Creggan Kickham’s Ulster U-21 tournament of 2013 came to a conclusion at the weekend as Bryansford took on Ballinderry to try and claim the Paddy McLarnon Memorial Cup.
As the crowd started to filter in there was entertainment as the Saw Doctors played over the tannoy system. The sun was shining and small puffs of white cloud floated lazily in the Summery sky. The large crowd led to a great atmosphere and following the parade and the national anthem everyone was ready for a classic.
Bryansford looked to get off to a lightning start but Danny Savage saw his first shot go wide after just twenty seconds. It was the Derry champions who did register the first point after three minutes as Fintan Bell pointed to add to his tally for the competition. Incredibly it would turn out to be the only score Ballinderry would register from play. Bryansford hit back quickly and a pointed free from Danny Savage drew the sides level.
Bryansford would dominate for the next twenty minutes but a catalogue of missed opportunities had many wondering whether the Ford charges would be made to pay for their wastefulness in front of goal. By the tenth minute six scoring chances had been missed and with each of these the anxiety, even at this early stage of the game was growing among supporters.
The impressive Chris Clarke did edge the Mourne men ahead as he drove a shot over the bar turning down the temptation to lash the ball goalward and David McKibben followed up with a pointed free to leave it 0-3 – 0-1 halfway through the first half. More chances came and went for Bryansford before a 21st minute Ryan Bell 45 narrowed the gap to a single point.
From the kick-out Bryansford broke down the field at pace and the ball was worked to Adam Magorrian, with the corner forward swinging a right footed shot over the bar. However a brace of Ryan Bell free kicks before the interval meant that after a tentative and nervy first half the sides went in with the scoreboard reading Bryansford 0-4 – 0-4 Ballinderry.
The start to the second half was always going to be crucial and the game may well have turned out very differently had the Oak Leafers found the net early in the second period. The ball was worked down the right hand side of the field before a crossfield pass to Lee Martin changed the point of the attack. This caught out the otherwise faultless Ford backline and Martin unleashed an unstoppable cannon ball of a shot with his left boot. The ball flew past the outstretched hand of Ryan Brannigan but thundered off the post.
It fell straight to Emmett McGeehan who seemed to have an open net but as he blasted the ball towards the goal for a second time, Bryansford centre half back Ruairi Wells came flying out of the blue and somehow got his body between the ball and the goal line. It is moments like this where big games are won and lost and the determination and commitment of Wells to keep the ball out was enough to show that Bryansford were willing to go through the pain barrier to claim victory.
Three points that were scored in a five minute spell soon after were key as they meant there was always daylight between the teams. Danny Savage got the first and Conor Devlin kicked a beauty from 35 metres to extend the gap. Wing half back, Neil Murray continued the barrage on the Ballinderry goal with a point that came from a brilliant Aidan McCartan catch in midfield.
McCartan gave the ball to Devlin who slipped in Murray and he confidently pointed to open a crucial three point gap. With a quarter of an hour to go Danny Savage brought the game to double scores but frees from Ryan Bell and Fintan Bell rang out the sound of a late Ballinderry comeback. Despite this in the final few minutes Bryansford pulled further clear with Danny Savage pointing on the run and Chris Clarke rounding off the scoring with a fisted effort having cut in from the sideline.
Ballinderry did get the ball back down the field but in their need for a goal ended up putting the ball wide. The clock on the scoreboard told the crowd that the three minutes of injury time signalled had elapsed as Ryan Brannigan put the ball on the tee and when he struck through the kickout Robbie O Donnell sounded the final whistle, a whistle which confirmed that Bryansford were Ulster Champions.
There were strong performances all over the field with Daniel Young’s piercing runs, Eoghan McMullan’s thumping tackles and Tomás McInerney’s creativity proving the catalyst to set up the opportunities for the scorers. The scenes of delight and unbridled joy that followed among players, managers and supporters were a real contrast against the devastation and isolation that was clearly being felt by the beaten Ballinderry lads.
But football can be a cruel game, not that Bryansford will see it that way in this moment of euphoria. Aaron McDonald was presented with the Man-of-the-Match award and Danny Savage picked up the accolade for the Tournament’s top scorer.
BRYANSFORD: R Brannigan, A McDonald, R McDonald, M Harbinson, N Murray (0-1), R Wells, D Young, D McKibben (0-1), C Devlin (0-1), T McInerney, C Clarke (0-2), E McMullan, A Magorrian (0-1), D Savage (0-4), A McCartan.
SUB USED; Jack Maginn
OTHER SQUAD MEMBERS; C Hale, L Kelly, James Maginn, P Young, L King, A Tilley, R Kavanagh, S Kane.
BALLINDERRY: S Cassidy, E Bell, G McKinless, E Wilson, D Lawn, A Devlin, R O Neill, C Rocks, R Bell (0-4), M Quinn, L Martin, H Wilkinson, F Bell (0-2), D McKinless, E McGeehan.