A new entry will have to be added in the dictionary of sporting cliches under the heading ‘game of two halves’ after this incredible encounter last Saturday.
Laois SHC Final Replay
After looking every bit a beaten team at the end of the first half, Rathdowney-Errill prodcued a stunning second-half display to turn a seven point deficit into a three point win.
They were outsocred by thirteen points to six in the first-half but emerged after the break to dominate proceedings restricting a previously free scoring Clough-Ballacolla side to just a single point while adding eleven of their own.
It was a truly incredible turnaround that not many in O’Moore Park would have predicted given the dominance of Clough-Ballacolla all over the field in the first 30 minutes.
After a slow start the previous week, Clough-Ballacolla came out all guns blazing and left Rathdowney-Errill in their wake as they opened up a 0-9 to 0-2 lead after 21 minutes. They still lead by seven at the break but it all changed after the break.
With the aid of the breeze, they converted nearly every scoring opportunity that came their way with points flying over from every angle and a variety of distances. Stephen Maher accounted for five of them with the pick of the scores being a brace of back to back long range points from Shane Hanlon.
Whatever was said in the confines of the dressing room under the stand in O’Moore Park during the interval certainly did the trick as Rathdowney-Errill were rejuvenated after the break. Lead up front by man of the match John Purcell, they managed to wrestle control of the game and crucially managed to get the momentum on their side. The hero of the drawn game, Ross King, kept the scoreboard ticking over and he finished as top scorer with nine points.
As important as the scores were at one end, of equal importance was the improved defensive play at the other. After allowing Clough-Ballacolla’s forwards far too much time and space in the opening half, Rathdowney Errill lead by the excellent Brian Campion and Joe Fitzpatrick shut up shop after the break keeping their opponent’s scoring opportunities to an absolute minimum. They were much tighter to their men and they battled much harder for every breaking ball to great effect.
Clough-Ballacolla were on the ropes after the break but they still held a three point lead when they were dealt a telling blow as they were reduced to fourteen men midway through the half. Tom Delaney had been a key player for his side in his role as an extra defender and his dismissal after an incident with Shane on the sideline in front of the terrace was a tturning point in the game.
Rathdowney-Errill added another four points in succession to edge in front before Clough-Ballacolla added their solitary point of the second-half to briefly restore parity. That score however only briefly stopped the rot as Rathdowney Errill rounded out the game with three further unanswered points.
Clough-Ballacolla had a late chance to snatch a draw from a close range free but Rathdowney-Errill held firm and held on for a memorable win.
That outcome seemed highly unlikely after the opening half and even after the opening five minutes as Clough-Ballacolla blasted out of the blocks.
A long range point from Canice Coonan got the ball rolling after just 30 seconds and by the time there were five minutes on the clock, Stephen Maher (2), Willie Dunphy and Willie Hyland had added points to put their side into a 0-5 to 0-0 lead.
A fine point from Darren King after eight minutes briefly stemmed the tide after eight minutes but Clough-Ballacolla were on a roll with Willie Hyland and Stephen Maher responding to open the gap to six.
At this stage Clough-Ballacolla were well on top and they were finding acres of space in the Rathdowney-Errill back line. At the other end, sweeper Tom Delaney was a rock at the heart of the defence and Rathdowney Errill were struggling to find any openings to fashion scores. They were closed down quickly and the breaking ball nearly always seemed to find its way to a Clough-Ballacolla player.
When Rathdowney-Errill did manage to work the ball inside, the Clough-Ballacolla full-back line swarmed to the ball and snuffed out the danger.
A point from a free from Ross King was cancelled out by Stephen Maher and a point from distance from Mick McEvoy extended the lead to seven.
Before that score however, Rahtdowney Errill had two chances to significantly close the gap but two well struck close range frees, one from Ross King, the other from Brian Campion, were both saved by Clough-Ballacolla ‘keeper Danny Hanlon. Shortly after Hanlon was in action again this time denying Ross King from close range.
Those attacks seemed to spark Rathdowney-Errill into some sort of action but they still trailed by seven at the break as the sides added four points apiece in the final ten minutes of the half to leave the half-time score at 0-13 to 0-6 in Clough-Ballacolla’s favour.
Rathdowney-Errill had begun to find their feet late in the first-half but even that gave no indication of the onslaught that was to come after the restart.
Two points early in the half from John Purcell and a stunning effort from Ross King not only reduced the gap but also began to wrest the momentum from Clough-Ballacolla.
The same two players added points after ten minutes and just like that the deficit was down to a managable three points.
With the flow of the game now going their way, Rathdowney-Errill were further boosted when Clough-Ballacolla were reduced to 14 men when key player Tom Delaney was show a straight red card after tangling with Jason Phelan in front of the terrace.
Rathdowney-Errill were now in total control and with their supporters in full voice, they added four more points in the next four minutes to take the lead. Again it was Ross King (2) and John Purcell who lead the way with captain Shane Dollard also pitching in with a point.
After 22 minutes without a score, Clough-Ballacolla added their only score of the half when Stephen Maher pointed a free but that failed to stem the tide of Rathdowney Errill scores.
Three points in two minutes from Brian Campion and two more from the prolific Ross King put daylight between the sides.
Clough-Ballacolla started to go for goals but twice their attacks were broken up by Joe Fitzpatrick. The same player was on hand a minute from time to help keep his side in front. A shot from a close range free from Willie Hyland was saved and Fitzpatrick was on hand to save the follow up shot.
Clough-Ballacolla had one last chance when a shot from Canice Coonan looked to be heading to the top corner but Noel Brennan somehow got a hurl to the ball and rolled agonsingly wide of the post.
With that shot went Clough-Ballacolla’s last chance as Rathdowney-Errill pulled off a miraculous win.
Scorers: Rathdowney Errill: Ross King 0-9 (0-6f), John Purcell 0-3, Darren King 0-2, Shane Dollard 0-2, Brian Campion 0-1f. Clough Ballacolla: Stephen Maher 0-6 (0-4f), Shane Hanlon 0-2, Mick McEvoy 0-2, Willie Hylan 0-2, Willie Dunphy 0-1, Canice Coonan 0-1
Rathdowney Errill: Noel Brennan; Brian Campion, Alan Delaney, Lar Mahon; Joe Fitzpatrick, Pat Mahon, James Corrigan; Shane Dollard, Patrick Purcell; Enda Meagher, Darren King, John Purcell; Jason Phelan, Liam Tynan, Ross King. Sub: Owen Houlihan for Darren King (35mins)
Clough Ballacolla: Danny Hanlon; John A Delaney, Darren Maher, Ronan Broderick; Damien Bergin, Bill Duggan, Brendan McEvoy; Shane Hanlon, Mick McEvoy; Stephen Maher, Tom Delaney, Canice Coonan; Willie Dunphy, Mick Dunphy, Willie Hyland. Sub: Aidan Doyle for Mick Dunphy (49mins)
Referee: Brochan O’Reilly