East Down Under-21 League Final: BRYANSFORD 1-6 CASTLEWELLAN
By Terry McLaughlin
IT needed all the experience and cohesion of title
holders Bryansford to come together in a superb second
half performance before they were able to edge out
derby rivals Castlewellan and collect a second successive
Games between two such fierce rivals are rarely open
and flowing affairs and Sunday’s clash followed a
predictable pattern of tight marking and hard tackling.
To the credit however of both sets of players there
was absolutely no malice in any of the on pitch duels,
despite the intensity of the desire to win.
The result was always going to hang on a piece of
opportunism being conjured to unhinge the opposition.
And it came after just seven minutes of the second
half courtesy of the lethal Conor Gribben.
It was the instinctive knack that Gribben has of being
able to snap up half chances that makes him such a
A slick sideways pass from the foraging Ciaran
Brannigan sent Gribben in on the Castlewellan danger
And although a forest of defenders blocked his first
shot, the corner forward was able to gather the
loose ball before rifling a vicious angled shot
to the roof of the net.
It was that score that gave the Ford the extra momentum
they were searching for and it proved to be a psychological
hammer blow from which Castlewellan were never able
to recover from.
In a game that was dominated in each half by the
swirling wind, both sets of players tried to play
constructive and intelligent football.
At times however the elements took control to ensure
that the football served up was always going to
be based on possession percentages.
It was that greater quota of strength in the core
of the Ford machine, especially when the towering
midfield skills of Michael Nugent took the game
by the scruff of the neck in a crucial third quarter,
that made the difference.
Two magnificent points at the start of the second
half by the big number nine underlined that when
he gets his mental focus in tandem with his muscular
physique, he has the ability to act as the catalyst
to fire the rest of the Ford.
Over the hour it was a fascinating battle between
the respective midfield sectors, with Castlewellan
captain Niall McArdle always ready to lead by ferocious
Time after time McArdle launched a series of attacks
on the Bryansford defence as well as stroking over
some excellent dead ball opportunities.
The problem for Castlewellan was that they simply
did not have enough players of similar physical
stature to match the example provided by their captain.
It was significant that as McArdle inevitably tired
in the later stages of the match the potent threat
that had come earlier from his inspirational running
left Castlewellan trying to answer increasingly
For this was a game that above all else asked demanding
questions of the respective defences.
Nothing can be taken away from either set of back-line
units in the context of commitment and determination
A key factor that has to built into the final result
however is that Bryansford had no less than eight
players that were regular members of the club’s
Senior Championship winning squad on duty.
Players like skipper Andrew Kane, Stephen Toner,
Brian McVeigh, and Niall and Darra Neeson, are all
seasoned performers in relation to the hard-edged
defensive demands of club and county football.
And with the fast raiding abilities of impressive
half-backs Dylan Murphy and Luke Howard, Bryansford
had those important additional options in terms
of supply routes to men like Donnelly, Valentine
Both packs of defenders did their job superbly over
the course of a difficult afternoon. In particular
the two goalkeepers responded to the challenge facing
them by pulling off some vital stops.
One save from Ford net minder Sean James Brannigan
12 minutes into the second half to deny Castlewellan
danger man Daniel Morgan was built around razor
Overall however it was Brannigan’s counterpart,
Brian McAlinden, who took the honours in terms of
the goalkeeping art.
His handling under pressure, despite the swirling
wind was always safe and assured.
But it was his ability to narrow the angles and
get down superbly to claw away at least two gilt
edged goal chances that made him such an important
factor in the Castlewellan defence.
With just nine minutes gone he was able to make
a super stop to keep out a stinging shot from the
free running Conor Gribben after the Ford hit-man
had burst through from 12 yards.
And in the closing stages of the match it was the
ability of McAlinden to come off his line and fling
his body in the path of a low shot from the jinking
Kieran Brannigan that kept alive Castlewellan’s
hopes of at least salvaging a draw.
In the first half it was Castlewellan that had the
bonus of the blustery wind at their backs, pinning
down Bryansford for long periods.
Playing confidently it was Castlewellan who hit
the front after a minute, Aidan Burns whipping over
a super point before Paddy Keown stretched the lead
with a great long range free.
Castlewellan wasted a glorious chance to hit a goal
when Colm Og Crilly’s clever shot wasn’t cleared
by the Ford defence, the ball being stabbed wide
from the tightest of angles by Conor Kelly.
It was a vital let-off for Bryansford for although
Castlewellan, through McArdle and Morgan went close,
the only additional scores from the Town side were
two magnificent frees floated over by Keown.
Playing with the wind behind them in the second
half it was Bryansford that looked the sharper and
more balanced outfit as the second period unfolded.
They were boosted by a point after ten seconds by
the rampaging Nugent, the midfielder bulldozing
his way straight down the middle before drilling
the ball over the bar from 30 yards.
But again the sheer class of McArdle came to the
rescue of Castlewellan, the captain leading by example
to slot over two frees into the teeth of a stiff
breeze and leave his side leading by five.
Castlewellan however could not sustain the pace
or cope with the more inventive play from a Ford
side that refused to buckle under the pressure.
A neatly worked short 50 move caught out Castlewellan
before Nugent muscled his way through to hit his
side’s second point.
Then came that golden goal strike by Gribben before
a foul on Nugent allowed Brannigan to level with
20 minutes left.
Castlewellan , with another delightfully struck
free from McArdle got back in front.
But the Ford’s tenacious defensive covering technique,
typified by the way centre half forward Niall Neeson
made three textbook clearances deep in his own half
had the hallmark of a player and a team that only
had the objective of winning.
In between it was the elegant running Gribben that
twice sliced open the Castlewellan defence late
on to nail on the insurance scores that gave Bryansford
yet another title in what is turning out to be a
glorious Down centenary season.
Bryansford scorers: Conor Gribben 1-2, Michael
Nugent 0-2, Ciaran Brannigan 0-1, Daryl Valentine
Castlewellan scorers: Niall McArdle 0-3, Paddy Keown
0-3, Aidan Burns 0-1.