The Heath preserved their 59 year stay in the top flight of Laois football last Thursday night, as the combined scoring power of Chris Bergin and Cathal Whelan edged them to a three point win over Clonaslee St Manman’s.
Laois Senior Football Championship Relegation play Off
The Heath 2-8
Clonaslee-St Manman’s 2-5
Both players combined to score The Heath’s entire 2-8 total, which proved just about enough to see off a resolute Clonaslee St Manman’s, who make the drop back to intermediate for the second time in five years. They just avoided the drop last year when they defeated Emo in the relegation playoff, but they ran out of luck this time around.
The game itself didn’t provide much in the way of stand-out football, and aside from a few well taken scores, it was a nervy, tense and at times physical game. Both teams ended the game with 14 men, while a number of flashpoints occurred at different stages over the hour or so of play.
It was understandable that the game was played out in such a scenario, with so much at stake for both teams, but it was the return from injury of Chris Bergin which proved to be a key factor for The Heath. After struggling for scores against Crettyard, he provided a more deadly finishing touch in attack.
There will be widespread relief following their last round escape, but having contested two relegation playoffs in the last five years, as well as two poor Division 1 campaigns in the last two years, much work still needs to be done if they are to avoid a return to this stage of the championship next year.
For Clonaslee, there is little comfort to take at times like this, but when they were relegated in 2008, they came straight back up in 2009, and that will be the aim for them now. They have been hit hard with emigration since then, but they will plough on and no doubt be a leading competitor in the IFC next year.
The Heath had made most of the early running, but it took them six minutes to open their account, when a move out on the left wing resulted with Cathal Whelan pointing from a tight angle. Their lead lasted just over a minute though, as Clonaslee worked the ball up to James Young, and he set up Will Young for a nice point scored under pressure.
The first goal of the game arrived soon after, as The Heath worked the ball across the Clonaslee 45 before Colin Nestor broke through on goal and set up Chris Bergin, and he applied the finish from close range.
Tempers flared soon after as the game threatened to get out of hand, but after a couple of yellow cards were issued, the game settled back down. Ten minutes would pass before another score, and it was The Heath who went four clear thanks to a point from Chris Bergin, but Clonaslee finished the half stronger.
They were helped by The Heath giving away a penalty when Michael Murray was fouled in the area, and Conor Gorman expertly dispatched the ball to the net. Minutes later a high ball in from Darren Hogan fell kindly for Murray, and he finished to an empty net to hand Clonaslee the lead at half time, 2-2 to 1-3.
With a slight wind advantage in the second half, The Heath opened the scoring with a free from Chris Bergin. Five minutes later they were awarded a penalty when Shane Carroll was pulled down as he raced through on goal, although Clonaslee maintained the foul was outside the box. The decision stood, and Cathal Whelan slotted it past Martin Fallon to put The Heath two up.
No sooner had they gotten the advantage on the scoreboard that they lost it on the field, as corner-back Alan Whelan was given a straight red for an off-the-ball incident. Clonaslee couldn’t take advantage though, and after 11 minutes without a score, it was The Heath who went further ahead with a Cathal Whelan free.
Conor Gorman hit back for Clonaslee, also from a free, before they were reduced to 14 men as well when Willie Murray was shown a second yellow card. Three points in the last five minutes from Whelan and Chris Bergin (2) left The Heath with a commanding five point lead heading into injury time, but they had a nervous wait for the final whistle.
Glen McEvoy and Mark Rooney scored late points to leave just a goal between the teams, but Clonaslee couldn’t narrow the gap any further than that as they just ran out of time in the end, leaving The Heath to breath a sigh of relief at the final whistle.
SCORERS - The Heath: Chris Bergin 1-5 (0-2 frees), Cathal Whelan 1-3 (1-0 pen, 0-2 frees); Clonaslee St Manman’s: Conor Gorman 1-1 (1-0 pen, 0-1 free), Michael Murray 1-0, Glen McEvoy 0-2, Mark Rooney, Will Young 0-1 each
THE HEATH: Alan Bell; Alan Whelan, Denis Booth, Michael Lenihan; Mark Dowling, Tony Connolly, Eoin Delaney; Donal Bigley, Shane Carroll; Luke Hyland, Colin Nestor, Brian Ging; Aidan Bergin, Chris Bergin, Cathal Whelan. Subs: Robert Dowling for Lenihan (29 mins - inj)
CLONASLEE ST MANMAN’S: Martin Fallon; Mark McEvoy, Edward Conroy, Diarmuid Conroy; Shane Conroy, Willie Murray, Glen McEvoy; Darren Hogan, Mark Rooney; Ger Dunne, Will Young, John Rigney; Michael Murray, Conor Gorman, James Young. Subs: Seamus Rosney for Dunne (44 mins - inj)
Referee: David Murphy (Portarlington)