Starlights fail to shine in Leinster Club loss
Last provincial win was by Enniscorthy side 13 years ago
A GIVEAWAY goal midway through the first-half marked the beginning of the end for Starlights in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday when they departed from the AIB Leinster Club Senior football championship at the quarter-final stage with a seven-point loss to Simonstown Gaels.
The Enniscorthy side had shown signs of recovery by picking off two points after conceding four on the trot to the Meath side in the early stages.
However, just when it looked like they were settling down, Starlights conceded that cheap goal in the 15th minute.
A telegraphed pass was intercepted by Simonstown sweeper Mark McCabe, with Conor Sheridan and captain Pádraig McKeever also featuring in the breakaway move before Meath Senior Seán Tobin got on the end of it and finished to the net via a Starlights hand.
That crucial score was followed by a superb long-range point from midfielder Shane O’Rourke, but all was not lost for the Wexford champions at half-time as the margin stood at a mere four points (1-5 to 0-4).
Simonstown had failed to score in the last 14 minutes plus added time in the opening period, and their rivals created three decent goal chances in that spell but didn’t make them count.
Colm O’Rourke’s side re-discovered their scoring touch on the re-start, and they went on to manage the game effectively and keep Starlights at arm’s length at all times.
At least the losers were reasonably competitive and made the opposition work hard for their victory, unlike the hammerings endured by St. James’ and Gusserane respectively in 2015 and 2016.
Quite remarkably, this latest defeat for the Wexford champions came almost 13 years to the very day since a success was last forged in this competition.
That honour also fell to Starlights on their last venture into Leinster, beating Rathvilly from Carlow in a replay in Bellefield on November 13, 2004, before bowing out to Colm O’Rourke’s native club, Skryne, in the semi-final.
They had their individual matchups sussed out for this clash, with Jack Kelly dropping into left corner-back to mark Pádraig McKeever, Kevin Foley on the ’40 in opposition to ex-Meath Senior Seamus Kenny, and Ricky Fox to his left on current county player Seán Tobin.
Mel Doyle started at right halfback on Mark McCabe who immediately went back to sweep, while number 15 Ryan Mahon spent most of his time in the middle third and his attacking from deep was one of the most successful aspects of Starlights’ game.
It looked like they might be blown away in the first six minutes when Simonstown reeled off four points without reply.
Nathan O’Brien got the first before corner-back Niall McMahon finished impeccably from a Seán Tobin handpass, and the latter made it three when he was set up by former Mayo player James Kilcullen.
Although Simonstown were without their versatile Australian Rules giant Conor Nash who returned down under after the county final win against Summerhill, they are still blessed with a strong squad and were able to bring on six substitutes without weakening the team in any way.
Starlights were struggling to break out of their own half at this stage, and Pa Doyle had to save smartly from Seán Tobin before they finally managed to work the ball towards the Clonard end posts.
Alan Tobin is blessed with one of the most accurate left pegs in the county, and he duly got them off the mark from 40 metres after a Jack Kelly lay-off in the eleventh minute.
Darragh Pepper quickly made it 4-2, picking up the pieces after a Nick Doyle kick was blocked following a strong run to create the chance from Ryan Mahon.
However, that good work was quickly undone with the concession of that goal, and when Shane O’Rourke pointed from 50 metres it left Starlights trailing by 1-5 to 0-2.
Seán Tobin missed a couple of frees in the second quarter though, while Dillon Redmond and Alan Tobin pulled back points from the left and right flanks respectively after Simonstown committed fouls in scoreable areas.
And if Starlights had taken even one of the three goal chances they created, perhaps the game would have moved in an entirely different direction.
The ground opened up ahead of Redmond in the 23rd minute after a Richie Farrell handpass into space down the left channel, but he thought about passing initially before driving a low shot into the side-netting.
Then a Ricky Fox point-scoring attempt came back into play off the angle of post and crossbar to Eamonn Furlong who turned and got his boot to the ball, but somehow netminder Robbie Burlingham was able to smother the kick.
Injury time saw Ryan Mahon and Liam Ryan work an opening for centre-forward Richie Farrell, but his shot thundered off a defender’s body.
And while Starlights trailed by four points at half-time, they will surely have taken heart from those opportunities when Joe Hagan was delivering his team-talk.
Referee Anthony Nolan was busy with paperwork even before the re-start, having shown just one yellow card - to Ricky Fox - in the opening half.
Eamonn Furlong and Simonstown duo Nathan O’Brien and Niall McMahon were all booked before the action resumed for something that happened at the end of the first period, while they were quickly joined by new arrival Brian Conlon and Richie Farrell after a grappling duel on the ground.
A Pádraig McKeever free pushed Simonstown five clear before Ricky Fox replied from a Mel Doyle lay-off after selling a nice dummy.
McKeever, who hadn’t scored before the interval, had finally got his eye in and added a brace from play in the 38th and 39th minutes, but the third quarter ended more promisingly when Liam Ryan picked out Ryan Mahon whose solo and rising shot ended in a point (1-8 to 0-6).
Simonstown never really looked like giving up a goal chance all the same, and Starlights needed one at least and probably two at that stage in order to really trouble the leaders.
Instead, wing-back Brian McGrath and Pádraig McKeever (free) widened the gap to seven entering the last ten minutes.
Mahon’s second point, from another Ryan pass, was followed by his third from a free in the 56th minute, but that proved to be the last Starlights score.
McKeever converted another free before Shane O’Rourke drove an injury-time kick high and handsome between the posts, leaving Simonstown to look forward to a semi-final clash with St. Loman’s of Westmeath.
Starlights: Pa Doyle; Rory O’Connor, Tom Wall (capt.), Jack Kelly; Mel Doyle, Kevin Foley, Ricky Fox (0-1); Liam Ryan, Nick Doyle; Alan Tobin (0-2, 1 free), Richie Farrell, Dillon Redmond (0-1 free); Ryan Mahon (03, 1 free), Eamonn Furlong, Darragh Pepper (0-1). Subs. - Aaron Dobbs for Furlong (42), Ben Edwards for Foley (50).
Simonstown Gaels: Robbie Burlingham; Shane Gallagher, Stephen Moran, Niall McMahon (0-1); Brian McGrath (0-1), Rory O’Connor, Niall Kane; Shane O’Rourke (0-2), James Kilcullen; Seán Tobin (1-1), Seamus Kenny, Mark McCabe; Pádraig McKeever (capt., 0-5, 3 frees), Conor Sheridan (0-1), Nathan O’Brien (0-1). Subs. - Brian Conlon for O’Connor (HT), Joe Lyons for McCabe (42), Michael Brennan for O’Brien (48), Nicky O’Brien for Kenny (53), Eanna Donoghue for Kane (55), Ben Hoey for Tobin (56).
Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).
Richie Farrell leaps through the air after beating Simonstown’s Brian Conlon to the ball.
Midfielder Liam Ryan under pressure from Niall McMahon (4) and Pádraig McKeever (15).
Nick Doyle applying pressure on Simonstown Gaels defender Brian McGrath.