Steelstown 1-09, Newbridge 2-08
Decision making and momentum; two things managers spend hours trying to control but over which they have little sway once players cross the white lines.
Throw in experience as the third joker of a championship pack of cards and you might have the holy trinity of management goals, but those first two are football twins; where one goes the other follows.
Steelstown learned that the hard way in Saturday's first senior championship defeat of the season. No need to panic four games into a group they'd already put themselves in a great position to qualify from with two wins and a draw, but Paddy Campbell won't be happy with how his team lost control of a game they were in charge of.
The Brian Ogs led by four at the break, Oran McMenamin's 25th minute goal – following Cahir McMonagle’s blistering run – deservedly putting the city men in the box seat. They deserved it too but there were also warning signs, Newbridge hitting six wides and passing up two gilt edged goal chances before the short whistle.
The O'Leary's also lost the influential Michael Bateson to a groin injury only nine minutes in but where one door closed, another opened and his replacement Conor McAteer stepped forward to play a key role.
Indeed that was the story of the second half. Steelstown stopped following the plan; stopped doing what had been working for them and when Newbridge tuned a four point deficit into a two point lead in the16 minutes after half-time, Steelstown's decision making let them down as eight second half wides will testify to. Perhaps it was that lack of senior championship experience, but when cool heads were required, too many were hitting shots from difficult angles or distances as the Brian Ogs tried to forced the issue.
The positive from that is this is a team with players willing to take responsibility, but there was an important lesson here for a Steelstown team who are undoubtedly on an upward trajectory. Drop your levels even five per cent and they Derry Senior Championship will punish you.
The reprisal took the form of an O'Leary's side still smarting from their shock defeat to Kilrea and with a point to prove. County duo Conor Doherty and Padraig McGrogan remain the fulcrum of the side and both were immense when their club need them, but it was sub McAteer who had a hand in all the game's pivotal passages. Not only did he fired over two excellent scores from play, but it was his run and fisted effort which proved the catalyst for the game's 'sliding doors' moment.
With the home side four up and comfortable, Newbridge needed a spark. It arrived within two minutes of the restart when McAteer’s aforementioned run ended with a goalmouth scramble that Declan McKeever fired into the net for the half's opening score. Newbridge were up and running. And they didn't look back.
That goal shook Steelstown who scored only one point in 22 minutes of second half football before three points in the final eight minutes almost rescued the game. The fact they didn't was down to Odhran McGlone's superb second goal for the Sean O'Leary's but, again, from a home viewpoint it was easily avoidable.
It arrived on 54 minutes just as Steelstown had wrestled back some semblance of control and had the scoreline back to the minimum at 1-07 to 1-08 courtesy of an outrageous McMonagle free from the right hand touchline.
The crowd were up and this was a chance to build crucial momentum once again. Except when the kick went long Donncha Gilmore, who had been excellent, and substitute Ruairi McShane both challenged for the high ball. It broke. And there waiting was the unmarked Mark Doherty, who had cleverly stayed out of the aerial challenge. Doherty accelerated away into a Steelstown defence now one short and fed his brother Conor to tee up McGlone who fired home a fierce near post drive worthy of the move.
That was tantamount to game over and despite McMonagle and Ryan Devine hitting excellent late points, Steelstown never threatened the goal they needed to get back into it. Newbridge knew how to close the game out for a win they desperately needed with games against Magherafelt and Slaughtneil to finish the group stages.
Steelstown won't panic. And they shouldn't. One defeat in four is cause for cautious optimism and one result shouldn't derail that. What it should do is serve as a warning. The Derry Senior Championship is unforgiving territory if you take you eye off the ball.
Steelstown scorers: Oran McMenamin (1-0), Cahir McMonagle (0-4, 2f), Ryan Devine (0-2), Morgan Murray (0-2), Ben McCarron (0-1),
Newbridge Scorers: Declan McKeever (1-0), Odhran McGlone (1-0), Conor Doherty (0-4, 4f), Conor McAteer (0-2), Callum McGrogan (0-1), Nathan Rocks (0-1, 1m)
Steelstown: Michael McKinney, Oran Fox, Ryan McCloskey, Eoghan Concannon, Neil Forester, Donncha Gilmore, Diarmuid Baker, Ryan Devine, Oran McMenamin, Eoghan Bradley, Morgan Murray, Ben McCarron, Shane O'Connor, Cahir McMonagle, Cormac Mooney. (Subs) Gareth Logue for C McMonagle (blood sub), 11-15mins; Ruairi McShane for C Mooney, 45mins; Emmett Deane for E Bradley, 53mins; Eoin Canavan for E Concannon, 60mins.
Newbridge: James Gribben, Conleth McGrogan, Conor McGrogan, Declan McKeever, Sean Young, Padraig McGrogan, Shane McGrogan, Conor Doherty, Nathan Rocks, Callum McGrogan, Mark McGrogan, Mark Doherty, Michael Bateson, Jude Diamond, Odhran McGlone. (Subs) Conor McAteer for M Bateson (inj), 9mins; Peter McGrogan for J Diamond, 49mins; Danny Mulholland for O McGlone, 54mins; Aidan McGlone for S Young, 62mins.
Referee: Cathal Doherty