Antrim Hurling Division Four final
Lámh Dhearg 1-21 All Saints, Ballymena 0-7
LÁMH Dhearg gained promotion at the first time of asking after defeating All Saints, Ballymena at Hightown on Sunday afternoon.
Two years after suffering relegation to the bottom tier and with no league to contest last season, this provided the first opportunity for the Hannahstown club to plot their way out of Division Four and they did so unbeaten.
Their trickiest test came in the form of the reverse meeting in Ballymena last month, which saw Lámh Dhearg maintain their unbeaten run with a hard fought 1-14 to 1-12 win, so expectations where that Sunday’s clash could possibly go to the wire at Naomh Éanna.
It was the league leaders who opened up fastest with Paddy Mervyn taking a cross-field ball from Eamon Murray and swinging the ball between the posts.
Mervyn was involved in the next score, picking out Ronan Fegan who saw off the attention of Kevin Brady and floated the ball over.
Ciaran Neeson opened his account for the afternoon in reply, seizing upon a loose sideline ball and bending a shot over the bar.
Neeson - an influential figure for his side this season - scored 1-11 of his side’s scores in the meeting last month but was kept under wraps for long periods by Sean-Paul Gibson as the Lámhs' extended their lead.
Daniel Murray took a pass from Fionn Mervyn and angled over a nice point and followed that up with a converted free a few minutes later.
All Saints replied with a fine Damian Gillan score, but Murray converted his second free of the first quarter.
The opening goal almost arrived when Declan Lynch popped a high ball into the path of Fionn Mervyn who burst towards goal; his shot was destined for the net, but Ciaran Cassley batted his effort to partial safety. Eamonn Murray would ensure a point was forthcoming however and his side were 0-6 to 0-2 to the good.
A first point of the afternoon followed from Declan Lynch before the water-break and a third converted Murray free extended the advantage further.
Ciaran Neeson landed his second score of the half from a long-range free and scored another shortly after from closer to the goal.
All Saints’ momentum was short-lived as Eamonn Murray combined with Ronan Fegan whose low pass found Declan Lynch for his second point of the half.
Damian Gillan went down close to goal, giving his side the opportunity for a response and their cause was helped further when referee Ciaran McCloskey was called by one of his umpires who cited Mark Lynch for an off the ball incident which led to a red card for the full-back.
Neeson cut the gap from the free, but despite having a numerical advantage for the remaining of the game, All Saints suffered a blow of their own with almost the last action of the first half.
Paddy Mervyn went short to Declan Lynch with a free and Lynch floated an effort which dropped and was batted clear by Ciaran Cassley that fell into the path of Gerard Smyth who turned his man and shot low to the corner of the net as Lámh Dhearg held a 1-9 to 0-5 lead at the break.
Smyth extended his side’s lead with a point upon the resumption of play and a side-line puck from Mark Hamill was flicked up by Declan Lynch who floated over his third point of the afternoon.
Lynch was involved in the next score after robbing Vincent Esler and drawing a foul that led to Murray converting.
Their strong start continued with Murray swinging over his second point from play and he added two further frees to his ever-increasing tally to make it 1-15 to 0-5.
All Saints were struggling to keep the scoreboard ticking over and met a resilient and determined Lámh Dhearg defensive rear-guard head on.
Chris Nolan and Tiarnan McKenna were ably assisted by Ronan Fegan who dropped back to add protection after Mark Lynch’s red card and the half-back line of Sean-Paul Gibson, Paddy Mervyn and Ryan Diamond were equally as efficient.
A fantastic example of the Lámhs’ dogged work-rate was a fine Paddy Mervyn block down being followed by another two in succession by Mark Hamill and then drawing a turnover.
Gerard Smyth notched up his second point before the water-break after a nice sideline cut went cross-field from Fionn Mervyn.
The Hannahstown side made it nine on the spin thanks to an eighth Daniel Murray point and his third from play after a nice, flicked pass from Declan Lynch. It took 20 minutes for All Saints to come up with a reply through a Luke O’Rawe point and they almost had a goal soon after.
Francis Dugan misjudged his poc-out and sent it straight in the direction of Brendan McDonnell who moved in on the target, though Dugan atoned for his error with a low block after Tiarnan McKenna had applied some pressure and the ball was eventually scrambled behind and wide.
Ciaran Neeson converted a free a few minutes later for what would only be his fifth point of the contest – testament to the hard work of Sean-Paul Gibson who had the task of keeping tabs of the talisman.
Lámh Dhearg ended the game with the final four scores as Fionn Mervyn did well to win back possession and pop it over to Daniel Murray who angled over a point. Another Murray score ensured he would end the afternoon on 0-11.
Substitutes Ciaran Boyd and Niall McGarry then combined with McGarry swinging the ball between the sticks and Declan Lynch matched his midweek scoring tally with a late point to ensure his side ran out winners and in the process, ensure an immediate return to Division Three.
LÁMH DHEARG: F Dugan; C Nolan, M Lynch, T McKenna; SP Gibson, P Mervyn (0-1), R Diamond; A McGuigan, M Hamill; F Mervyn, D Lynch (0-4), D Murray (0-11, 0-6f); R Fegan (0-1), G Smyth (1-2), E Murray (0-1).
Subs: C Boyd for G Smyth (47), N McGarry (0-1) for E Murray (50), A Ferris for F Mervyn (54).
BALLYMENA: C Cassley; D McKee, C McAlee, K Brady; T Diamond, L O’Rawe (0-1), C Neeson; P Magill, V Esler; J Magill, D Gillan (0-1), B McDonnell; D Hasson, C Neeson (0-5, 0-4f), C Little.
Subs: C Magill for C Little (43), A Mitchell for B McDonnell (54).
REFEREE: Ciaran McCloskey (Loughgiel)