A belter of a game
Shillelagh/Coolboy and Ashford draw after a thriller
SHI’LAGH/C’BOY 1-9 ASHFORD 1-9
IT was like a trip back in time to when league games in your home patch really meant something to communities and were not played on ugly Sunday mornings with three cattle and some listless crows looking on.
It was like those days when you were a child when the men who you seen during the week around your village or town became warriors on the football field and the whole village or town turned out because they were representing you and what it meant to be you.
It was like what football felt like back in the 80s when both clubs would bring a decent support for a league game that mattered, when the sun graced us with its presence, when the supporters were literally on the field of play, when choice words might be spoken and when men might be asked out onto the road to settle the odd dispute but when sense would prevail and everybody’s pride would stay intact and off they’d go to tuck into a beautiful Sunday dinner.
It felt like the good old times, if ever such a time truly existed, and for 90 minutes on Sunday that’s where the Division 3 clash of Shillelagh/Coolboy and Ashford brought us.
A very healthy crowd of supporters turned up for this winner-takeall clash in Coolafancy on Sunday. The fact that stunning views of the Wicklow countryside are on offer from the venue and that the green sward was basking in gorgeous June sunshine was a welcome boost, obviously, but everybody was gathered to watch the top dogs of the division do battle for the title and with that expectation came a tension and an energy that provided those present with a very entertaining spectacle that, thankfully, both sides will have to do all over again after they finished all square on the day.
It looked as if a competent looking Ashford were going to make this a long day on the home side when they first opened up a 0-2 to 0-0 lead before pushing out to a 0-4 to 0-2 lead after Shillelagh/ Coolboy had woken from their early slumber.
The excellent Brendan Manning and then Ross Quinn got the visitors off to a healthy start against John Smith’s side who found it very difficult to settle in this game and registered four wides before eventually getting off the mark through the dangerous Brendan Behan after 18 minutes.
Ashford were guilty of their own wayward shooting as well, clocking up three wides of their own and dropping a ball short to Laurie Cullen in the Shillelagh/ Coolboy goal.
The home side were pulling corner-forward Jonathan Smyth back as a sweeper which was leaving Rian O’Dwyer free at the back for Ashford and creating a hard-to-breach gap between the midfield and full-forward line of Behan and Wayne Kinsella for John Smith’s charges, and they found that more often than not their long balls in were being wiped out by the excellent O’Dwyer, Michael Dickenson and Robert Clarkson.
Brendan Behan gathered a breaking ball to level at 0-2 apiece but a wonderful score from Gavin Weir from a tight angle and a pointed free from Dean Mooney returned Ashford to a fully deserved two-point lead.
A Cathal Murphy free off his left reduced the deficit and Eugene O’Brien sounded the half-time whistle in a low-scoring but thoroughly entertaining battle that was giving the crowd hugging the sideline plenty to get excited about.
It wasn’t long before the action ignited on a glorious sabbath day. Wayne Kinsella finally found his kicking boots two minutes into the second half when he drifted over a free and then John Smith sent in Daniel Behan and Johnny Willoughby. Behan worked relentlessly but it was Willoughby who gave Shillelagh/Coolboy’s hopes a major boost.
Willoughby fired wide not long after coming in before Kinsella pointed and then Brendan Behan was fouled in the square following a Willougby ball and PJ Mulhall dispatched the spot kick with aplomb while Rian O’Dwyer was dispatched to the sideline on a black card.
Lovely hands from David Nolan allowed Robert Keenan the chance for a point after 15 to make it 1-5 to 0-5 in favour of the home side before Kinsella (free) and Cormac Doyle swapped scores ahead of Ashford being awarded their own penalty which Brendan Manning lashed home past Laurie Cullen to make it 1-6 apiece with 20 gone in the second half.
Johnny Willoughby exchanged with Brendan Behan before firing Shillelagh/Coolboy into the lead and then home side looked to be coasting after further points from Kinsella (free) and a wonderful PJ Mulhall score after he waltzed through the Ashford heartland to leave three between the sides with five to go.
But this Ashford team are very impressive when they are moving well, and they finished this game superbly with three points from Brendan Manning (one free) to leave it 1-9 to 1-9 at the sounding of Eugene O’Brien’s full-time whistle.
Some confusion reigned at the death as to what the next course of action was. Some believed Shillelagh/Coolboy had won the league on score difference but a walk-over from Knockananna for Ashford earlier in the league put paid to that eventuality and while every single soul in Coolafancy would have loved extra-time it was decided that it would go to a replay at a neutral venue.
That venue might not lend the replay the same tension but if the football is as entertaining and the supporters travel in the same numbers we’ll be in for a serious treat.
Scorers - Shillelagh/Coolboy: PJ Mulhall 1-1 (p), Wayne Kinsella 0-4 (3f), Brendan Behan 0-2, Johnny Willoughby 0-1.
Ashford: Brendan Manning 1-4 (p, 2f), Robert Keenan 0-1, Ross Quinn 0-1, Dean Mooney 0-1, Cormac Doyle 0-1, Gavin Weir 0-1.
SHILLELAGH/COOLBOY: Laurie Cullen; Garrett Gregan, Shaun Carroll, Enda Foley; Aaron Kinsella, Paddy Hennessy, Daire Foley; Dan Nolan, Ray Murphy; PJ O’Keeffe, PJ Mulhall, Cathal Murphy; Brendan Behan, Wayne Kinsella, Jonathan Smyth. Subs: Daniel Behan for C Murphy, Johnny Willoughby for J Smyth.
ASHFORD: Will Hender-Phillips; Rian O’Dwyer, Michael Dickenson, Robert Clarkson; Robert Keenan, Daniel Kavanagh, James Coffey; David Nolan, Joseph Doyle; Ross Quinn, Brendan Manning, Dean Mooney; Cal Connolly, Gavin Weir, Cormac Doyle. Subs: Graham Mooney for R Quinn, David Dowling for M Dickenson.
REFEREE: Eugene O’Brien (Aughrim)
Shillelagh/Coolboy’s Laurie Cullen tries to evade the challenge of Ashford’s Cormac Doyle in Coolafancy,