Crusaders cap off a great season by earning promotion

Ruairi Feeney scores the penalty that sends Gilford Crusaders into the Mid-Ulster Football League First Division. Pic: Mark Anderson
Ruairi Feeney scores the penalty that sends Gilford Crusaders into the Mid-Ulster Football League First Division. Pic: Mark Anderson

SO, this was it.

The game the whole season had built towards for Gilford Crusaders.

Three points and they would be promoted - anything less and either Tullyvallen or Scarva would grab the honours.

With four players missing from the cup final squad - Davy McCann, Alan Armstrong and Stuart Adamson - joined the squad for Crusaders with Seany McAlinden climbing out of his sick bed, as they faced off against promotion rivals Tullyvallen at their home ground.

Martin Savage took his place in nets for the 31st time this season, in a run which has seen him play in all of the club’s fixtures this year. Well done to the big man.

Captain Kieran McCourt was joined in the centre of defence by returnee Alan Armstrong with Emmid Scullion and Gary McKee filling out the defence.

The veteran pairing of Rony Barry and Scott Greenaway were ably supported in midfield by Mark Feeney and Mick Cunningham. Rounding out the team were young Conor Magee and Ruairi Feeney playing upfront.

Whilst the team were quietly confident, they did not relish playing on a small High School pitch which was sodden and uncut. If previous encounters were any measure a fair, but physical game was anticipated with so much at stake.

As is now customary, Gilford started the stronger of the two teams, creating chances which they failed to convert, including a Conor Magee header which came off the underside of the bar, before falling victim to the oppositions first clear cut chance of the match in the 29th minute. 

Throughout the game Gilford played the better football in all departments. Alan Armstrong looked particularly strong, letting no-one pass him without a fight. Greenaway, Barry, Cunningham and Feeney controlled the midfield, creating chances for the strike force, one of which raised claims for a penalty when Ruairi Feeney was brought down by the goalkeeper.

Gilford kept the pressure on but were unable to take their chances as the referee blew for half time with Tullyvallen holding a tenuous lead.

The same 11 took the field knowing that they had to raise their game if they were to emerge victorious. Continuing to press forward, Seany McAlinden replaced a visibly tiring Mick Cunningham just one minute before Rony Barry grabbed the equaliser following some fine play when Conor Magee collected the ball from a throw in, hit the by-line and swung the ball across the goal-mouth.

Seany McAlinden almost made it 2-1 when Mark Feeney hit a free kick into the box and his header came off the bar in the 78th minute. Manager Stephen McArdle changed the formation to 3-4-3 in the 80th minute when he replaced Gary McKee with Stuart Adamson to add more punch to the attack. A risky move, but a winning goal was still needed and no guts, no glory was the order of the day.

Crusaders persistence paid off in the 85th minute when, following a kick out by Martin Savage and a 1-2 with Stuart Adamson, goal-machine Ruairi Feeney was pulled down in the box before coolly slamming the ball home to give Gilford the lead. 

During the following 10 tense minutes, (including stoppage time), Conor Magee was replaced by Davy McCann who was the last Gilford player to touch the ball as he helped run the clock down. When the referee blew the final whistle the team and travelling support erupted, as they realised that the job was done, the season over and the 1st Division beckoned.

The club will be holding their dinner and awards night on Saturday,26th May at the Dunbarton Bowling Club where a great night is anticipated. So, that’s it for the season. A job well done by all involved. See you all next season.