AGB produce stunning recovery to slay Blessington
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.