COMEBACK KINGS

AGB pro­duce stun­ning re­cov­ery to slay Bless­ing­ton

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT - MARTIN O’BRIEN

AGB BLESS­ING­TON 3-6 1-10

AF­TER last week’s epic first in­stal­ment, this game was ex­pected to be a barn­stormer, to be played in in stormer con­di­tions. We had ev­ery­thing in Aughrim last week, scores, drama, ex­tra-time, penal­ties, just ev­ery­thing. All week we ask – who would learn from the first day? Would there be any per­son­nel changes? Who would deal with the con­di­tions bet­ter? As we all hud­dled in to the stand in Balt­in­glass, we would soon find out.

Bless­ing­ton started like a team pos­sessed. They were un­touch­able in the first 20 min­utes of the game. They raced in to a six points to nil lead, with Mikey and Pa­trick O’Con­nor, Kevin Han­lon, David Booth­man and Curtis Ger­aghty help­ing them­selves to points. They were to­tally dom­i­nant in this pe­riod.

Bless­ing­ton looked to have done their home­work. They started Gavin Mur­ray at mid­field, and he was mak­ing a dif­fer­ence on the Ark­low kick out. They squeezed Mervyn Travers’ kick-outs, and didn’t al­low the short kicks that had been so ef­fec­tive the week be­fore. Travers was forced to go long, and Mur­ray, Anto McLough­lin and Jack Cot­ter were eat­ing up the long balls.

The Geraldines were un­der pres­sure and re­sorted to long balls in to the full-for­ward line, with very lit­tle return. They did have scores from Cathal Kelle­her and Philip Healy from a free. How­ever, it was Bless­ing­ton who looked the more com­fort­able car­ry­ing the ball in the con­di­tions. Wor­ry­ing times for Ark­low as we headed in to half-time.

Half-time score­line read – AGB 0-2, Bless­ing­ton 0-8.

The anal­ogy, ‘a game of two halves’ is of­ten bandied around in GAA quar­ters. It is fair to say that this game would most def­i­nitely fall in to that cat­e­gory. Ark­low re­turned to the field rein­vig­o­rated af­ter half time. Whatever was said at the break, it made all the dif­fer­ence.

The first 10 min­utes of this sec­ond half were as ex­cit­ing 10 min­utes of foot­ball as you will see any­where in the coun­try. Ark­low shot out of the traps, with Cor­mac O’Shea slip­ping in along the end line and lash­ing a shot goal bound, saved by Stephen Kitt in the Bless­ing­ton goal.

Ark­low re­tained pos­ses­sion and in the fifth minute, Dar­ragh Fitzger­ald launched a ball to­wards goal. It hung in the air, all eyes on it. Goal­keeper, full-back and full-for­ward in­cluded. They run un­der the ball, it bounces, its rat­tles the net, it went all the way to goal. Ark­low have a life­line.

A minute later, and Fitzger­ald is raid­ing again. He comes in along the end line, hand passes across the goal. JP Hur­ley rises and sends it goal-ward, saved again by Kitt and cleared away. Breath­less stuff.

Fi­nally, Bless­ing­ton get hands in the ball in the sev­enth minute. What do they do, they bag a goal of their own. A long ball goes across the 21 to Paul McLough­lin, he bats down, Gavin Mur­ray latches on to it, bears down on goal, un­leashes an ef­fort, saved by Mervyn Travers. It falls to Curtis Ger­aghty, open goal and he slots it home.

From the kick-out, ball comes back to­wards Mikey O’Con­nor. He takes on his man.

There’s a pass on, but the shouts from the line are to take the score, and he does. Kevin Han­lon then raids for­ward to score a lovely curl­ing ef­fort. Bless­ing­ton look to have stead­ied the ship, or have they?

JP Hur­ley was now on the edge of the Bless­ing­ton square, and caus­ing all sorts of prob­lems for Mick McLaughlin.

The 12th minute, and a long ball heads in to the Bless­ing­ton square. Philip Healy touches it to Tier­nan McBride, he hands it to JP Hur­ley and he slots home. A goal for Ark­low and its game on.

Ark­low are now in the as­cen­dency. They add points from Healy and Hur­ley punch­ing over. It’s all Damien Red­mond’s men as they push to cut the gap.

