Had Rathdowney-Errill not gotten at least a draw from Sunday’s final, it would have been a bitter pill to swallow for Frank McGrath’s charges.
They were forcing the play throughout the game, taking the lead early and holding it for over an hour, until Willie Dunphy and Stephen Maher combined in that frantic end to the game. Dunphy’s goal could have broken the resolve of other teams, but you always got the sense that Rathdowney-Errill would engineer another scoring opportunity.
Frank McGrath paid tribute to his players for getting that score at the end, but it was notable also that after both of Clough-Ballacolla’s goal, it was Rathdowney-Erril that scored next.
The mental strength to come back after the second one was very impressive. Willie Dunphy’s goal was a real sucker punch, and other teams could have panicked. The fear of losing, the anger at the injustice of it, both could have consumed them, but the calmly worked the ball forward and created the opportunity. Cool heads were needed then, and Rathdowney-Errill had the players on the field who knew that.
Ross King’s point will be one that lives on in the memory, regardless of how the replay ends, and his peformance was a massive bonus for them. Looking through the Rathdowney-Errill team sheet before the game you would have been looking for the likes of Liam Tynan or John Purcell to lead the charge in attack, but King took on that mantle and seemed to be the better for it.
He had scored 2-17 in the championship up to the final, but only 1-0 of that was from play, and there were some question marks about whether he could contribute in that regard. Those questions have been emphatically answered now, but he can expect closer attention in the replay.
The performance of the defence was superb as well, possibly even better then people were expecting. It is hugely experienced unit, but the way in which they bottled up Clough-Ballacolla attackers and denied them space was very impressive.
Pat Mahon was very good at centre-back, but Brian Campion was brillinat at full-back. If he couldn’t win any ball coming in, he made sure his man couldn’t either, and he spent time marking Stephen Maher, Tom Delaney and Willie Hyland, giving away just one point from play in the process.
What Frankie McGrath and his management team will have to guard against now is how the players react to the draw. When they went five up, looking at some of their players, they seemed to think that was that. To end up drawing can be a big mental strain, and if they agonise over it, then it’s energy wasted which should be directed to the replay.
As stated above, however, they do have a lot of experience, and it is for situations like this that it is needed. They have plenty of positives to take from the game, but they will just have to be wary not to let the negatives creep in to the mindset before the replay.