Arles-Kilcruise booked their place in a third SFC final in four years on Sunday afternoon, as they eventually overcame O’Dempsey’s in a closely fought quarter-final.
Laois Senior Football Championship semi-final
They were full value for the win too, as they were the better side on the day, scoring some wonderful points in the second half. O’Dempsey’s looked nervy on the day, losing their shape in attack and running down blind alleys time and again. When a bit of composure was needed in the second half, it was the experience of Arles-Kilcruise which came to bear, as they closed out the game superbly.
The first half may have been close, but it wasn’t entertaining. There were just five points scored in total, with two of those coming from frees. It was cagey stuff from both teams, as they never really committed themselves to attack, hoping those already up there could manufacture the scores themselves.
Ross Munnelly got the scoring underway, running at the heart of the O’Dempsey’s defence in the second minute. As three players converged on him he showed a deft change of direction, getting himself into space 30 yards out and pointing off his right foot.
The O’Dempsey’s response wasn’t rapid, as they would not find their first score of the game until the eighth minute. Before that, they found the time to kick some poor wides, and too often their attacks slowed down when they got within shooting distance, as they ran out of options. Their first point owed to a direct ball in from Barry Kelly, who was tackled late by Eoin Stynes and O’Dempsey’s were awarded a free 14 yards out, which Brian Nugent pointed.
They took the lead two minutes later, when a delightful ball over the top by Conor Meredith found Míchael Finlay eight yards out, but the outrushing James McDonald quickly applied the pressure and Finlay’s shot flew over the bar. That would be the only time they would lead in the half, as the remaining 20 minutes passed by without another score from the Killenard men.
Arles-Kilcruise were slow to regain parity themselves, and things didn’t look good for them when Padraig Conway was forced off injured midway through the half. A Chris Conway free, awarded after Ross Munnelly was fouled, got them back level, and just on the stroke of half time another right-footed point from Ross Munnelly gave them the slenderest of half time leads at 0-3 to 0-2.
The second half could only have been an improvement on what had gone before it, and so it proved to be as both teams managed to perform a bit better. Arles-Kilcruise extracted that bit more from themselves, and they started the second half in ominous fashion when Ross Munnelly managed to squeeze over a point from an almost impossible angle down in the right corner.
Less than a minute later and Munnelly was on target again, dovetailing expertly with Jason McLoughlin 25 yards out before slotting over a nice point. O’Dempsey’s eventually shook themselves out of their torpor to open their second half account, with Ed Kelly evading a couple of challengers before pointing from close range.
It proved to be a brief respite from the mounting pressure being exerted by Arles-Kilcruise though, and they stretched their lead once again when Ross Munnelly pointed a close range free. Eoin Stynes followed that up with a stunning effort from distance, and after ten minutes of the new half, Arles had outscored O’Dempsey’s 0-4 to 0-1, leaving O’Dempsey’s in a lot of trouble.
They needed to spark themselves to life, and they duly obliged when Brian Nugent scored a tricky free from 35 yards out, and he added another four minutes later to half the deficit. With the O’Dempsey’s crowd now finding their voice it spurred the team on, and they had it back to point when Míchael Finlay worked some space 30 yards out and fired over.
It was now that the real experience in this Arles-Kilcruise side came to bear, as they closed O’Dempsey’s out of the game and built up a winning lead. It started with a Ross Munnelly point within a minute of Finlay’s effort, as he jinked away from Peter O’Leary to fire over. Kevin Meaney added another from 14 yards out after a great pass from Chris Conway, and David Conway then rounded off a sparkling team move to push them four ahead.
That broke the O’Dempsey’s resolve, and a late free from Brian Nugent was cancelled out by Eoin Stynes just before the end to seal a well-deserved four point win for Arles-Kilcruise.
SCORERS – Arles-Kilcruise: Ross Munnelly 0-6 (one free), Eoin Stynes 0-2, Chris Conway (free), Kevin Meaney, David Conway 0-1 each; O’Dempsey’s: Brian Nugent 0-4 (all frees), Míchael Finlay 0-2, Ed Kelly 0-1
ARLES-KILCRUISE: James McDonald; Michael O’Shea, Patrick Conway, Rory Stynes; JP Conway, Colm Munnelly, Anthony McElroy; Stephen Miller, Kevin Meaney; Ross Munnelly, David Conway, Jason McLoughlin; Brendan Conway, Chris Conway, Eoin Stynes. Subs: Diarmuid Carroll for P Conway (18 mins), James Conway for B Conway (47 mins), Francis Egan for McLoughlin (58 mins), Francis Tully for McElroy (60 mins)
O’DEMPSEY’S: Padriag Bannon; JP Kehoe, Peter O’Leary, Conor Kavanagh; Barry Kelly, Robbie Kehoe, Conor Meredith; Brian Behan, Rory Bracken; Liam Finlay, Stephen O’Leary, Darren Finlay; Míchael Finlay, Ed Kelly, Brian Nugent. Subs: Billy Walsh for Behan (44 mins), Thomas Finlay for D Finlay (52 mins), Eoghan Finlay for Nugent (58 mins)
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Courtwood)