BAT­TLE OF AUGHRIM

AGB and Bless­ing­ton must go again af­ter penalty drama

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT - BREN­DAN LAWRENCE

BLESS­ING­TON 2-14 ABG 0-20

(Af­ter ex­tra-time)

(4-4 af­ter penal­ties)

AS dra­matic cliffhange­r epics go, Sun­day’s Se­nior foot­ball cham­pi­onship semi-fi­nal be­tween AGB and Bless­ing­ton will go down as one of the most ex­cit­ing bat­tles ever to be played at the county grounds and should, weather per­mit­ting, see a bumper crowd flock to Aughrim this Satur­day for the re­play be­tween these two pure foot­balling sides af­ter nor­mal time, ex­tra time and penal­ties couldn’t sep­a­rate them.

Was it the best cham­pi­onship match at Se­nior level this year? Quite pos­si­bly, cer­tainly in terms of drama and ten­sion with­out a shadow of a doubt. This game de­liv­ered in ev­ery sense of the word and while both sides will know they can im­prove and while both will set out to negate cer­tain as­pects of each other’s game plan, it’s safe to say that foot­ball sup­port­ers, and new Wick­low boss Davy Burke who was present on Sun­day, will thor­oughly en­joy get­ting an­other chance to see these two ath­letic out­fits go to war again this week­end.

Evening was rapidly clos­ing in when County Chair­man Martin Fitzger­ald took his long strides in from the side­line to where the 10 penalty-tak­ing war­riors were sit­u­ated on the pitch and from where, af­ter a brief dis­cus­sion, ref­eree Gar­reth Whe­lan sounded the three shrill blasts on his whis­tle to sig­nal that the con­test was over, that af­ter all the highs and lows, all the cheer­ing and groan­ing, af­ter the black cards and red cards and penal­ties not given, all the fine scores and near misses, all the close calls and ex­cel­lent pas­sages of play, that we would have to come back again, and that the ig­nominy of hav­ing your sea­son crushed by the scor­ing or miss­ing of a penalty af­ter such an epic en­counter would not be a re­al­ity.

Was it the right call? Many have said that to go out in such a man­ner would have been an in­jus­tice, a crime against the GAA. Sadly, if noth­ing sep­a­rates both teams on Satur­day then that is how one side will be mak­ing their exit. There is no more room for ma­neu­ver in terms of fix­tures. Satur­day’s game must end.

There are also those who say that it would have been equally cruel had Chris O’Brien not bagged that late free to send the game to penal­ties. There does seem to be a strange de­sire to shield peo­ple from hurt and dis­ap­point­ment in re­cent years but, alas, that is the na­ture of sport. For ev­ery joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion there is a silent pain. For ev­ery cap­tain’s speech read aloud there is a crum­pled sheet of pa­per long for­got­ten.

There was no pain to be had on Sun­day in Aughrim af­ter Martin Fitzger­ald called a halt to pro­ceed­ings af­ter Cur­tis Ger­agthy had pulled his ef­fort just be­yond the up­right of Mervyn Travers’ goal. Had he con­verted Bless­ing­ton were through to face St Pat’s in the de­cider af­ter Stephen Kitt’s save from Cor­mac Hy­land’s penalty had given Mick Mur­ray’s men the ad­van­tage.

As both teams trudged off the field, re­lieved no doubt that their cham­pi­onship dreams were still alive, the re­flec­tions be­gan on the ac­tion that had just un­folded.

Bless­ing­ton en­joyed a won­der­ful start, open­ing up a 1-2 lead to 0-0 as they trun­dled through the AGB de­fence like a jug­ger­naut in the open­ing six min­utes.

The in­di­vid­ual bat­tles were fas­ci­nat­ing. Ciaran Hy­land was back for his first game in four months and he went straight in at cen­tre back. And what a game he had. He opened the scor­ing for Damien Red­mond’s men, tear­ing up the field and drift­ing over a beau­ti­ful shot for a badly needed tonic for a team that looked slightly shell­shocked.

Mick Mur­ray started Paul and Mick McLough­lin in­stead of Wayne Cal­laghan and Jor­dan Nolan. Chris O’Brien was full-for­ward with Mick McLough­lin for com­pany, Philip Healy was fac­ing the wrath of Barry Mur­phy.

Dar­ragh Fitzger­ald was hav­ing a tough time with Bless­ing­ton cap­tain Eoin Keogh but a switch in­volv­ing Jack Hamil­ton cer­tainly less­ened the im­pact that Keogh had brought to bear in the open­ing quar­ter.

It was Keogh who grabbed the first goal of the game, fin­ish­ing a half-saved shot by Stephen Car­roll to the back of Mervyn Travers’ net at the Red­nagh Hill end. That ma­jor added to Anto McLough­lin’s open­ing point and Keogh’s own point to open up that 1-2 to 0-0 gap.

Back came AGB with that Hy­land point. Cur­tis Ger­agthy struck back off the left un­der zero pres­sure but even from early on it was clear to see that Bless­ing­ton were un­der pres­sure from their own kick outs and it was a weak­ness that would have be a ma­jor fac­tor in this game.

