Ulster Senior Football Championship Quarter-final
THERE was to be no repeat of last year’s victory over Fermanagh for Antrim’s footballers as they exited the Ulster Senior Football Championship following an eight-point defeat to the Ernemen at Brewster Park on Sunday.
The sending off of Sean McVeigh on 31 minutes proved fatal to the Saffrons’ hopes as the hosts eventually pulled clear in the closing stages of the game to avenge last year’s result at the same stage of the competition.
Pete McGrath’s side had better options in attack and were able to create the scoring chances to win as Antrim largely relied on the free-taking of Conor McGourty, who entered the game as a first half substitute having been unable to start the game due to injury.
Fermanagh captain Ryan Jones was a colossus in midfield and kicked three excellent points, but it was in defence where Fermanagh really set themselves up for victory as they denied the Antrim attack any room and indeed held the Saffrons scoreless from play from the 13th minute.
Last year, this game was a high-scoring , thrill-a-minute affair with Antrim in particular playing some swashbuckling football. Given what transpired that day, it was always going to be a tighter game this time around with both sides employing a defensive strategy that denied the opposition space.
Antrim had a sight of goal early on when Owen Gallagher raced in on goal from the right. When it seemed it was a better option to either fist over or have a shot at goal himeself, the Glenavy man squared to Micky Pollock who was quickly surrounded and the chance went.
Fermanagh had actually opened brighter and eventually raised the first flag of the day when Tomás Corrigan curled over from the right and they doubled that advantage thanks to Ryan Jones who kicked a great point with his left boot after a flowing move.
Antrim already looked a little short up front with Ryan Murray and Pollock isolated against four Fermanagh defenders, but an excellent low ball from Conor Murray to younger brother Ryan saw the Lámh Dhearg man gather, turn on to his left boot and curl over.
Fermanagh’s Paul McCusker then had an audacious lob for a goal sail just wide while from their next attack Antrim were on terms when a line ball from Pollock broke to Kieran McGourty who fired over.
However, this was as good as it got for Frank Fitzsimons’ side who wouldn’t score from play again and when Ciaran Flaherty rode a challenge to steady and score, his side went into a lead they would hold for the remainder of the game.
Jones kicked his second of the day on 19 minutes after taking a pass from Sean Quigley who had dropped deep to try and get into the game, as the game started to resemble a chess match with both sides denied space.
It would be nine minutes before we had our next score and it came from the boot of Conor McGourty who converted a free just minutes after being introduced for Pollock, but then came that dismissal of McVeigh who seemed to be lining up a fair shoulder challenge, but Ciarán Flaherty appeared to stumble and by the time the Ballymena man got there, his elbow connected with the face of the Belcoo man and, upon consultation with his linesman, referee Maurice Deegan issued a straight red.
Fermanagh capitalised, with Sean Quigley kicking a free and then setting up Barry Mulrone for a point follwng a loose kick-out, but McGourty did narrow the gap to two – 0-6 to 0-4 – with a free on the stroke of half-time.
McGourty repeated the trick shortly after the break to leave just one in it, but this was as close as Antrim would get as the hosts always seemed to have an answer.
Quigley kicked a free before Ryan Jones hit the score of the game when thumping over from distance out on the right and another Quigley free made it a four-point game by the 50th minute.
Two McGourty frees kept Antrim in the hunt but Mulrone hit back after a good move although McGourty did cancel this out shortly after with his sixth free of the day to leave Antrim just two behind with ten minutes to play.
They were unable to carve out the chances to really strike for home, however, with Fermanagh beginning to exploit gaps and points from Daniel Kille and Paul McCusker gave them a healthy lead.
The game was now petering out and Quigley kicked a free before the big Rosslea man had the final say when slamming an injury-time penalty into the net after Kille had been clumsily taken down by Niall Delargy.
The final whistle went immediatley after to end a game that never really caught fire and confirm Fermanagh’s passage to a semi-final against Monaghan while also condemning Antrim to the All-Ireland Qualifiers on June 20.
FERMANAGH: C Snow; M Jones, N Cassidy, M O’Brien; D McCUsker, R McCLuskey, J McMahon; R Jones (0-3), R O’Callaghan; B Mulrone (0-2), C Flaherty (0-1), P McCusker (0-1); T Corrigan (0-1), S Quigley (1-4, 0-4 frees, 1-0 penalty), R Corrigan. Subs: D Kille (0-1) for R Corrigan (22 mins), A Breen for R McCluskey (30 mins).
ANTRIM: C Kerr; N Delargy, C Burke, R Johnson; T Scullion, J Crozier, J Laverty; Conor Murray, S McVeigh; M Sweeney, O Gallagher, P McBride; K McGourty (0-1), M Pollock, R Murray (0-1). Subs: C McGourty (0-6, all frees) for M Pollock (25 mins), J Dowling for O Gallagher (HT), D Lynch for P McBride (HT), C Duffin for R Johnson (53 mins), N O’Neill for M Sweeney (61 mins), D McAleese for R Murray (61 mins).
REFEREE: Maurice Deegan (Laois)