Annaclone survive.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

ANNACLONE survived relegation on Saturday, despite losing their game to Shamrocks, as the result elsewhere had already condemned the city side to Division Three, writes Steve Malone.


Played in Annaclone on Saturday, as expected it was a dogfight on a bitterly cold afternoon and when the referee, Ciaran Mooney blew the final whistle there were the briefest of celebrations from the Shamrocks, before the harsh reality set in.

Annaclone's thumping of St John's followed by their 10-point win over Rostrevor on Tuesday evening, gave them the best scoring average between Ballymartin and Shamrocks, who also finished on 17 points.

Annaclone and Shamrocks knew before throw-in that in order for the Newry men to stay up they needed Ballymartin to beat the Reds and then do the needful themselves against the Clone.

They got the first part done, just about too, as it took an injury-time winner from Kevin Hegarty in what was a physically draining battle.

And Shamrocks couldn't be faulted for their so brief cheer because they had put so much effort into the win and they were battered and bruised and they had dug out a victory.

But as the Annaclone game started 15 minutes late, word had filtered through that Rostrevor had won, making Shamrocks win rather hollow.

Annaclone were worthy winners over Shane Mulhollland's Rostrevor on Tuesday night. The Reds were forced to play, despite having played in the Ulster Club Championship only the previous Sunday.

Leading by a point at the break, the Reds boss was fully entitled to rest a number of key players and Annaclone wisely took advantage to rack up an impressive 10-point win.

Of course many expected Ballymartin to pull off a win on Saturday but there was little chance Mulholland wanted to prepare for an Ulster Senior Club Championship semifinal with two domestic defeats in a row.

Annaclone manager Justin Lynch and his management team deserve credit for keeping the side up as well as taking the club to an Intermediate County final. The fact they got that far proves they are not a bad team, but they will need to improve if they are not to be at the wrong end of the table next year.

Rostrevor's defeat by Annaclone ensured Saval were Division Two champions and Sean Ward's men deserve enormous credit for their instant return.

Played on Saturday, Annaclone led 0-03 to 0-01 at the break, with Ciaran Shields converting three frees and Kevin Hegarty converting a free for Shamrocks. Yes, it was a classic.

Referee Ciaran Mooney had a tough task and given the importance of the game and that so many referees were free due to the amount of games called off, there could have been neutral linesmen and umpires.

Every decision he made was disputed by the confused large crowd.

Shamrocks placed a bigger emphasis on attack in the second half and Jody McGovern used his influence to switch play and pick out passes.

Armagh hurler Eoin McGuinness, whose brother Artie picked up an All Star award at the weekend, put his body on the line and tried to drive the Shamrocks forward. Likewise Annaclone's Kevin Anderson gave everything as the contest became more rugged.

Nathan Murphy's converted free closed the gap and then Liverpool student McGovern converted a penalty to give the Newry men the lead on 38 minutes and for the first time.

Seconds later they increased their lead when a shot crashed off the crossbar and went over, for the first score from play on 39 minutes.

With so much at stake there were hard hits as well as pulling and hauling, but Annalone closed the gap with Tom Pyers finding the target. With 10 minutes to go, news started to sweep through that Rostrevor had won.

But fair play to both managers they didn't inform their players as both teams went for jugular. And there was a massive roar of delight when Sean O'Hare levelled the score in injury time. A draw was enough to keep Annaclone in the division, but as both teams awaited the final whistle, there was still time for Hegarty to steer over the winner. But alas it wasn't enough for Shamrocks.

Both Annaclone and Shamrocks were deficient of enough scoring forwards and even the best tactical systems will fall short if there aren't enough points on the board.

Rostrevor shouldn't have had to play three games in six days, while so many other teams opted not to field at all. Senior club football on Saturday afternoons has not captured the imagination in Down, especially in November and the season has been too long and drawn out.

At the bottom end of the table, St Colman's Drumaness were relegated in the summer and Shamrocks will join them.

After Drumaness, Shamrocks had the worst scoring difference of -86, Ballymartin had - 33 and Annaclone -6.

The Newry men weren't the worst scorers in the League but they conceded more than anyone else and the city side have work to do next year.


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