Ardara enjoyed no opening day joy as they went down to a slick and well oiled Steelstown from Derry City, in their first game of this season’s campaign in Ardara on Saturday.
While the final winning margin of nine points may have been a little flattering for the winners, there was no doubt but that the Derry men were the better and more balanced outfit.
The locals had Stephen McHugh back in action for his first full game in close on 12 months and also had Brendan Boyle back in midfield from the start for the first time in over a season as well.
Ardara followers may point to a missed Gareth Concarr penalty on 13 minutes, when Concarr’s strike came back off the crossbar, as a big turning point. Steelstown had edged ahead minutes earlier following a sixth minute Mickey McKinney goal and point from Aidan Cleary, when the woodwork denied Concarr after he was was hauled down in the Steelstown area.
Steelstown having played with the aid of a stiff breeze led 1-2 to 0-3. McKinney’s goal on six minutes – Steelstown’s first score of the game – was the big score of the half. The wing forward polished off a sweeping move that carved open the home defence with great aplomb and an early warning of what the Derry men had in their closet.
McHugh, one minute from the break, scored Ardara’s third to end a barren 25 minutes as the visitors seemed much fitter and moved the ball with greater purpose.
Stephen Cleary and Stephen McHugh raised white flags at opposite ends before Oak Leafers took a firm grip on proceedings.
Neil Foster raiding from wing back and Darren Gibson and Stephen Cleary in the middle of the park provided the platform as the winners hit four points from Michael Moore, James Jackson and Stephen Cleary (2) to race into a six point lead.
Leading 1-7 to 0-4, with only minutes remaining, Steelstown could sit back and enjoy the closing exchanges after McKinney once again found the Ardara net after another slick Steelstown move.
James Jackson added a late point to make it a convincing victory and a profitable trip into Donegal. The win moves Steelstown into pole position at the top of the table after just two games.
For Ardara and their manager Adrian Brennan it was a useful workout and the game will have gone some way to shake off the winter cobwebs and prepare them for their remaining three games in the competition away to Greencastle, home to Slaughneil and away to Belcoo in the coming weeks.
Ardara: Declan Gallagher; Seanie McLaughlin, Kenneth Doherty, Kevin Breslin; Paddy Gallagher, Matthew Maher, Stephen Boyle; Brendan Boyle, Brendan McNelis; Martin Shovlin, Gareth Concarr (0-2), Oisin O’ Donnell; Stephen McHugh (0-3,3f), Peter Oliver McNelis, Noel Gallagher. Subs: Ryan Sweeney for O. O’Donnell (38); Nicholas Breslin for M. Maher (53 inj); Noel McCabe for S. Shovlin (58); Aaron Bennett for N. Gallagher (59).
Steelstown: Marty Dunne; Rory O’Connor, Kevin Lindsay, Tony Ling; Neil Foster, Ryan McCloskey, Eamon Donnelly; Darren McDaid (0-1), Eamon Gibson; Michael Moore (0-1), Patrick McKeever, Mickey McKinney (2-0); Daniel Jackson, Gareth Logue, Aidan Cleary (0-1): Stephen Cleary (0-3,2f) for J. Jackson, Conor Goran for E.Gibson (both at h/t); Shane O’Connor for E. Donnelly (35, inj); James Jackson (0-1) for G. Logue (41); Paul Hea for R. McCloskey (46).
Referee: F. Gallagher (Cavan).
Man of the match
Mickey McKinney scored Steelstown’s two goals – one in each half - polishing off slick passing moves to crown a good personal performance in a man of the match performance. He receives the nod ahead of his team mate Neil Foster who produced a standout performance at wing back for the Derry side.
Gareth Concarr and Stephen McHugh carried the big threat up front for Ardara and along with Kenneth Doherty were the local’s best performers.
Mickey McKinney’s first Steelstown goals on six minutes really settled the visitors and this along with Gareth Concarr’s penalty strike that came back off the crossbar on 13 minutes were the big turning points.
Francis Gallagher did not endear himself to the locals especially in the second half when the bulk of the calls went Steelstown’s way. But in fairness to the Cavan official he got most of his calls spot on even if he could have maybe let the play flow on occasions.