Rathdowney Errill justified their tag as favourites with a hard fought six point win over Castletown Slieve Bloom in O’Moore Park on Saturday night.
They started in clinical fashion and by the time Danny Reddin’s charges finally got off the mark twenty minutes in, last year’s champions were already eight points to the good.
The Castletown men recovered admirably after that and only went in trailing by two at the break but they were always chasing the game and never really looked like pulling off what would have been a major first round surprise.
Rathdowney-Errill were on the scoreboard within the first two minutes when Darren King pointed a long distance free. A minute later full forward Ross King pointed added another, this one from an acute angle from underneath the stand before Darren got his second five minutes in.
Joe Fitzpatrick and a third from Darren King opened up a five point to no score by the fifteenth minute and already it was looking like Frankie McGrath’s men were going to have a relatively handy night.
That looked all the more likely when Jason Phelan struck a further blow to Castletown Slieve Blooms confidence in the 17th minute. Full forward Ross King did all the heavy lifting before finding Phelan unmarked and ‘Giant’ unleashed a pile driver to the top of Ger Cuddy’s net that left the keeper with no chance whatsoever.
Castletown Slieve Bloom broke their duck in their 20th minute with a pointed free from Seamus Lyons and that point seemed to suddenly spring his side to life because only two minutes later they nabbed the game’s second goal when a searching long ball in from Evan Cuddy was expertly gathered and dispatched by the hard-working Ben Conroy.
Two converted Castletown frees late in the half from Seamus Lyons and Ben Conroy meant that despite Rathdowney Errill’s early domination they only led by two points at the break on a 1-5 to 1-3 scoreline.
That slender lead was halved on the restart when the always-dangerous veteran David Cuddy tapped over a fine score from thirty yards.
Rathdowney Errill had now gone sixteen minutes without scoring but stopped the rot in the 34th minute with a free from Darren King and three minutes later Ross King provided the finish to a scrambled attack from eight yards and all of Castletown Slieve Bloom’s admirable exertions were undone.
An excellent solo effort from Rathdowney Erill’s Joe Fitzpatrick followed as the champions kicked on and a free from Darren King gave Rathdowney Erill a 2-9 to 1-6 lead as the game entered the final quarter.
Castletown Slieve Bloom kept in touch and registered three good scores on the run but these were counteracted by Rathdowney Errils ability to keep the score board ticking over.
An excellent team score for Rathdowney Errill six minutes from time involving neat interplay between Shane Dollard and Darren King created space for Jason Phelan who unleashed a raking 65 yard effort from underneath the main stand emphasised that extra touch of class and they capped off a gritty display with one last point to run out six point winners.
Castletown-Slieve Bloom will take plenty of positives from this and they will hope to put this one behind them and give The Harps a serious run for their money in the next round.
Rathdowney-Errill will be happy with the win but they might be slightly concerned at the manner in which they left Castletown Slieve Bloom come within a point of them in the second half, especially after such a commanding start to the first half.
SCORERS - Rathdowney Errill: Darren King 0-7 (0-4 frees), Ross King and Jason Phelan 1-1 each, Joe Fitzpatrick 0-2; Castletown-Slieve Bloom: Ben Conroy 1-2 (0-1 free), Seamus Lyons 0-3 (all frees), David Cuddy, Paul Cuddy and Kevin Conroy 0-1 each.
RATHDOWNEY-ERRILL: Noel Brennan; Alan Delaney, Lar Mahon, Niall Delaney; John Keane, Pat Mahon, Jimmy Corrigan; Patrick Purcell, Shane Dollard; Enda Meagher, Darren King, Joe Fitzpatrick; Owen Holohan, Ross King, Jason Phelan.
CASTLETOWN-SLIEVE BLOOM: Ger Cuddy; Paddy Mullaney, Gearoid Gaughan, Enda Conroy; Ryan Mullaney, Paul Cuddy, Declan Keenan; Kevin Conroy, John Gaughan; Evan Cuddy, Ben Conroy, Loughlin Hegarty; Seamus Lyons, David Cuddy, James Hooban.
Subs: Tadgh Dooley for J Gaughan (12 mins), John Gaughan for E Conroy (48 mins), Brian Ferns for Hegarty (53 mins)
Referee: Broughan Reilly (Portlaoise)