OB Construction Antrim Intermediate Football Championship, Group One
St Paul's 3-11 Pearse’s 0-5
Start as you mean to go on was clearly the message in the St Paul’s dressing room when they went to battle with Pearse’s in their Intermediate Championship group stage opener on Friday evening.
Intermediate veterans St Paul’s welcomed last season’s Junior champions to the Shaw's Road with the hopes of averting an upset as they kicked off their championship campaign.
The game started with the away side on the front foot. Pearse’s began the game the stronger and looked set to cause an upset with their fast past attacking aggressive football early on.
The 2022 Junior champions struck a fantastic early point when targetman Daniel Magee took his mark before attempting to catch out the sleeping St Paul’s defence with a looping past to teammate Stephen Fitzsimons at the back post.
The half-forward made an early run catching the ball deep inside the box, but his shot was just too powerful and ended over the bar to put his side in front early on.
St Paul’s took their time to get going, with multiple frees being squandered early on. The home side took 10 minutes of play before registering a score, but it was worth the wait. Another poor free from St Paul’s dropped short, although Pearse’s could not clear their lines this time and the ball fell to forward Aidan Finnegan whose thumping effort off the deck roofed into the net and turned the game in favour of his side.
The goal completely shifted momentum back to St Paul’s to which they followed up their goal with a second when Séan McCrory used his huge height to tower over the Pearse’s defence when he punched a floating ball down into the goal.
The Intermediate novices began to show their inexperience at the level after St Paul’s notched their second goal on the scoreboard.
St Paul’s garnered their momentum and caught the oncoming kick-out and after a lovely catch from Colm McLarnon, he found Mark Munce who side-footed an effort between the posts on the 13th minute. The home-side were 2-1 to 0-1 in front with still more than half of the first period left to play.
Pearse’s showed glimpses at times, but they aired a feeling of a side who had hit the panic button too early with frees and kickouts being rushed and possession then being overturned, they began to crack.
Silly fouls from the North Belfast side allowed St Paul’s to take their scores and slowly distance themselves from their opponents. A flurry of scores came after Aiden Bannon was cautioned with a yellow, St Paul’s extended their lead to nine points thanks to points from Aidan Finnegan, Colm McLarnon and Conall Duffy.
The tie was all but won for St Paul’s, and the most decisive strike came at the tail end of the half when St Paul’s would put another goal into their opponent’s net.
The home-side breezed through the green and gold defensive line after lovely link up play from McLarnon and McRory, the pair managed to find full-forward Liam McLarnon who made no mistake from inside the 13-yard line. The forward caught the ball brilliantly, and despite slipping, his effort flew into the top corner leaving his opposing keeper to look on in despair.
St Paul’s lead Pearse’s at the half by 13 points as the scoreboard read 3-5 to 0-1.
It truly was a case of damage limitations for Pearse’s in the second half of play. However, the away side came out of the traps flying once again this time scoring a brace of points with no reply and potentially making a game of it.
Daniel Magee popped a free over from a tight angle, before a dropping ball was punched over the bar by the forward who looked determined to give his side a momentum swing and revive any chances they had of a result, however unlikely it seemed.
Magee again was at the centre of the attack when the forward used his awareness well to catch a ball behind his marker Conall Finnegan, which left Pearse’s in a two-on-two situation. Magee hand-passed the ball to team-mate Niall Devine who had only the 'keeper to beat. Devine kept his shot low and powerful, but Jack McCaulfield made a tremendous stop to prevent Pearse’s any hope of a comeback.
St Paul’s would stifle their opponents and knock over a few scores in the process thanks once again to Mark Munce and a point apiece to both Colm and Liam McLarnon.
The home side continued to score without reply and saw out the half brilliantly, with the final nail in the coffin coming from substitute Conaill Duffy who scored a free late on to seal his sides victory.
St Paul’s now sit top of Group One after the first match day on score difference, after Con Magee’s, Glenravel convincingly beat Davitt’s by a 13 point margin in the other fixture.
For St Paul’s, they could not have wished for a better way to start their championship group stage, not only winning, but doing so in emphatic fashion and with Glenravel up next, the early victory and momentum could prove vital.
However, for Pearse’s it was a serious learning curve for them, they certainly have the quality to compete at this level, but mistakes and hastiness are something which should be a lesson learned when they take on Davitt’s in a fortnight’s time.
ST PAUL'S: J McCaulfield, A Kavanagh, C Finnegan, S Rooney, M Duffy, J Farrell, N Ward, C McLarnon (0-2, both frees), S McCrory (1-0), M Munce (0-2), C Hughes (0-1), B Burns, A Finnegan (1-2), Conaill Duffy (0-1), L McLarnon (1-2, 0-1 free)
Subs: P Lowe for B Burns (50), Caoimhin Duffy (0-1 free) for Conaill Duffy (50), D Quinn for C Hughes (55), D O’Sullivan for A Finnegan (55)
PEARSE'S: E McKenna, D O’Neill, A Bannon, T McFarlane, T Collins, N Gorman, P Murray, N Devine (0-1), J Smyth, P Donaghy, S Fitzsimons (0-1), C Gillespie, D Magee (0-2, 1 free), A McCavana (0-1)
REFEREE: Conall Roberts (St John's)