John Mitchels began their quest to reach the last eight of the Junior Football Championship for the first time in five years with a win last night, with talisman John Gallagher hitting 2-06 en route to victory over St Nicholas although the margin of victory could have been far greater had the men from Ballybailie not been quite so errant in front of the posts.
Gallagher was especially devastating in the first half in Stabannon on Monday evening, hitting 2-03 in an opening 30 minutes of play that produced a remarkable five goals – three for the Mitchels and two for their opponents from Drogheda.
By the end, Mitchels ended the game with just 13 men as the game grew fractious and undisciplined but their five point advantage was enough to see them through. Gareth Kane notched their other goal, while Paidi Downey converted two penalties and Sam Reilly also found the net for the Nicks.
David Leydon’s St Nicholas’ are an emerging team who enjoyed a reasonable league showing in 2019 despite losing all three of their Championship outings. It won’t get any easier with Na Piarsaigh and the Westerns to come in Group 4 this year but their opening league win over Sean McDermotts showed their progress remains steady and in the right direction.
They set the pace early on Monday evening with midfielders Brian Carter and Alex Finnegan notching well taken scores, each responded to in kind by Gallagher. The first goal of the evening went to the Mitchels. Andrew Bingham showed first strength to shrug of his marker and then awareness to pick out Gallagher who arrowed a low shot in off the post.
After Downey and Trevor Matthews exchanged scores, from a free and play respectively, the Nicks levelled the scores. From Jimmy Murray’s high ball, Reilly took control and managed to squeeze an effort past David Anderson at the near post.
The team from Drogheda were guilty of too many concessions of the ball inside their own 20m line and it appeared only a matter of time before the Mitchels would capitalise. Gallagher’s blistering run through the back line ending with him producing an emphatic finish that goalkeeper Shane Finnegan couldn’t keep out.
Five minutes later, the Mitchels had their third and the game’s fourth goal. Gareth Kane read the path of Gallagher’s forward pass and timed his leap perfectly to help the ball past Finnegan and in. The incidents came thick and fast throughout in this fixture which wrapped up a four-day weekend of Championship action. Almost immiedtaley, Kevin Gallagher upended Murray – who had to receive lengthy treatment – and Downey put his penalty to Anderson’s left.
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Points from John Gallagher and Matthews put five points between the teams at half time but within three minutes of the restart, the Nicks deficit was whittled down to one. Anthony Coyle was pulled up for a foul on Murray, after a fine move involving Carter and Downey. The latter repeated the trick from the spot.
With such a precarious lead, the Mitchels could ill-afford to be wasteful in front of the posts but they were exactly that. The men from mid-Louth hit a total of 12 wides in the game. Despite largely dominating the latter stages, their lead never felt wholly secure – especially in a game that had produced six goals in 35 minutes of play. Kevin Gallagher and Gareth Kane, as well as John Gallagher, were among those guilty of not finding the posts.
The younger Gallagher brother and Andrew Bingham did give Noel Litchfield’s team some breathing space with three points between them as the yellow cards started to be brandished with the same regularity as the goals flowed. Downey, Reilly, Stephen Finnegan, Robert Coyle and Alex Finnegan were all booked in a five minute spell.
After a water break that spanned multiple minutes midway through the second half, Kevin Gallagher pointed before Adam Rooney responded. Downey passed up a presentable free opportunity and from the resulting passage of play, Aaron Keely blocked a goal-bound Reilly shot.
Both Alan Mackin and Andrew Bingham were ordered off the field in the game’s final moments to leave the Mitchels light on numbers but John Gallagher, the game’s outstanding player, had the final say. His outstanding free, out of his hands, split the posts.
ST NICHOLAS: Shane Finnegan, Stephen Finnegan, Declan Heeney (Nuel Onimwa, 26), Aaron Flanagan, Sam Reilly, Darren Thornton, Adam Rooney, Brian Carter, (Kevin Newman, 60) Alex Finnegan, Evan Byrne (Vinny O’Hare, 19), Jimmy Murphy, Rian Farrell, Johnny Carter, Stephen Hodgins (Shahin Houshidari, 52), Paidi Downey.
JOHN MITCHELS: David Anderson, Anthony Coyle, Alan Mackin, Barry Kirk, Mikey Nulty, Emmett Farrell, Aaron Kane, James Clarke, Aaron Keely, Kevin Gallagher (Steven Coyle, 57), Andrew Bingham, Trevor Matthews, Gareth Kane (Ben O’Brien, 52), John Gallagher, Robert Coyle (Liam Devitt, 60).