Lámh Dhearg 1-12 Naomh Gall 2-13
League leaders St Gall's maintained their 100% league record with a victory over Lámh Dhearg in a sunny Hannahstown on Friday evening, but had to bide their time against a determined display from the county champions.
The Milltown Row men have begun the season in commanding form and with Lámh Dhearg being the architects of their championship downfall in 2017, there was extra incentive added to the usual bite between the two rivals.
The match, however, was only seconds old when a miscued Ciaran O'Connor kick-out fell into the arms of former Antrim captain Paddy Cunningham, who gleefully lobbed the unfortunate goalkeeper to give Lámhs an early lead.
Cunningham was lively again minutes later, adding a point to increase the hosts' lead. Tomás Ó Ciaráin then got the visitors' opening score, sweeping over a left-footed effort, before Cunningham again hit back, cutting in off the right flank and swinging over a lovely point.
St Gall's then carved open their first goal chance of the evening, their running breaking the Lámh Dhearg defensive line and Conor McGourty's low shot fizzed over the home crossbar to raise a white flag.
Paddy Cunningham and Niall O'Neill traded scores before a slick passing move released Ryan Murray for his first score of the game, quick hands from Declan Lynch and the lively Cunningham sending him through on the run.
McGourty ensured that the game remained tit-for-tat, tapping over a free and creating a score for Eoghan McCabe either side of a big point from distance from Lámh Dhearg's Owen McKeown.
Lámh Dhearg's Aaron McAulfield then channelled his inner Colm Cavanagh. Winning possession in the full back line, he carried the ball out before playing a pinpoint one-two with Terry McCrudden, before breaking clear and floating over a score from the right flank.
The experienced Sean Kelly tempered the excitement of McAulfield's score by slotting over a point to leave St Gall's trailing by the minimum at half time.
The game had had a few minor flashpoints, but had been handled well by Eamonn McAuley, who was called into action early in the second half, issuing Kieran McGourty and Declan Lynch with a yellow card apiece, the two having already clashed in the first half.
A brace of points from Declan Lynch and a beautiful effort from the outside of Cunningham's left foot were interspersed by Conor McGourty and Niall O'Neill minors, keeping the visitors on the coattails of the hosts.
Marc McGarry and Kevin Niblock traded scores before the turning point of the game arrived.
Kieran McGourty was out in front to win the ball, shipping a big hit as he offloaded to the running Eoghan McCabe. McCabe unselfishly drew the defender before slipping the hand-pass to the waiting Conor McGourty, who made no mistake with a point-blank finish to give St Gall's the lead for the first time in the game.
McCabe again turned creator for McGourty minutes later as patient work in the corner released the full-forward for another score to increase the St Gall's lead to two.
Kevin Quinn quickly had the hosts back within one with a free following a foul on Declan Lynch before Niall O'Neill burst through to fist the point that restored their two-point lead.
Lynch himself hit back, bursting out of the Lámh Dhearg midfield to send over a beautiful score on the run from the right flank before the Milltown Row men struck the killer blow.
A high ball into the Hannahstown six-yard box hung in the air, deceiving Stephen Tully and Aaron McAulfield who didn't deal with it effectively. The ball fell to the waiting Conor McGourty, who scrambled it to the Lámh Dhearg net to give his side some breathing space before Mark Kelly sealed the victory with a neat point at the death.
Lámh Dhearg: Stephen Tully, Pádraig Mervyn, Aaron McAulfield, Marc McGarry, Declan Lynch (c), Michael Herron, Brendan McComb, Pearse Fitzsimons, Kevin Quinn, Owen McKeown, Ciarán O'Flaherty, Gerard Slane, Patrick Cunningham, Ryan Murray, Terry McCrudden.
St Gall's: Ciaran O'Connor, Tomás Ó Ciaráin, Ryan Irvine, Shane O'Hagan, Mark Kelly, Jackson McGreevy, John McCaffrey, Michael Pollock, Sean Kelly, Kevin Niblock (c), Kieran McGourty, Eoghan McCabe, Terry O'Neill, Conor McGourty, Niall O'Neill.
Referee: Eamonn McAuley (Erin's Own, Cargin)