Andy Ma­her lands a mon­ster point from a free to make it a two­point game. Bless­ing­ton can’t get out of their own half. Ark­low are ask­ing all the ques­tions now.

Then the piv­otal point in the game. One minute of nor­mal time left. The same for­mula for Ark­low, long ball to the edge of the square. JP Hur­ley knocks it down to Cal Kelly, he steps around the de­fender, he slots it home, the roof nearly goes off the stand. Shades of Ark­low’s IFC fi­nal win in 2016, with Kelly bag­ging the goal. One point down to two up, a ham­mer blow.

Ark­low en­gage in keep ball and have an­other point added by Chris O’Brien, an in­spi­ra­tional score from a long way out.

Bless­ing­ton push hard and land a ball on the square them­selves. Ark­low en­gulf Mur­ray, and get the free out. The fi­nal whis­tle sounds and Ark­low have won. What a comeback.

Bless­ing­ton will won­der what hap­pened in the sec­ond pe­riod. They didn’t score af­ter the ninth minute of the sec­ond half, and all the good work in the first half was in vain.

The Geraldines will look to the ef­fect of their subs. Tier­nan McBride, Cal Kelly, Cor­mac Hyland and Dar­ragh McBride added a huge amount of en­ergy and in­ge­nu­ity when they came in. JP Hur­ley was im­mense on the square in the sec­ond half, with Chris O’Brien, James Tyrell and Dar­ragh Fitzger­ald hav­ing storm­ers in the sec­ond half.

Ark­low now look for­ward to their first Se­nior county fi­nal since the 1960s, were they will face the for­mi­da­ble foe and reign­ing county cham­pi­ons, St Pa­tricks.

Star Per­former – Dar­ragh Fitzger­ald

Scor­ers – AGB: JP Hur­ley 1-1, Dar­ragh Fitzger­ald 1-0, Cal Kelly 1-0, Philip Healy 0-2, Cathal Kelle­her 0-1, Chris O’Brien 0-1, An­drew Ma­her 0-1.

Bless­ing­ton: Curtis Ger­aghty 1-2, Mikey O’Con­nor 0-2, Kevin Han­lon 0-2, Paul McLough­lin 0-1, Pa­trick O’Con­nor 0-1, David Booth­man 0-1, Anto McLough­lin 0-1.

AGB: Mervyn Travers; Tom Ma­her, James Tyrell, Jack Hamil­ton; Karl Kir­wan, Ciaran Hyland, An­drew Ma­her; Stephen Hur­ley, Chris O’Brien; Dar­ragh Fitzger­ald, Philip Glee­son, Cor­mac O’Shea; Cathal Kelle­her, Philip Healy, JP Hur­ley. Subs: Cal Kelly for Tom Ma­her, Tier­nan McBride for Philip Glee­son, Cor­mac Hyland for Philip Healy, Dar­ragh McBride for Cathal Kelle­her. BLESS­ING­TON: Stephen Kitt; Barry Mur­phy, Mick McLough­lin, Steven Bo­han; Jack Cot­ter, Jack Gilligan, Kevin Han­lon; Paul McLough­lin, Gavin Mur­ray; Eoin Keogh, Anto McLough­lin, David Booth­man; Pa­trick O’Con­nor, Curtis Ger­aghty, Mikey O’Con­nor. Subs: Kevin John Rodgers for Paul McLough­lin (blood sub – then re­versed), Jor­dan McGarr for Curtis Ger­aghty.

REF­EREE: John Keenan (Aughrim)

AGB’s Tom Ma­her puts pres­sure on Bless­ing­ton’s Pa­trick O’Con­nor dur­ing the Se­nior foot­ball cham­pi­onship semi-fi­nal re­play in Balt­in­glass on Satur­day af­ter­noon.

Kevin Han­lon looks to off­load as AGB’s Tom Ma­her closes in.

AGB’s Andy Ma­her strug­gles to get away from David Booth­man.

AGB’s Karl Kir­wan bat­tles with Bless­ing­ton’s Eoin Keogh.

Kevin Han­lon gets his pass away as Stephen Hur­ley gives chase.

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