BY DEFINITION, relegation games are always difficult and traumatic. Tension is more than palpable, and invariably the contest is interrupted by some handbag action, or some controversy.
In Thomastown on Sunday it didn’t take too long for supporters to work out that John Lockes (Callan) would win this intermediate hurling championship game, which also doubled as a relegation semi-final.
Playing against the stormy breeze, they played an exceptional holding game; defending in numbers, but then breaking in similar numbers with great speed when opportunity arrived.
Callan did the simple things with commendable concentration. Their half-back line of John O’Neill, Jason Corcoran and Michael Hartley played a very simple, but hugely valuable game. They simply stopped the progress of the ball, and moved it away.
Behind them, the clever Michael Gordon was totally focussed to everything around him. He mopped up a huge amount of ball that managed to get by the front trio, while Mick Roche was solid at full-back. Young James Power was seldom beaten or in trouble.
Jekyll and Hyde
The Jekyll and Hyde team that is Graignamanagh just didn’t really get going. They lost their way when aided by the breeze, and they just couldn’t make up the lost ground in the second half when the Callan outfit really pushed on for the winning post.
While Graignamanagh recorded a very disappointing seven points in the first half their goose was cooked by then really, as it only afforded them a single point advantage on the turn round. While their defenders James Cahill, Leonard Blanchfield, James Meaney and Ger Dowling were stamping their authority with some success, the Graig midfield and forwards were not running straight lines, opting instead to go to the wings before turning in. Five of their first half take came from frees.
That tells its own story.
At half time Graignamanagh had 0-7 on the board. More significantly, John Lockes had 0-6.
Graignamanagh were far more focussed in the second half. They nearly had a goal within seven minutes of the restart, but the alertness and courage of Paul Morrissey stood alone between them and what might have been.
Owen McGrath levelled matters within a couple of minutes for the winners, before the best forward on the park, Simon Burke tested the Graig resolve with a tremendous goal at the 34th minute mark. Burke never missed a free, and his overall contribution was inspirational. Paddy Kennedy too put in a very valuable shift, grabbing a few delightful points.
A tremendous move, starting in midfield, saw John Lockes score a truly great goal. Moving through the possession of John Paul Corcoran, Owen McGrath, Paddy Kennedy and Jack McDowell, the sliotar eventually arrived at Ger Shelly. He took the ball on his hurley, swivelled and, without taking the sliotar to hand, slammed it home.
As the ball ballooned the net, the referee called back the play for a minor off the ball incident he had spotted out of the corner of his eye. Burke disgustedly brushed the ball over the bar for a conciliatory point.
John Lockes did get the consolation of a second goal in the 51st minute, when courageous work by Jack McDowell and Burke set up Shelly for the easiest of finishes.
The Graig defenders, in particular James Cahill, Ger Dowling, Blanchfield and Jim O’Donnell were presenting stern opposition to the Callan marauders, but such was the continuity of ball coming their way they eventually had to bend a little.
Tried to dig team out
Eddie and Ger Walsh tried to dig their side out, as did Cathal Dunne, and Paul Hamilton, but they were fighting a losing battle from a long way out. Burke was magnificent for the Callan lads, as were John Paul Corcoran, Jack McDowell, Paddy Kennedy and Shane Bergin, in addition to those mentioned.
SCORERS: John Lockes - Simon Burke (1-8, 0-6 frees); Paddy Kennedy (0-4); Ger Shelly (1-0); Owen McGrath (0-3, 0-1 free, 0-1 65); Matt Holohan (0-1). Graignamanagh - Eddie Walsh (0-5, frees); Ronan Dowling (0-2, 0-1 free); Cathal Dunne (0-1); Ger Dowling (0-1, free).
John Lockes - P. Morrissey, M. Gordon, M. Roche, J. Power, J. Corcoran, J. O’Neill, M. Hartley, O. McGrath, J.P. Corcoran, J. McDowell, M. Holohan, P. Kennedy, S. Burke, S. Bergin, G. Shelly. Sub: C. Byrne.
Graignamanagh - S. Kavanagh, J. Meaney, J. Cahill, J. O’Donnell, L. Blanchfield, G. Dowling, D. O’Neill, E. Dowling, P. Hamilton, G. Walsh, E. Walsh, N. Flynn, R. Dowling, L. Kinsella, C. Dunne. Subs: P. Whelan, J. Doyle.
Referee - J. Walsh (Rower-Inistioge)