St Martin’s (Muckalee) kept their hopes of the senior hurling/football double alive when they battled their way into the semi-finals.
The Northerners had to hold their nerve in a tight finish before downing James Stephens in this fiercely fought senior championship quarter-final at bright Freshford on Sunday.
The lead changed hands during an action packed conclusion when The Village got their nose in front, but they were pipped at the post by Martin’s, whose football team won the senior title a few weeks ago.
At times the city side were like a one man show. County star, Eoin Larkin blasted over 14 points to nearly get his side home in front.
The Martin’s forwards were more dangerous as a unit. They linked up well throughout the game. John Mulhall was a serious operator at centre-forward, dictating the play up front and he often dropped back deep in a bid to stretch The Village defence.
For 60 minutes it was a tit for tat affair. A late point from a John Maher free snatched the win for Martin’s. Eoin Larkin opened the scoring with a free in the second minute before Martin’s scored four on the bounced. John Maher pointed a free. John Mulhall followed with one from play. Luke Scanlon had a sniff at goal, but goalie Colin McGrath dashed off his line to cut down the angle and avert the danger.
John Maher and Colin McGrath pointed a free each before Eoin Larkin went on a four score streak. Three scores from placed balls and a seamless score from play pushed The Village one ahead.
The action was very scrappy edarly on, with 16 frees awarded during the opening 15 minutes alone. Seven of those were converted but the game failed to sparkle. The stop start nature of things did not allowed the action to flow which led to frustration, on and off the field.
Eoin McGrath drew the sides level, his strike from close range showing 0-5 each on the scoreboard. Niall Tyrrell pointed for ’Stephens with a sweet strike from the left of midfield. His effort sailed between the posts to level the sides once again.
Larkin and McGrath traded points from frees before the game really kicked into life. A crossfield ball by Thomas Breen found its way to John Maher, who gathered possession and laid it off sweetly to the inrushing Canice Maher.
Maher burst through the heart of ’Stephens defence and was brought down to earn a penalty for his team. Goalie Colin McGrath sauntered up field and as cool as a breeze smashed the ball into the top left corner of the net. Two Larkin frees sandwiched a looping effort from John Mulhall, his dipping shot having to be tipped over by ’keeper Derrick Brennan.
At half time St Martin’s went in a point up, leading by 1-7 to 0-9. The teams had been very evenly matched during that half, with neither able to take a clear lead. Martin’s had been the more evenly balanced side, but the deadly Eoin Larkin was powerful for the losers and was dangerous every time he got on the ball.
Maher shot over the first point after the restart from a placed ball. However, fouls on Matthew Ruth and Eoin Larkin earned the opposition two from the sharp-shooting Larkin which left the teams level for the fourth time.
During the following 10 minutes St Martin’s steadily began to take a hold of things and they looked the better side. Their forwards were able to find more space in the second half, create more chances and they started to take more chances.
Maher and Larkin swapped frees before two scores on the trot by John Maher upped the ante as Martin’s really got stuck in. The tackling was relentless now. Larkin managed another pointed free before great vision by Maher set up Thomas Breen for a lovely score.
A foul on Diarmuid Cody allowed Larkin to shoot over before a poor clearance came to the same Cody, and he took his first score with ease. A foul on a ’Stephens attacker led to James Maher being shown a second yellow card, which reduced St Martin’s to 14 men. That loss had a cost almost straight away.
A hopeful ball into the James Stephens square was latched on to by corner-back Luke Hickey. The fleet footed number four moved fast and travelled 50 metres before playing a stick pass to Eamon Sheehy. Larkin had moved in between the wing and centre backs and his run was rewarded with a lay off from Sheehy.
Larkin galloped towards goal and laid off the ball after drawing Diarmuid Cody’s marker. The latter snapped up possession and finished sweetly to the Martin’s net.
Well worked goal
This well worked and taken goal put The Village a goal to the good heading into the closing five minutes. They also had an extra man. The game looked theirs for the taking.
Martin’s may have been hurt, but they didn’t show. They struck back in deadly fashion. A sustained charge on The Village goal led to them being awarded a 20 metre free. Goalie Colin McGrath made the long journey up field again and stepped up to the free. Just as he had done with a late penalty in the football decider against The Village, he nearly rippled the net with a rasper of a shot.
The scores were tied again. It was back to square one, all to play for again. The game was eventually decided in injury time. The ice cool John Maher was the late, late hero. The veteran forward was as reliable as ever and his point from a free wrapped up what was a truly battling victory for Martin’s.
Scorers: St Martin’s - Colin McGrath (2-3, 1-3 frees, 1-0 penalty); John Maher (0-7, 0-4 frees); John Mulhall (0-2); Eoin McGrath, Canice Maher (0-1 each). James Stephens - Eoin Larkin (0-14, 0-12 frees); Diarmuid Cody (1-1); Niall Tyrrell (0-1).
St Martin’s - Colin McGrath, Mick Morrissey, Ollie Walsh, Shane Cadigan, Brian Byrne, Patrick Nolan, James Maher, James Dowling, Thomas Breen, Eoin McGrath, John Mulhall, Canice Maher, David Breen, John Maher, Robert Shore. Sub - Brian Mulhall.
James Stephens - Derrick Brennan, Niall McQuillan, Tomas Keogh, Luke Hickey, John Comerford, Jackie Tyrrell, Donnacha Cody, Eamon Sheehy, Niall Tyrrell, Diarmuid Cody, Matthew Ruth, David Walton, Luke Scanlon, Eoin Larkin, Ben Lahart. Sub - Ray Coady.
Referee - Richard Dowling (Kilmacow).