnell's response was swift, Ciaran Ferran finding the target before his strong run resulted in a free right in front of goal, allowing Pádraig McKissock to tap over and once again level the scores as the match entered the final ten minutes.
O'Donnell's then took the lead, Jamie Walker stepping forward out of midfield and shooting low over the crossbar, only for Miles Devine to tap over a further free to leave the teams locked on 2-09 apiece.
The tension began to rise further as the game entered a lengthy period of stoppage time, both teams battling furiously for possession, before a foul on Fergal McNerney 25 yards out gave Pádraig McKissock the chance to nudge O'Donnell's in front at a crucial juncture. McKissock composed himself and duly split the uprights to the delight of the gathered O'Donnell's support.
Frantically, the Antrim men tried to work the ball out of their half, but pressure from O'Donnell's forced the turn over and Naomh Comhghall conceded another free 40 yards from goal. It was left to McKissock again to put the icing on the cake having shown steely determination just seconds before, slotting the score to greet the final whistle with his side safely through to the Semi-Finals.
O'Donnell's will be happy to have put their league form behind them and get a much-needed win that should boost their confidence ahead of the Semi-Finals. Antrim contributed to a hugely entertaining game, with Miles Devine particularly unfortunate to find himself on the losing side after hitting 1-05.
Cardinal O'Donnell's: Conor Walsh, Patrick Meenan, Marc Mallon, Ciaran McKissock, Jim Donnelly, Conor O'Donnell (1-00), Kevin Kennedy, Conor Walsh, Steven Seawright (0-01), Caoilan Loughran (0-01), Pádraig McKissock (0-04f), Ciaran Ferran (0-02), Mark McKenna (0-01), Fergal McNerney (1-01), John Lavery.
Scoring Substitutes: Jamie Walker (0-01)
Naomh Comhghall Antrim: Ben Johnston, Paul Flannagan, Callum McCabe, James McLornan, Ryan McAuley, Paddy Quinn, Shane Óg Gribbon, Darryl McNeill, Kieran Quinn, Dylan Murdock, Peter McAuley (0-01f), Patrick O'Connor (0-01), Miles Devine (1-01, 0-04f), Patrick Cooke, Conor McAuley (0-02, 1-00f).
Referee: Tomás Eastwood (Naomh Éanna)