Following an action-packed weekend of senior football, it was left to Mountmellick and Arles-Kilcruise to battle it out for the last remaining spot in this year's semi-finals. However, they will have to do it all over again tonight after this scrappy affair ended in a draw, with neither team doing quite enough to merit the victory.
Arles Kilcruise 0-8
Despite the controversy surrounding the fixture, falling as it did on All-Ireland Sunday, a large crowd gathered in O'Moore Park but after ten scoreless opening minutes this game showed no signs of matching the Cork-Kerry game for excitement or quality. Inter-county stars John O'Loughlin and Ross Munnelly traded wides and it took a Shane Conlon free in the tenth minute to finally get the umpires working. Conlon doubled his sides lead four minutes later with a nice score following good work from Colm Coss.
Twenty minutes in, Ross Munnelly finally got Arles-Kilcruise off the mark with an excellent score. Losing the ball in attack, Mountmellick allowed the county player way too much space and he finished a weaving run with a clinical point. Both sides were guilty of some misplaced passing and one such incident allowed Arles-Kilcruise to equalise. A loose hand-pass out was brilliantly intercepted by makeshift half-forward Jason McLoughlin and he duly tapped over to draw his side level.
After the game, Mountmellick coach Brian Dempsey felt that Mountmellick played into Arles-Kilcruise's hands in the first half and there was no doubt that for the remainder of the half it was the men in maroon that looked the better side. They took the lead for the first time with seven minutes of the opening period left when Ross Munnelly earned and converted a short-range free, and he was beginning to ask questions of the Mountmellick defence.
Neither team will have been happy with their first-half display and the final minutes of the half were punctuated with some rather cynical fouls. Arles-Kilcruise had Anthony McElroy and Paddy Conway booked, and Conway's foul on Ger Reddin resulted in another point for Shane Conlon. Indiscipline was just as rife at the other end, and moments after Conlon's equaliser Niall Gorman fouled David Conway allowing Ross Munnelly to again inch his side ahead. As the half drew to a close, Munnelly thought he had added to his tally with a long range kick, but his effort was adjudged by the umpire to have just crept wide.
Shane Conlon could have started the second half in style when he burst forward and attempted to level the tie but his long-range effort dropped into the grateful hands of Jimmy McDonald, and Arles-Kilcruise soon sought to take control of proceedings. JP Conway benefitted from some sloppy Mountmellick defending to score a nice point and his side were again two up. Mountmellick responded with a sensational score. Donie O'Mahoney's long clearance was expertly fielded by Ja Challoner. His quick ball to Conlon was just as quickly fisted to Matthew Whelan who shrugged off any pre-match injury concerns with a huge score.
Chris Conway had been relatively quiet in the first half but Arles-Kilcruise boss Mick Byrne was delighted with his second-half contribution, and it was Conway who re-established a two point lead for his side with a well-taken free five minutes into the second period. "Chris worked hard as usual and kept us all going" Byrne said after the game, and Conway was again at the fore of their next attack, finding David Conway with a clever ball. The full-forward was quickly surrounded by two Mountmellick defenders and looked to have fouled the ball only for the referee to award a free-in. However, having earned the free, Conway somehow missed from close range and a sense of justice was served.
In low-scoring games, such misses rarely go unpunished and instead of enjoying a three point lead, Arles-Kilcruise soon found themselves only one in front. Diarmuid O'Flaherty did well to draw a foul from JP Conway and Shane Conlon duly reduced the deficit. The game began to open up at this point, and gaps started to appear all over the pitch. Mountmellick's defence was called into action twice in a minute, firstly when Ger Reddin did brilliantly to rob James Conway of possession as he bore down on goal, and then Sean George was required to tidy things up following a particularly scrappy passage of play. He went on a strong run forward and found Ben Forde, who did well to hold possession and earn a free which Shane Conlon converted to level the tie.
