Rathnew silence the doubters
BEING involved in GAA in Wicklow is not the most pleasant or rewarding experience at times, especially when you work in Dublin.
Wicklow people don’t get a chance to be part of many conversations on GAA, our opinions aren’t taken seriously, our hopes sneered at, our teams dismissed.
There are times when we are successful, the qualifier run in 2009, the U-21B hurling championship in 2015 and a few more before, but they are all too infrequent.
Days like Sunday don’t come around too often for Wicklow people and the success of this Rathnew team will live long in the memory of everyone there.
This success obviously belongs to the people of Rathnew but they have lit up the country and for that Wicklow people should feel an immense sense of pride in what they’ve done.
Rathnew deserve every Wicklow person getting behind them in two weeks when they welcome Moorefield in the Leinster semi-final.
Nobody gave Rathnew a chance, and quite rightly too. St Vincent’s are littered with former and current inter-county stars. They have won four of the last five Dublin championships. They have been unbeaten in Leinster since 1981.
Well, they were unbeaten until Rathnew had their say.
Only the players inside the Rathnew dressing room and their supporters thought they could do it.
But you don’t talk about Rathnew without talking about their belief which is strong enough to stop any force of nature.
They have all the intangible assets – the heart, the courage, the insatiable will to win – that every other successful team has along with some of the finest players ever to play football.
And yet, it is almost unbelievable that they pulled it off.
How, for example, does Damien Power, who wasn’t expecting to mark Diarmuid Connolly, barely let the Dublin star get a kick of the ball?
How do they keep the St Vincent’s team scoreless for the last twenty minutes of the match?
How do Rathnew go into their biggest game without Jody Merrigan or man of the match in the county final Nicky Mernagh and still win?
Mernagh plans on facing Moorefield and could be better than ever without his appendix holding him back!
All of us who didn’t believe must repent for our sins and bow down at the altar of Harry Murphy and his disciples.
They rode their luck in the first half it must be said. St Vincent’s opened them up on many occasions but didn’t convert their chances.
Peter Dignam made a wonderful save from Connolly when Power lost him on the only occasion.
Gavin Burke cut through like a scythe but dropped his shot into Dignam’s grateful arms.
Connolly got fouled in front of goal but referee David Gough played advantage and when the five second advantage elapsed he didn’t call play back for the free.
St Vincent’s seemed like they expected to win and weren’t ready for a Rathnew side in no mood to let them.
Throw in James Stafford casually scoring 1-02 in the last ten minutes to win the match and one of the best club teams in the country fell to a team who thrive on doing such a thing.
Or perhaps that should be one of the best club teams in the country beat the Dublin champions.
Rathnew started well, creating the first chance which Leighton Glynn dragged wide before Mark Doyle got his side off the mark with a free.
They didn’t score for another 17 minutes however as St Vincent’s reeled off four points and looked like they would ease away to victory.
Shane Carty almost scored a goal for the first point before Connolly with a free, Gavin Burke and Enda Varley kicked a point each to make it four points to one by the fifteenth minute.
Vincent’s missed a couple of chances during that time but Rathnew were offering little in attack to signal any kind of revival.
That changed in the 18th minute when Eddie Doyle kicked two in a row, the first a free.
Doyle hasn’t been at his best for the last couple of matches but he had a wonderful first half, always hungry for the ball.
Stephen Byrne was also instrumental to those scores, getting fouled for the first and then winning the ball in the full forward line for the second.
Mossy Quinn added a 45 for St Vincent’s to put two between the teams before Rathnew reeled off three in a row to take the lead.
First Ross O’Brien scored from distance, then ferocious tackling by Mark Doyle and Stafford forced the St Vincent’s defence to concede a free which Doyle converted. Glynn won the kick out and kicked Rathnew into the lead.
The teams traded a point before half-time, Byrne getting fouled for Rathnew’s free, and Rathnew led by seven points to six at half time. It was a scarcely believable score line and thoughts began to form that Rathnew could actually pull this off.
Sure not, but if the score line was close with fifteen minutes to go Rathnew would back themselves.
They started the second half with more than that in mind.
From the throw in Stafford kicked long to Mark Doyle who somehow caught the ball with one hand and doubled the lead. Glynn pushed it out to three moments later, a beauty from the stand side that we knew was over long before the umpire raised his flag with the Rathnew cheers.
Quinn and Eddie Doyle traded frees to leave it at 10 points to 7 by the forty minute mark.
Vincent’s started to claw back the lead however with substitute Ruairi Trainor and Quinn reducing it to the minimum.
