Pages 44 and 45
Favourites advance to Co. SHC decider
THE BEST possible way to reply to a goal is by getting one at the other end, and St. Martin’s quelled the Naomh Eanna fire in that manner midway through the second-half in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday to keep their double dreams alive and advance to another Pettitt’s Senior hurling championship final showdown with holders Oulart-The Ballagh.
The underdogs from Gorey were in need of a big lift after playing catch-up to the more fancied side for the most part.
Significantly though, the north county outfit were always within touching distance, and just four points divided them when they pounced for the game’s first goal in the 43rd minute.
Ace marksman Conor McDonald had been superbly policed by the under-rated Patrick O’Connor, but for once he managed to get on the end of a long ball from Jack Cullen that bounced inside the defensive cover and first-timed it to the net.
Darragh Hughes followed up with a pointed free from 80 metres, and suddenly St. Martin’s had a real fight on their hands as the teams were on level terms (0-14 to 1-11).
In the circumstances, they were thankful to have the ultra-talented Rory O’Connor to call upon. I’m sure he will be forgiven his third wide from play of that second-half, as he followed it with a pointed free to restore the lead before conjuring a goal out of nothing.
It came six minutes after the Gorey green flag and was a touch of individual class, as he weaved his way into space before planting the ball out of Barry Kinsella’s reach to the net.
It was a nightmare concession from the side competing at this stage for the first time in 33 years, as they initially gave possession away and then had chances to win it back on the ground before O’Connor worked his magic to establish a 1-15 to 1-11 lead.
To be fair to Gorey though, they made another strong burst as Conor Hughes and free-taker Pádraig Doyle pulled back points, while a Charlie McGuckin pull was saved on his own line by the superb Willie Devereux in between.
It required another piece of Rory O’Connor magic to put the tie to bed, and it arrived with five minutes left. A long free from Conor Firman broke into his path, and he had the ball in the corner of the net before Barry Kinsella or his defenders could even react to the danger (2-15 to 1-13).
Rival netminder Luke White deflected a Darragh Hughes free over the bar in the last throw of the dice from Gorey, and they ended up an unfortunate seven points behind at the finish after late strikes from two Rory O’Connor frees and the lively Jake Firman who had posted three in the opening half.
While O’Connor’s influence was considerable, scoring a game-clinching 2-2 from play, some of the St. Martin’s players less accustomed to the headlines really excelled.
Keeping tabs on Conor McDonald would be a tall order for any of the best backs in the country, but Patrick O’Connor performed that task to perfection on a day when he also captained the team in the absence of the suspended Ciarán Lyng.
The immense workrate of Mark Maloney at midfield also had to be admired, and he ran himself to a standstill before being withdrawn for a well-earned rest at the death.
Aaron Maddock and Joe O’Connor also put in decent shifts along with Jake Firman, while Willie Devereux was quite simply outstanding in the full-back line, attacking the ball forcefully and mopping up everything that came his way.
Although Aodhán Doyle opened the scoring inside two minutes for Naomh Eanna, they conceded four in a row to Rory O’Connor, Darren Codd, Mark Maloney and O’Connor again before a Pádraig Doyle free made it 0-4 to 0-2 in the 13th minute.
The constant inter-changing of the St. Martin’s forward sextet was noticeable from the off, with the influence of ex-Kilkenny attacker and current mentor Charlie Carter clear as they kept the Gorey backs on their toes with the non-stop shifting of positions.
A Jake Firman brace plus one from Jack O’Connor after a kicked pass from Daithí Waters widened the gap to 7-2 before the favourites posted the first of just two opening half wides, although their copybook was blotted with ten more in the second period.
Darragh Hughes (free) and Pádraig Doyle reduced arrears before Rory O’Connor and Doyle swapped points from placed balls, with Firman’s third making it 9-5 in the 24th minute.
Free-takers Hughes and Doyle both registered again as Gorey made inroads into that deficit, and the half-time margin of 11-8 was surmountable after a Doyle point from play was sandwiched between late efforts from Rory O’Connor (free) and Joe O’Connor.
The game meandered along in a similar vein for the first ten minutes on the re-start as St. Martin’s outscored the opposition by three points to two.
Pádraig Doyle knocked over a free before Jack and Joe O’Connor responded from play, while William Cullen kept Naomh Eanna in the hunt with a 35th-minute strike (013 to 0-10).
A monster free from 85 metres by Jack O’Connor was followed by a major swing in the space of just 20 seconds towards the end of the third quarter.
St. Martin’s could have gone seven points clear when a Mikey Coleman pull left Jake Firman with a clear run on goal at the Clonard end, but he shot into the body of the experienced Barry Kinsella who made the save.
It was followed by a swift transfer downfield by Jack Cullen and that strike to the net by Conor McDonald, completing a six-point swing in a flash and filling Naomh Eanna full of hope.
However, their All Star nominee didn’t have anything like the same impact as in the quarter-final win over Oylegate-Glenbrien, and really his team needed a bigger contribution from him in order to cause an upset.
Having said that, if St. Martin’s didn’t have an opportunist with the skill and finishing quality of Rory O’Connor, they would have struggled to get over the line despite those sterling contributions from the likes of Maloney, Devereux, Jake Firman and Patrick O’Connor.
Their arduous schedule continues this coming Sunday with the football semi-final replay against Shelmaliers, and it has to be an advantage to Oulart-The Ballagh to have an unimpeded fortnight’s preparation for what will be the sixth meeting in a final between the clubs since 1994.
There’s nothing St. Martin’s can do about that for now though, and they are still on course to achieve all of their goals. That’s quite an achievement in itself given the difficulty in switching from one code to the next and back again at this time of year when the pressure is at its greatest.
St. Martin’s: Luke White; Conor Firman, Patrick O’Connor (capt.), Willie Devereux; Daithí Waters, Aaron Maddock, Paudie Kelly; Harry O’Connor, Mark Maloney (0-1); Jake Firman (0-4), Rory O’Connor (2-7, 0-5 frees), Mikey Coleman; Darren Codd (0-1), Jack O’Connor (0-3, 1 free), Joe O’Connor (0-2). Subs. - Joe Coleman for H. O’Connor (41), Barry O’Connor for Codd (45), Michael Codd for M. Coleman (53), Ben Maddock for Maloney (60).
Naomh Eanna: Barry Kinsella; Peter Travers, Brendan Travers (capt.), Eoin Molloy; Jack Cullen, Seán Doyle, Gary Molloy; Aodhán Doyle (0-1), Conor Hughes (0-1); William Cullen (0-1), Pádraig Doyle (0-6, 4 frees), Darragh Hughes (0-5 frees); Eoin Conroy, Conor McDonald (1-0), David O’Brien. Subs. - Charlie McGuckin for W. Cullen, temp. (19-21), McGuckin for O’Brien (37), John O’Brien for W. Cullen (45), Lee Kinsella for Conroy (59).
Referee: Justin Heffernan (Blackwater).
Eoin Conroy of Naomh Eanna attempts the hook as Conor Firman (St. Martin’s) prepares to clear.
The O’Connor cousins, Joe and Jack, outnumber Naomh Eanna midfielder Conor Hughes.
Seán Doyle of Naomh Eanna clears his lines under pressure from Aaron Maddock (St. Martin’s).