In the ascendency, Mountmellick could well have won it at this stage. A delightful move involving five players left Ja Challoner through on goal. His fierce drive flashed past Jimmy McDonald, but also past the upright and wide. Chris Conway eluded his marker to fire his side back in front but Gordon Lalor responded two minutes later with a well-taken score after neatly turning Diarmuid Carroll. With five minutes on the clock, David Conway scored a neat point to restore the Arles-Kilcruise lead, and Mountmellick's chances looked to have been squandered when Colm Coss and Gordon Lalor both saw efforts trail wide.
However, with two minutes to go, Lalor's tenacity reclaimed possession and he fed the ball back out to John O'Loughlin. Showing tremendous composure, he sent a huge kick right between the posts to restore parity yet again. With the final whistle looming there was time for one more dramatic moment. A foul on David Conway left the forward with the perfect opportunity to book his side's place in the last four. He stepped up confidently but dragged his kick across the goal and wide of the far upright. It was to be the last action of the game and although a draw was probably a fair result, neither management teams claimed to have been happy with the outcome, although Mountmellick were admittedly the more relieved given Conway's last-gasp miss. On this evidence, the replay promises to be a thoroughly intriguing encounter.
Scorers - Mountmellick: Shane Conlon 0-5 (four frees), Matthew Whelan, Gordon Lalor, John O'Loughlin 0-1 each; Arles Kilcruise: Ross Munnelly 0-3 (two frees), Chris Conway 0-2 (one free), Jason McLoughlin, JP Conway, David Conway 0-1 each
MOUNTMELLICK: Donie O'Mahoney, Michael Lawlor, Niall Gorman, Gearoid Hanrahan, Richard McElwee, Ger Reddin, Sean George, Jarlath Challoner, Colm Coss, Matthew Whelan, Diarmaid O'Flaherty, Ben Forde, Shane Conlon, John O'Loughlin, Gordon Lalor. Subs: Bernard Rochford for J. Challoner (53 mins)
ARLES KILCRUISE: Jimmy McDonald, Patrick Conway, Diarmuid Carroll, Rory Stynes, JP Conway, Colm Munnelly, Anthony McElroy, James Conway, Kevin Meaney, Ross Munnelly, Chris Conway, Stephen Miller, Jason McLoughlin, David Conway, Lar Wall. Subs: Mick O'Shea for P Conway (46 mins), P Conway for J McLoughlin (55 mins)
Main Man - Sean George (Mountmellick)
In a keenly-contested and error-ridden clash, few performers really stood out. Ger Reddin and Colm Coss worked tirelessly for Mountmellick, whilst Diarmuid Carroll and forward duo Chis Conway and Ross Munnelly did very well for Arles-Kilcruise. However, the star performer in this one was Mountmellick's young half-back Sean George who delivered an extremely impressive defensive display and supported his forward line at every opportunity.
With his side leading by two, David Conway narrowly missed a relatively straightforward free. From the kick-out, Mountmellick went down the field and cut that lead to one. In such a low-scoring match, it would have been very difficult to see Mountmellick coming back had Conway's effort found its target.
Score of the Game
Given the circumstances, John O'Loughlin's long-range score to level the scores at eight apiece was probably the most impressive score. He showed tremendous composure to steady himself and score the point that kept his side in this year's championship.
The unfortunate miss by David Conway in added time will be hard for him to forget. He applied himself very well throughout the game and chipped in with a lovely score. It's never easy to stand up and attempt such a pressure kick, but it was one that he would convert 99 times out of 100. A tough cross for the Arles-Kilcruise man to bear, but at least he has the replay to redeem himself.
Wides: Mountmellick 9 (5 first half), Arles-Kilcruise 9 (5)
Frees: Mountmellick 19 (11), Arles-Kilcruise 17 (10)
Yellow Cards: Mountmellick 0, Arles-Kilcruise 2
Red Cards: Mountmellick 0, Arles Kilcruise 0