Pages 44 and 45

Favourites ad­vance to Co. SHC de­cider

Wexford People - - SPORT - ALAN AHERNE in In­no­vate Wex­ford Park

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).

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