Then disaster struck for Rathnew as Vincent’s went through their defence and Quinn was on hand to palm the ball into the net.
44 minutes on the clock and two points down, that was it, right?
Rathnew had fought the good fight, gone toe to toe with the Dublin champions and would now bravely bow out, their heads held high.
St Vincent’s would kick a few more points and Diarmuid Connolly would reference the win as kick starting their run towards the All-Ireland final. That’s how these movies usually play out.
Rathnew hadn’t read the script. Enter stage left Mr Paul Merrigan, Mr James Stafford, Mr Theo Smith and Mr Leighton Glynn into their starring roles.
Merrigan made two big plays, first coming up the field to kick a point on his left foot four minutes after Quinn’s goal.
Time ticks away, Rathnew own the ball. Glynn has come back into his half back line to conduct his orchestra.
He takes possession, holds on to it, waits for a teammate to make a move. If he loses the ball it’s lights out, Vincent’s have a clear run at goal. He’s the calmest man on the field. Vincent’s are chasing shadows, unable to get near Rathnew.
Ross O’Brien gets the ball just inside the 45 and takes a shot which is dropping short but Stafford is on hand to punch it over. 53 minutes on the clock and the game is level.
Merrigan makes his second big play, intercepting a beautiful Connolly ball into the full forward line.
Vincent’s are spooked. They take a 45 short instead of kicking for the posts and the eventual shot drops into Peter Dignam’s grateful arms.
Rathnew go up the field, Glynn involved all the way. O’Brien takes another shot, again it fall short.
This time Stafford doesn’t punch it over, he catches it with his right hand and dispatches it to the net with his left! Rathnew lead St Vincent’s by a goal, 56 minutes on the clock. This is scarcely believable.
Vincent’s push again, Rathnew repel again. Rathnew move the ball forward again and Stafford kicks over the insurance point, there are four points in it and four minutes of injury time.
Rathnew aren’t going to lose. Power hacks a ball away, almost taking a teammate’s fingers with him.
St Vincent’s attack down the right hand side, in front of the Rathnew dug out.
Tiernan Diamond gets the ball but Theo Smith tracks him down and disciplined tackling forces
the Vincent’s substitute to over carry the ball.
It was the second time Smith forced somebody to over carry, winning a free earlier in the half that Eddie Doyle converted.
The seconds drift by, Vincent’s can’t get near the goal posts. They blaze a shot wide and the referee blows the full time whistle.
Let this be a lesson for each and every one of us: never doubt this Rathnew team again.
Scorers – Rathnew: James Stafford 1-02; Mark Doyle (3f) 0-04; Eddie Doyle (2f) 0-03; Leighton Glynn 0-02; Paul Merrigan, Ross O’Brien 0-01 each.
St Vincent’s: Tomas Quinn (1 45, 2f) 1-03; Enda Varley 0-02; Diarmuid Connolly (f), Gavin Burke, Shane Carty, Ruairi Trainor 0-01 each.
RATHNEW: Peter Dignam; Paul Merrigan, Damien Power, Jamie Snell; Warren Kavanagh, Ross O’Brien, Enan Glynn; James Stafford, Theo Smith; Stephen Byrne, Danny Staunton, Graham Merrigan; Mark Doyle, Leighton Glynn, Eddie Doyle. Subs: John Manley for Danny Staunton (50 mins); Jody Merrigan for Stephen Byrne (56 mins).
Vincent’s: Michael Savage; Michael Concarr, Jarlath Curley, Craig Wilson; Fiachra Breathnach, Ger Brennan, Luke Sheehy; Lorcan Galvin, Daithi Murphy; Gavin Burke, Diarmuid Connolly, Cormac Diamond; Enda Varley, Shane Carty, Tomas Quinn. Subs: Eamonn Fennell for Lorcan Galvin (35 mins); Ruairi Trainor for Cormac Diamond (40 mins); James McCusker for Ger Brennan (43 mins); Joe Feeney for Daithi Murphy (50 mins); Tiernan Diamond for Gavin Burke (60 mins).
An emotional James Stafford celebrates the final whistle.
Rathnew’s Stephen Byrne and Ger Brennan of St Vincent’s compete for a high ball.
Rathnew’s Leighton Glynn fends off the challenge of Luke Sheehy. The moment big James Stafford pulls the ball down one-handed and blasts to the St Vincent’s net.
Diarmuid Connolly of St Vincent’s and Rathnew’s Damien Power battle for possession.