Philip Healy en­joyed one of those spe­cial days of his when he strokes balls be­tween the sticks at his leisure and he got the first of his eight-point tally af­ter 12 to make it 1-3 to 0-2.

Stephen Kitts’ restarts did hit their tar­get at times and when he found Jack Gil­li­gan with one the ball was worked to Eoin Keogh who bombed over his sec­ond of the day.

AGB’s re­cov­ery in the sec­ond quar­ter was com­mend­able. Hav­ing looked painfully vul­ner­a­ble, they made some in­tel­li­gent changes in­clud­ing switch­ing Chris O’Brien with Stephen Hur­ley and by the half-time whis­tle they were level at 0-9 to 1-6 through points from Cor­mac O’Shea, Healy (three frees), Chris O’Brien (2), and Stephen Hur­ley.

Bless­ing­ton were knocked back in that sec­ond quar­ter and could only reg­is­ter two more points, the first from Pa­trick O’Con­nor, the sec­ond from a free from Mikey O’Con­nor and they also lost Jor­dan Nolan to a black card 14 min­utes af­ter he was in­tro­duced for the in­jured Stephen Car­roll.

Damien Red­mond sent in Tier­nan McBride for Philip Glee­son at the break and AGB started su­perbly with Philip Healy drop­ping over a free af­ter 90 sec­onds to give AGB the lead for the first time in the game.

The next three AGB points would orig­i­nate from Stephen Kitt’s kick­ing tee. The first had noth­ing to do with the Bless­ing­ton num­ber one. His restart found Paul McLough­lin, but Tom Ma­her in­ter­cepted a long ball to Mikey O’Con­nor and AGB swept up the field where Stephen Hur­ley fired over a mag­nif­i­cent score.

Tier­nan McBride col­lected the next kick out and JP Hur­ley the third and Stephen Hur­ley and Philip Healy (free) both raised white flags to open up a 0-12 to 1-6 lead by the fourth minute of the sec­ond half with AGB also hav­ing a point ruled out af­ter one um­pire over­ruled an­other.

The ex­cel­lent Karl Kir­wan in­creased AGB’s ad­van­tage but sub­sti­tute Adam Boland hit back af­ter 12 as Mervyn Travers started to have some dif­fi­cul­ties from the kick out with the pres­sure be­ing ex­erted by the Bless­ing­ton for­wards.

Mick Mur­ray’s men were back to within one at the end of the third quar­ter af­ter points from Mikey O’Con­nor (free) and Anto McLough­lin.

On­wards we went. Philip Healy slot­ted over a free as AGB in­tro­duced Peter Hem­pen­stall, Ciaran O’Shea and Cor­mac Hy­land to the fray, while Jor­dan McGarr came in for Cur­tis Ger­aghty be­fore a Mikey O’Con­nor free was an­swered mag­nif­i­cently by Stephen Hur­ley who was tak­ing over from Philip Healy on the frees af­ter the sharp­shooter had made way for Cor­mac Hy­land.

And then the drama went up sev­eral notches. First, AGB full­back James Tyrrell was sent off on a straight red by ref­eree Gar­reth Whe­lan af­ter the Kil­te­gan of­fi­cial was sum­moned in to talk to an um­pire.

And then Jack Cot­ter charged through the heart of the AGB de­fence be­fore be­ing pulled down and Whe­lan, again af­ter con­sult­ing his um­pires, ruled that the foul had taken place out­side the square and a free was awarded which Mikey O’Con­nor pointed to pull Bless­ing­ton back to within a point with only mo­ments re­main­ing.

All the pres­sure was on AGB now. Mervyn Travers found Chris O’Brien with the restart, Bless­ing­ton at­tack, a hand on the ball on the ground, free out. Chris O’Brien to take. No op­tions. A de­lay. Whic­tle sounds, throw ball. Anto Mclough­lin wins pos­ses­sion and a fre3e. Mikey O’Con­nor. For the draw, to send the game to ex­tra time. Over she goes!

AGB are now back to 15. Ciaran Hy­land goes to full back on Pa­trick O’Con­nor. Cal Kelly is in at wing back, Tom Ma­her at cen­tre back on Paul McLough­lin while Chris O’Brien and An­drew Ma­her are in the mid­dle of the field.

Bless­ing­ton take the lead through Mikey O’Con­nor who finds an inch on Karl Kir­wan af­ter 30 sec­onds.

Stephen Hur­ley replies with an ab­so­lutely ridicu­lous free off the out­side of his right boot.

Bless­ing­ton look to be on their way when Paul McLough­lin fin­ishes a Mikey O’Con­nor ball across the square to the back of the net, 2-13 to 0-16.

And then an­other body blow for AGB. Ciaran O’Shea picks up a black card but ap­pears to say some­thing to Gar­reth Whe­lan and it’s sud­denly a red, eight gone.

Can Damien Red­mond’s men come back?

What’s clear is they need a left-footed free­taker shoot­ing into the dress­ing room end. In comes Dar­ragh Cul­leton and be­fore he’s even stretched, he’s swing­ing over a bomb af­ter a foul on Stephen Hur­ley.

