Milford’s Ulster championship dreams were well and truly ended by Tyrone champions Killeshill, in yesterday’s provinical semi-final.
The Donegal champions, opened at a breakneck pace and had the first couple of attacks with James Doyle clipping over the game’s first point inside a minute.
But it soon became clear that the Tyrone champions’ greater power and strength in the middle third was going to be a telling factor on a murky day and a greasy Brewster Park sod.
Killeshill struck the first blow on five minutes when Gary Reilly converted from the penalty spot after Kevin Hughes, the three time All-Ireland winner with the Red Hands, was fouled.
And with Reilly running riot on the right wing of the attack and Patrick McMullan and Hughes winning most of the ball around midfield, Milford were on the back foot for most of the opening 25 minutes.
Cathal McGettigan rounded off a good move on six minutes to score Milford’s second point. But with Reilly rampant the Donegal champions did not score again until five minutes from half-time.
In between Reilly hit three fabulous points, Anthony McGonnall added another and his replacement Conall Monaghan scored two for the Tyrone men. McConnall was whipped off seconds after splitting the posts and after picking up a yellow card.
Enda McHugh, who was assigned to Reilly after ten minutes, knocked over a well worked score seconds after Pauric Curley saw his well struck effort come back off the bottom of the post.
And Milford reduced the margin still further courtesy of Luke Barrett three minutes to the break to send the Donegal flag bearers in trailing 0-4 to 1-6, and still with a chink of hope.
But five rapid fire points in the opening ten minutes of the second half dashed any hope of a Milford revival as Killeshill pulled ten clear, 1-11 to 0-4.
Patrick McMullan, who was colossal in the middle of the field for Killeshill, kicked the first of the second half points inside a minute of the restart. And as the winners turned the screw Shane Mallon, Reilly, who was not as effective in the second half as he was in the first, McMullan again and Monaghan all kept the man on the white flag busy.
Leading 1-11 to 0-4, Killeshill eased off on the scoring stakes and Milford, to their credit, refused to fold the tent. This was especially so in the case of Luke and Christopher Barrett, Enda McHugh and the Curley brothers Pauric and David.
Cormac Friel on 41 minutes got forward to knock over their first point of the second half. And when six minutes later Luke Barrett split the posts, the margin was back to five points.
But that was as close as Nigel Black’s charges got. Reilly ended a barren 11 minute spell for the O’Neill boys and one of the loudest cheers of the day greeted Kevin Hughes’s one and only point on 54 minutes.
Hughes’s strike restored a ten point advantage before Pauric Curley, on 55 minutes pointed and David Curley, struck for Milford’s goal, on 58 minutes.
The goal reduced the margin to six points 1-13 to 1-7. But with the clock ticking, it was alas too late and when seconds later substitute Conor McElvogue, struck for Killeshill’s second goal, the salt was in the wounds.
McElvogue followed up the goal with a point before deep in injury time Luke Barrett from a free brought the curtain down on the scoring and a tough day at the office for Milford.
The final margin may have been a little harsh on Milford. Certainly if Pauric Curley’s 25 minute strike had ended up in the net rather than rebounding back off the post it might have been closer.
Christopher Barrett, too, was denied by a point blank save from Ciaran Reilly, during Milford’s good spell at the close of the first half. A Milford goal at that stage would have reduced the margin to two points.
It certainly would have made for an interesting second period and I suspect a much closer finish.
Killeshill, who are managed by former Tyrone defender Seamus McCallion, were overall the better balanced outfit.
Milford: Caolan McGettigan; Sean Black, Conor McNulty, Cormac Friel (0-1); Enda McHugh (0-1), T J Evesson, Manus Boyce; Luke Barrett (0-3,1f)), Anthony Fisher; Pauric Curley (0-1), Christopher Barrett, James Doyle (0-1); David Curley (1-0), Cathal McGettigan (0-1), Paddy Peoples. Subs: Tony McNamee for S Black (h/t); Paul Sweeney for A Fisher (43); Paul Fisher for C Friel (50); Sean Gallagher for J Doyle and Kevin McGee for M Boyce (both 55);
Killeshill: Ciaran Reilly; Nathan Breen, Bernard O’Neill, Barry Mulgrew; Ciaran O’ Neill, Ruairi O’Neill, Conor Small; Kevin Hughes (0-1), Patrick McMullan (0-2); Damian Small, John McMullan, Gary Reilly (1-5, 1-0, 1f)); Shane Mallon (0-1), Anton McGonnall (0-1), Rory McCann. Subs: Conall Monaghan (0-3) for A McGonnall; Conor McElvogue (1-1) for D Small (44);Aaron McKenna for B Mulgrew (29 inj).
Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh).