St. Patrick’s College in Ulster semi-finals

PLAYED in blustery conditions at Maghera, St. Patrick’s made history by reaching the Ulster Semi-finals in Gaelic football for the first time.

The early exchanges expressed St. Pat’s hunger and determination, as they got out of the blocks quickly, Sean Og McErlean firing over two classy points to steady any early nerves.

St. Patrick’s settled into the game quickly, aided by the dominance of Caolan McCambridge at full forward, who was proving a serious handful for Lumen’s full-back. McCambridge executed a fine point, with Diarmuid McNally adding a free to proceedings, as Ballymena raced into a 4-point lead. Indeed, Ballymena could have had a greater cushion, only for a lack of composure in front of goal.

Lumen Christi suddenly sprang to life, however, when a scrappy broken ball in defence led to a 3-pointer to the Derry side, crushing Ballymena’s lead to the bare minimum. This gave St. Pat’s the warning signs of the obvious threat posed by Lumen, but their response was swift, playing a possession game which frustrated Derry and led to two fantastic pointed frees from Jimmy O’Connell. Although Lumen added a pointed free to their tally, the ever-menacing McCambridge added a further point from play, along with Liam Mitchell, to leave the Ballymena side four points to the good at half-time.

The second half saw Lumen Christi start to fire, as they began pegging their opponents back, slowly but surely. The St. Patrick’s defence, led by the unerring efforts of Andrew McLarnon and Tiernan Elliott, blocked numerous goal bound efforts and inspired their team-mates to keep their noses in front. A well-taken goal from Karl Fitzpatrick steadied the ship, as Ballymena simply refused to relinquish a lead they had maintained from the throw-in. Another McNally free and a sublime effort from Jimmy O’Connell furthered St. Patrick’s cause, but the Derry side had not finished just yet, responding with points of their own and forcing Dylan Little in Ballymena’s goal to pull off some exceptional stops. Lumen narrowed the gap to the bare minimum once again in the closing stages to set up a nail-biting finish.

Will Smith entered the frame for Ballymena with five minute remaining, and within three minutes of his introduction, had benefited from a McCambridge flicked pass, to bury the ball in the Derry net.

This was the nail in the coffin for Lumen Christi, as the Ballymena boys saw out the remaining minute of the game.

The first half provided St. Patrick’s with this victory, as they made their intentions clear very early on, that they would be a force to contend with. From Dylan Little in goals, the tireless efforts of McLarnon, Elliott and O’Connell, with his attacking prowess, St. Patrick’s created a solid defence. Fionnbar O’Neill, aided by Aaron Keenan, were inspirational in midfield, as they grafted non-stop for 60 minutes. In attack, Sean Og McErlean and Caolan McCambridge shone with their motivating scores and ball winning capabilities, but in truth it was a huge team effort from the Ballymena lads to set up a debut Ulster semi-final against Donaghmore, where they will seek revenge for an earlier defeat in the group stages.

Team: Dylan Little; Niall Swann; Andrew McLarnon; Tiernan Elliott; Liam Mulvenna; Conor Rafferty; James O’Connell (0-3); Aaron Keenan; Karl Fitzpatrick (1-0); Diarmuid McNally (0-2); Sean Og McErlean (0-2); Patrick McAuley; Caolan McCambridge (0-2); Liam Mitchell (0-1).

Subs – Will Smith (1-0) for Liam Mitchell, Jonathan Fyfe, Sean Kelly, Jordan McNeill