Chris O’Brien fires over a free fol­low­ing a han­dling er­ror from the truly im­pres­sive Barry Mur­phy­but Jor­dan McGarr puts that bit of day­light be­tween the sides with a fine point to make it 2-14 to 0-18 with only min­utes left.

Dar­ragh Cul­leton wins a free. Chris O’Brien stands up and is counted. Mick Mur­ray re­alises that the mo­men­tum is with the Ark­low men and he sends Cur­tis Ger­aghty back in and Barry Fi­nan.

AGB at­tack. High ball, JP Hur­ley climbs like a beast and gath­ers the ball and wins a free. Time is al­most up. Chris O’Brien, nerves of steel, the run up, the strike, and over she goes. We’re go­ing to penal­ties.

There’s a mas­sive de­bate on the field be­tween of­fi­cials and team man­age­ments but even­tu­ally the 10 kick­ers as­sume their po­si­tions and both goal­keep­ers head for the goals at the vil­lage end.

Dar­ragh Cul­leton de­liv­ers big time with the first kick, giv­ing Stephen Kitt no chance. Pa­trick O’Con­nor fin­ishes to the op­posi­tie side with his.

Cor­mac Hy­land makes the long walk. The ground un­der­foot is in bad con­di­tion and he has dif­fi­culty plac­ing the ball. It’s ob­vi­ous that he’s just not com­fort­able with this and his ef­fort is saved by Kitt.

Anto McLough­lin gives Bless­ing­ton a mas­sive ad­van­tage when he fin­ishes down the mid­dle past Travers.

Cal Kelly ham­mers home, Adam Boland fin­ishes su­perbly, Karl Kir­wan looks to be in a mad hurry, and he wal­lops to the back of the net. Paul McLough­lin drives it up the mid­dle and An­drew Ma­her goes low and hard.

Cur­tis Ger­aghty is next. Travers of­fers him the left of the goal as Ger­agthy looks at it and the full-for­ward sends it low to that cor­ner, but he’s pulled it ever so slightly and she drifts wide of the post. Dear Lord in heaven!

Dar­ragh Cul­leton looks set to be the first for the sud­den death penalty tak­ers but here comes Martin Fitzger­ald and Gar­reth Whe­lan sounds the fi­nal whis­tle.

They’ll go again. And no­body will com­plain be­cause that was pure class.

Scor­ers – AGB: Philip Healy 0-8 (8f), Chris O’Brien 0-5 (3f), Stephen Hur­ley 0-3 (1f), Ciarán Hy­land 0-1, Cor­mac O’Shea 0-1, Karl Kir­wan 0-1, Dar­ragh Cul­leton 0-1.

Bless­ing­ton: Mickey O’Con­nor 0-6 (5f), Eoin Keogh 1-2, Paul McLough­lin 1-0, Anto McLough­lin 0-2 (1f), Cur­tis Ger­aghty 0-1, Pa­trick O’Con­nor 0-1, Adam Boland 0-1, Jor­dan McGarr 0-1.

AGB: Mervyn Travers; Tom Ma­her, James Tyrrell, Jack Hamil­ton; Karl Kir­wan, Ciaran Hy­land, Dar­ragh Fitzger­ald; JP Hur­ley, Stephen Hur­ley; An­drew Ma­her, Philip Glee­son, Cor­mac O’Shea; Cathal Kelle­her, Philip Healy, Chris O’Brien. Subs: Tier­nan McBride for P Glee­son (H/T), Peter Hem­pen­stall for JP Hur­ley (46), Ciaran O’Shea for C O’Shea (49), Cor­mac Hy­land for P Healy (55), Cal Kelly for ???? , Daire McBride for C Kelle­her (70), Dar­ragh Cul­leton for P Hem­pen­stall (76).

BLESS­ING­TON: Stephen Kitt; Barry Mur­phy, Mick McLough­lin, Steven Bo­han; Jack Cot­ter, Jack Gil­li­gan, Kevin Han­lon; David Booth­man, Pa­trick O’Con­nor; Eoin Keogh, An­thony McLough­lin, Stephen Car­roll; Paul McLough­lin, Cur­tis Ger­aghty, Mikey O’Con­nor. Subs: Jor­dan Nolan for S Car­roll (16), Adam Boland for J Nolan (30, BC), Jor­dan McGarr for C Ger­aghty (51), Cur­tis Ger­aghty for M O’Con­nor (77), Barry Fi­nan for K Han­lon (77).

REF­EREE: Gar­reth Whe­lan (Kil­te­gan)

Bless­ing­ton’s Jack Gil­li­gan puts pres­sure on AGB’s Andy Ma­her dur­ing the SFC semi-fi­nal in Aughrim.

Bless­ing­ton’s David Booth­man pre­pares to field this ball.

AGB’s Tom Ma­her races down the field with Jack Cot­ter in hot pur­suit.

Bless­ing­ton’s Kevin Han­lon tries to keep up with AGB’s Cor­mac O’Shea dur­ing the thrilling Se­nior foot­ball cham­pi­onship semi-fi­nal.

Paul McLough­lin and Chris O’Brien con­test in the air.

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