Setanta stun Middletown to earn place in Ulster intermediate decider
AIB Ulster Club IHC semi-final
Middletown (Armagh) 0-13 Setanta (Donegal) 1-11
SETANTA staged a fabulous second-half comeback to edge out favourites Middletown in a truly thrillinging semi-final in Owenbeg on Saturday.
It looked bleak for the Donegal men as they trailed by four points 15 minutes into the second half, but they showed immense grit and grace to come through in a heart-stopping finish.
Unsurprisingly, it was ace marksman Gerard Gilmore who held his nerve to land the winner in the fifth minute of injury-time and send his club into an Ulster final for the first time.
Middletown will rue missed a penalty midway through the second half.
On a wet and miserable evening, both sides served up a superb opening half of hurling that the Armagh champions just shaded 0-10 to 0-8.
Middletown then opened up a four-point cushion near the end of the third quarter.
But Setanta dug deep to pull it back to two, and when Josh McGee Cronolly stepped up just when his side needed it most to crack in a superb three-pointer, they led for the very first time, 1-10 to 0-12.
Earlier, Middltown had the better start and eased into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after nine minutes.
Ben Toal grabbed a pair of those, while Ryan Gaffney and Martin Moan were also on the mark for Middletown.
On seven minutes, Sean Ward had the Donegal champions up and running but it remained a four-point game, with Rory Grimes making it 0-5 to 0-1 soon after.
Still, nearing the quarter-hour mark and efforts from Bernard Lafferty and Gilmore pulled it back to two.
Two brilliant and quickfire blocks from Conor Gallen then helped Setanta counter and with Gilmore winning and converting from a placed ball, the bare minimum now split the teams.
Things got even better for Setanta on 17 minutes, when Declan Coulter made his presence felt for the first time and, in the process, squared it up.
Sean Óg McGuinness and Oisin Marley swapped points before Middletown again took a two-point lead as Toal and Grimes registered.
Gilmore, after being off cue twice, steadied the Setanta ship momentarily but a Gaffney free left it 0-9 to 0-7 ticking into the red.
Gaffney bagged another pair of frees right at the start of the second stanza and while they were a little slower to get going, when they eventually did, Setanta’s Gilmore matched that feat.
Nearing the end of what was a placid enough third quarter the game reignited once again as McGee Cronolly hammered the back of the Middletown net. It was a brilliantly ambitious effort but it was one that paid off as his side took the lead for the very first time, 1-10 to 0-12.
Moan would again tie it up on 52 minutes in a duel that was now going right down to the wire.
Then, on 59 minutes, Toal, under duress from a number of Setanta defenders, went down easily inside the area.
After some deliberation with his umpires, the man in the middle eventually pointed to the spot. Kevin Campbell to his credit, stood to his extreme right, daring Gaffney to go to the left.
The Armagh man took the bait but drove his effort wide of the foot of the far post as Setanta survived. Gilmore, from a free, as well as Marley, passed up on late, late chances to again nudge their side ahead.
But into the last minute of five added on, Gilmore struck the decisive blow.
Gaffney had one last ditch chance from a free, from distance, to force extra-time but while he had the range that strike tailed just wide at the decisive moment.
Middletown F Woods; K McKiernan, T Nevin, P Lappin; J Toal, P Gaffney, O Curry; P McBride, P McBride; R Grimes, M Moan (0-2) C Carvill; R Gaffney (0-5 frees), B Toal (0-3) S Óg McGuinness (0-1)
Subs N Curry (0-2) for McBride (45), S Toal for McGuinness (53)
Setanta K Campbell; C McGettigan, S McBride, M Callaghan; C Gallen, B Lafferty (0-1), N Cleary; D Coulter (0-1), D Harvey, S Ward (0-1) D Cullen, O Marley (0-1); J McGee/Cronolly, G Gilmore (0-6,0-5 frees) R Campbell (0-1)
Subs M Donaghue for Gallen (h-time), C Melaugh for Harvey (45), R Coyle for McBride (54), R Callaghan for Coulter (60)
Referee C McCloskey (Antrim)