AN exhibition of free–taking from Paddy Cunningham helped Lámh Dhearg set-up an all-Belfast county football final at the expense of Creggan at Casement Park on Friday.
At the rain-sodden Andersonstown venue, the Antrim marksman showed unerring accuracy on what was a horrible night for place kickers as he converted seven frees and chipped in with two points from play to equal the south-west club’s total over the hour.
Cunningham was in fine form but was probably eclipsed by wing back Michael Hynes who put in a man-of-the-match display that showed maturity beyond his years.
Just prior to throw in the heavens opened and the driving rain didn’t relent throughout, but this did nothing to deter Lámh Dhearg who flew out of the blocks and dominated the opening period.
Cunningham pointed a free in the first minute but Creggan were on terms seconds later when Martin Johnston drew the ball in between the posts with the outside of his boot.
However, it was the Belfast side that had settled better and three further placed balls from Cunningham and a fine score from Declan Lynch moved Lámh Dhearg 0-5 to 0-1 ahead after 15 minutes.
The Loughshore men were finally beginning to find their feet and they went score for score with their city rivals before Cunningham split the posts again after being set-up by a marvellous pass from Gerard Slane.
This ensured the Red Hands led 0-8 to 0-3 at the half and they were certainly good value for their five-point advantage.
However, any notions that Creggan’s challenge was over before it had really begun were dispelled in the second period, as it was they who upped the pace and were in the ascendancy from the throw-in.
Points from Aidan McKeown (two) and Thomas McCann trimmed the gap to two before another Cunningham free settled Lámh Dhearg.
Kickhams were dominating around midfield and seemed to be getting stronger with each passing minute.
Scores from frees by Thomas McCann and Mark Dougan left just the minimum between the teams with six minutes remaining as it seemed Creggan had the momentum to finish stronger.
The Hannahstown men had endured 15 scoreless minutes but Cunningham pointed a free to bring them back to life and he made it a three point game with a fine score with the outside of the boot.
Creggan needed a goal but McCann elected to point a free in the first minute of injury time rather than try to engineer a major. Conor Murray almost had the ball in the net seconds later but his shot was scrambled away by Ricky Johnston. There was time for one last assault on the Hannahstown goal but Dougan’s floated ball was over-hit and skidded harmlessly wide.
This was the final act of the game as the final whistle sounded immediately after to confirm Lámh Dhearg’s passage to the county final had been secured with two points to spare.
Lámh Dhearg: J Finnucane, C Nolan, K Murray, C Kelly, M Hynes, M Herron, D Stranney (B McCrudden 52 mins), B Herron (0-1), C Murray, B McComb (K Quinn 49 mins), S Tully (C Tumelty 55 mins), G Slane, P Cunningham (0-9, 7f), R Murray, D Lynch (0-1).
Creggan: S McLarnon, A McAtee, R Johnston, F McGrenaghan, A Maguire, T McCann (0-3, 3f). S Maguire, D McCann, C McCann, A McKeown (0-3, 1f), M Dougan (0-2, 2f), O McLarnon, C Devlin, M Johnston (0-1), D McGuckin