Wow. What a finish to a game that promised so much, for the most part delivered little, and then exploded into life for the last five minutes.
Laois SHC Final
Sunday’s Laois SHC final was a confusing game to say the least, but the bottom line is that both teams must do it all over again. Neither seemed to be playing close to full-tilt, particularly Clough-Ballacolla, and yet the game still produced high drama.
With three minutes of normal time remaining, the engraver could have been forgiven for starting to etch Rathdowney-Errill’s name into the new Bob O’Keeffe Cup. They were dominant all over the field, lead by five points and Clough-Ballacolla looked totally devoid of all ideads. And then everything changed.
Stephen Maher fired over two long range frees and a 65. Then Willie Dunphy showed Alan Delaney a clearn pair of heels for the second time in the half and fired home his second goal. Now Clough-Ballacolla lead by one and Rathdowney-Errill looked to be heading for the most unlikely of defeats. It was left to Ross King, the standout forward on display, to send it to a replay with a sublime score from the right wing.
Quite what both teams will make of the draw remains to be seen. Rathdowney-Errill would have been desperately unlucky to have been beaten, having lead all the way until Dunphy’s second goal, and yet they were lucky in the end to get a draw. Clough-Ballacolla came closest to winning, but were, by their own standards, very poor on the day.
They hit almost incredible 15 wides on the day, with the most surprising thing being the chief culprit - Willie Hyland. The leading light of the Clough-Ballacolla attack has probably never had a worse day in front of the posts in his career, as he hit eight wides himself in an uncharacteristically wayward display. He wasn’t the only one, with Stephen Maher struggling too, but huge credit must go to the Rathdowney-Errill defence, who never gave either a moments piece.
Pat Mahon and Brian Campion were in superb form in the spine of their defence, with Hyland and Maher scoring just one point from play between them. It was left to Ross King to make the headlines, as he was superb at the other end of the field for Rathdowney-Errill, getting all bar two of his team’s scores.
He will need a bit more support from the rest of the forward line the next day, but there is so much more to come from both teams. Neither came close to playing to their full potential, both seemingly overawed by the occasion.
It was Rathdowney-Errill who settled quicker, with Ross King opening the scoring with a 65 after an earlier effort had drifted wide. Rathdowney were making all of the early running, with Liam Tynan and Owen Houlihan both coming close to early goal chances, before a strong run from Houlihan set King up for his second score, this time from play.
King added another point from a free before winning possession out on the right wing, jinking away from Darren Maher and splitting the posts from a tight angle. That left them 0-4 to no score up after ten minutes, and even more suprisingly, it was the 16th minute beofre Clough-Ballacolla scored, with Willie Hyland pointing a 21 yard free.
A point from Picky Maher and another Hyland free left one between the teams, before Patrick Purcell set up Ross King for the game’s first goal, as his low show to the bottom left corner evaded Danny Hanlon. The final score of the half went to Stephen Maher, as he took over free-taking duties from a misfiring Willie Hyland to leave it 1-4 to 0-4 at half time.
Both teams hit wides early in the second half before Ross King and Stephen Maher traded points from frees, as Willie Hyland’s shooting woes continued with four wides in the opening ten minutes of the half. Patrick Purcell had no problems at the other end as Rathdowney-Errill went four clear, but Clough-Ballacolla came roaring back.
A long ball forward allowed Willie Dunphy to collect in space and he raced through to fire past Noel Brennan. Rathdowney-Errill responded superbly, and went on a run of four unanswered points to quell the Clough-Ballacolla comeback.
The first three came from Ross King frees, the pick of which was an effort from his own 65, before John Purcell’s defence splitting pass set up Liam Tynan for his first of the game to leave it 1-10 to 1-5 with three minutes of normal time left.
Clough-Ballacolla looked ready for a final knockout blow, but they shook off their poor form in a dramatic end to the game.
It started with Stephen Maher pointing a 65, befoire adding two more long range frees in two minutes to leave two points between the teams heading into injury time. Then Willie Dunphy raced clear once again to fire past Noel Brennan, and it looked like it was all over for Rathdowney-Errill.
But Ross King wasn’t having that, and his fantastic late point ensured a second chance for his side.
SCORERS - Rathdowney-Errill: Ross King 1-9 (0-5 frees, 0-1 65), Liam Tynan, Patrick Purcell; Clough-Ballacolla: Stephen Maher 0-6 (two 65s, three frees), Willie Dunphy 2-0, Willie Hyland 0-2 (both frees)
RATHDOWNEY-ERRILL: Noel Brennan; Lar Mahon, Brian Campion, Alan Delaney; Joe Fitzpatrick, Pat Mahon, James Corrigan; Shane Dollard, James Ryan; Enda Meagher, John Purcell, Patrick Purcell; Owen Houlihan, Ross King, Liam Tynan. Subs: Jason Phelan for Ryan (48), Darren King for Meagher (52)
CLOUGH-BALLACOLLA: Danny Hanlon; John A Delaney, Darren Maher, Ronan Broderick; Damien Bergin, Bill Duggan, Brendan McEvoy; Shane Hanlon, Mick McEvoy; Canice Coonan, Willie Hyland, Tom Delaney; Willie Dunphy, Stephen Maher, Mick Dunphy. Subs: Aidan Doyle for T Delaney (58)
Referee: Broughan O’Reilly (Portlaoise)
Wides: 6 (1); Frees: 11 (5); 65s: 2; Yellow Cards: 2 - Alan Delaney (27), Jason Phelan (51); Red Cards: 0
Wides: 15 (9); Frees: 14 (7); 65s: 2; Yellow Cards: 1 - Danny Hanlon (51); Red Cards: 0