All Ireland Intermediate Club Quarter Final

posted 22 May 2017, 07:44 by Robert Emmetts PRO
14th January 2017
Robert Emmetts 0-16
St Brigids, Cloughmills (Antrim) 0-14

With Ruislip's redevelopment still underway, Greenford was the venue for our All-Ireland clash with St Brigids. The lads were keen to make amends for last year's quarter final loss to Abbeyknockmoy but were up against a team who had been through a tough Antrim and Ulster campaign to reach this stage. By contrast our last championship game was the county final back in October. However Kevin McMullan and Mark Traynor made sure the lads were kept on their toes in Greenford, and some timely challenge games against London and Meath at Christmas had helped to refocus us. 

By the time the match got underway the morning's rain had mostly blown off, but the harsh weather of the previous few days had left conditions cold and heavy underfoot. First blood went to the Antrim men after we conceded a 65, and a point from play was added a couple of minutes later. We had to wait until the tenth minute for our opening score from a Richie Murphy free. It was a nervy opening from us and we seemed to be making some rushed decisions in our attacking moves. Despite this, it was clear that our attitude was still right, as our work rate and defensive play from 1-15 was good. After a couple of frees were exchanged we got our first point from play when Cathal Kehoe fired over an excellent score to level the match at 3 each. The slow surface meant that the match was developing into a stop-start affair, with free-takers from both sides having a big part to play. We were finding our feet though and soon began to exert some pressure of our own. Sean Ryan was serving up a mix of huge puck outs, landing on our full forward line, and low trajectory arrows, aimed into the path of our wing forwards. It was very much tit-for-tat, with scores from Richie Murphy (free) and Tomás Lawrence (play) cancelling out efforts from St Brigids. When the half time whistle sounded we were deadlocked at 5 points a-piece.

The second half picked up where the first left off and Richie was called on to rifle over a couple of early frees as he went toe-to-toe with Cloughmills's excellent marksman. About ten minutes in however, we suffered a downturn in fortunes. St Brigids managed to get a run on us and strung two points together in almost as many minutes to give them a decisive advantage. Soon after, Paddy Breen, who was having a typically excellent performance, went down with a knee injury and had to be carried from the field of play. However, Fergus McMahon entered the fray and won a free with the first ball that landed on him. Our defence was more than coping well and our two corner backs, Mark Conroy and Conor Walsh, were delivering man-of-the-match performances in an exhibition of aggressive tackling, close control and intelligent clearances. Paul Horkan was the rock that several Cloughmills attacks perished on, and his ability to win ball in a ruck and distribute it efficiently was giving our midfielders and forwards the platform that they needed. Daryl Roberts's pace was causing all sorts of havoc for the opposition defence and he launched a huge score over from just outside the 45 near the left wing to narrow the gap. However the lead was back to 10-8 moments later after another free. As the 20 minute mark came and went scores became increasingly hard to come by and the tension in the ground rose steadily. There was no panic on the line though, and Mick O'Dwyer, Eoin Chawke and Martin Fitzpatrick were sprung from the bench. All three had an impact, with Mick and Eoin both winning 50-50 balls and delivering into our full forward line. Soon after, Martin Fitz picked up possession in the corner and forced his man into a foul, allowing Richie to bring the gap back to one. With time almost up we went on the attack again but lost possession close to the Brigids goal. It seemed that the chance had gone but inside forwards Eamon Kenny and Daryl Roberts showed great determination and discipline by hounding the corner back into a cul-de-sac and forcing him to over-carry. Richie easily slotted over the equaliser as we entered injury time. There was still time for a last piece of drama though. Tomás gathered possession in midfield and tore off down the left wing. Surrounded by three Cloughmills players he somehow got a shot away which sailed over the bar. Sadly the ref's whistle had already sounded for the free. Richie stood over the most difficult one of the day but it drifted agonisingly to the right. Extra time it was. 

Kevin, Mark and Denis had a few minutes to regroup and issue a fresh set of instructions to the boys. Once the ball was thrown in we didn't seem to show any effects of the previous hours battle. Instead we found an extra gear and we soon started to find space. We hit three without reply to suddenly accelerate away for the first time in the game. Just as the first period drew to a close St Brigids did manage to pull one back from a free, which was, amazingly, their first score since midway through the second half of normal time. Early in the second period it was the Cloughmills lads turn to counterpunch and they drew level within five minutes. Our fitness levels were showing however, and a couple of inspirational cameos signalled that this would be our day. First Richie Murphy eyed up a free in the centre of the field outside the 65. As the wind suddenly kicked up it looked like a bridge too far, but he connected sweetly and sent the sliotar soaring high over the centre of the crossbar. Minutes later Paul Horkan intercepted an attack deep in our own half and, with the elements against him, set off on a solo run, leaving several attackers in his wake before releasing Tomás in midfield. Richie pointed yet another free to put us a goal ahead with time almost up. A nerve wracking period of injury time gave Cloughmills one last throw of the dice. A free in the centre of the field just outside the 21 was their last hope. However with huge relief we watched it whizz just over Sean Ryan's crossbar. The long whistle sounded amid huge cheers from our loyal band of followers!