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Granemore nabbed in extra time

Armagh Senior Football Championship semi-final Ballymacnab 0-16 Granemore 0-13 (AET)

When Cormac Gribben pointed a quickly taken Brian McCone free with 9 minutes left on the clock it looked as if leaders Ballymacnab were heading for a second successive County Final appearance at the expense of parish rivals Granemore.

But just like they had done in previous championship outings the ‘never say die’ attitude of a battling Granemore side was rewarded as they fired over 5 unanswered points to take the game to extra-time.

Long before anyone travelled to the Athletic Grounds for the championship semi-final double header on Saturday evening it was known that the weather and playing conditions would make matters very physical and mistake limitation a key to success.

The opening 18 minutes of this parish derby was a tit for tat affair in which the teams were level on four different occasions. The game very nearly got off to a sensational start with goalkeeper Kevin Kelly brilliantly denying the ‘Nabs Gavin McParland a goal with a terrific save. McParland opened the scoring 2 minutes later with a point from play quickly followed by an equalizer from Jason O’Neill. Granemore took the lead courtesy of a Michael Carr point which was cancelled out by a Rory Grugan white flag and then Oisin McGivern via a free put the Round Towers back ahead only for a converted Liam Doyle ‘45’ to level at 3-3 after 14 minutes. Jack Grugan opened his scoring account with a point, responded to with a Doyle free but having found his range Jack weighed in with another brace of points, one from play and the other from a free following a free on Gavin McParland which gave Ballymacnab a 2 point lead for the first time in the match.

Chief Granemore defensive tormentor Gavin McParland drew another free converted by Jack with the ‘Nab due combining to set up Kieran Connelly to grab the last point of the half as the teams retired on double scores 0-8 to 0-4 in favour of the favourites Ballymacnab. The half ended akin as to how it began with Ruari Grugan clearing off the line to deny Granemore’s Carr a goal.

Granemore’s Brendan Boylan shoots as Ballymacnab’s Ciaran Connolly tries to block

Two minutes into the second half there was a green flag between the teams after Liam Doyle had opened the scoring but 5 minutes later a converted Brian McCone free restored the interval lead only for that man Doyle to once again cut the deficit to 3 points. A Jack Grugan free followed by the aforementioned Gribben point had put the ‘Nab on the cusp of victory as both managements rung the changes as the very sapping deterioriating conditions was having an effect.

Veteran Kieran Toner, with a super point launched the Granemore  fightback and an equally good score from Doyle added to by a Jason O’Neill free and the momentum and pendelum had swung in their direction as 4 minutes of added time was held up by the fourth official.

Brendan Boylan became the key figure in those final moments as firstly he robbed McParland of possession before joining in the play to set up Owen O’Neill who cut the deficit to the minimum with a fine point. Boylan then soared highest of all to catch the resulting kick-out and was in turn fouled. Credit must go to Doyle as he landed the leveller with aplomb despite having been wide of the mark twice previously when chasing down that 2 point deficit.

As both teams retired to the dressing rooms to get set for another 20 minutes play they deserved great credit for producing such a thrilling contest in such testing conditions. The Big question though would comeback kings Granemore be able to continue to dictate the pace or would the more composed ‘Nab regain the initiative.

Granemore’s Kieran Toner fields the ball in front of Ballymacnab’s Ruairi Gribben

Playing a Captain’s part throughout the game on his return from injury Michael Began threaded a great ball through to Jack Grugan but the prolific marksman beat the goalkeeper but not the upright but Grugan won the loose ball to set up Pauric Gribben for the crucial opening score of extra-time. Jason O’Neill replied with a Granemore equalizer but three unanswered points from Chrissy Loughran, the best of the match from Jack Grugan and the third from Niall McKee saw the ‘Nab lead 0-15 to 0-12 after the opening 10 minutes of extra-time. Crucially a Pauric Gribben point opened up a 4 point gap as gallant Granemore faced another mountain climb. Doyle slotted over another “45” with ease to begin the quest for a match saving goal but try as they might the winners defence held firm to claim the local bragging rites and a final berth.

Scorers- Ballymacnab ;Jack Grugan (0-6), Pauric Gribben (0-2), Gavin McParland (0-1), Rory Grugan (0-1), Oisin McGivern (0-1), Kieran Connelly (0-1),Brian McCone (0-1),Cormac Gribben (0-1), Chris Loughran (0-1), Niall McKee (0-1)

Granemore; Liam Doyle (0-7), Jason O’Neill (0-3), Michael McCann (0-1), Kieran Toner (0-1), Owen O’Neill (0-1)