First half charge helps Fenians preserve their senior status

Kieran Grehan (Fenians) goes to turn inside Stephen Maher (Tullaroan) during the senior relegation final in Freshford. Photo: Eoin Hennessy
A 30-minute whirlwind helped the fast-flowing Fenians save their senior hurling skins.

A 30-minute whirlwind helped the fast-flowing Fenians save their senior hurling skins.

The Johnstown men put in a powerhouse first half performance as they blitzed Tullaroan, consigning them to the drop.

Tullaroan might have dodged the trapdoor last year, but there was no such luck this time. The Fenians had what could only be described as a dream first half, one where all their stars aligned as they raced into a lead they wouldn’t lose.

Firstly, they had the advantage of the elements. While there was a squally wind blowing in Freshford on Saturday, it dragged the sleety rain - and, more importantly, the ball - towards the Tullaroan posts.

Secondly, the changes Johnstown made to their side worked like a charm. Eyebrows were raised when venue announcer Paddy Butler revealed Kevin Power and P.J. Delaney would start in the full-forward line - but the duo were the focal point of attack.

Delaney, who has had a career blighted with injuries, was the jewel in the Johnstown crown. Sited at full-forward he tormented the Tullaroan defence at every turn, causing such chaos that Tommy Walsh had to be moved from midfield to try and shackle him.

The move, however, came a little too late as Johnstown had already plundered the goal glut which would secure their senior status.

Raging torrent

Starting like a raging torrent they played with a high attacking line, one which caught Tullaroan on their heels.

Such was the pace and power of the Fenians forwards in the opening quarter it was hard to see how they had found themselves in a relegation final. Sent on their way with a point from captain Kieran Grehan, they could have built on that when the troublesome Delaney was hauled down in the square for a fourth minute penalty.

Conor Tobin elected to take it and went low, but given the awful weather he failed to make a clean connection on the heavy sliotar, giving the Tullaroan defence time to clear their lines.

That was an early indicator of the pressure Tullaroan would face for the remainder of the half though.

Kevin Power continued his team’s charge, making it look easy as he raced out to collect a booming J.J. Delaney clearance and then found time to slot it over the bar. The Fenians forwards were moving well, but stepped up a gear and hit Tullaroan with a swift one-two that left them reeling.

After picking off a long John Henderson clearance, P.J. Delaney only had eyes for goal when he skipped inside his marker in the tenth minute. With plenty of defensive attention he was held up, but still had the presence to palm the sliotar off for Rory Phelan to swat it in.

Better was to follow within a matter of minutes. It looked like Tullaroan had survived when Kieran Grehan’s point attempt dropped short, but the Fenians were ready to pounce. The greasy sliotar spilled from netminder Richie Butler’s grasp - panic spread as Delaney slipped and slid in after it, but Conor Tobin followed up to usher the ball over the line.

After a nightmare opening quarter, Tullaroan looked stunned. The hard-working Padraig and Mark Walsh helped them regain some composure with two quick points in the 16th and 17th minutes - their first of the game - but the Fenians weren’t about to let their white-hot momentum cool.

A second Kevin Power point stretched the gap back to seven points (2-3 to 0-2), forcing Tullaroan to change their game-plan. With Tommy Walsh brought back to full-back they tried to pull down the shutters, going with seven men in defence, but that only served to make life a little easier for the Fenians backs.

Staying in control, the Fenians upped the ante in the latter stages of the half - and how!

Winning possession from a throw-in close to the left corner, Kevin Power gathered the ball and moved towards the posts. For a second it looked as if Power would go for goal but, spotting the in-rushing Willie Brennan, he unleashed a perfect cross towards the far side. Brennan didn’t have to alter his stride, bursting in before slotting an unstoppable shot into the bottom left corner.

Power kept the Fenians motoring, adding another point to their tally, before John Henderson arrowed a sideline cut over the bar in stoppage time. Mark Walsh (free) did pull a point back for Tullaroan, but their heads were spinning as they went in 11 points down at the break (3-5 to 0-3).

Claw deficit back

Playing with the elements in their favour, Tullaroan tried their hardest to claw the deficit back in the second half. They made a bright start, Ken Coogan and Mark Walsh (free) opening with good points. Coogan and sub Jack Keoghan tacked on two more scores by the 38th minute, but one in reply from Willie Brennan meant there was still an eight-point gap between the sides (3-6 to 0-7) with little over a quarter of the game to play.

At that stage it might have seemed that Tullaroan had time to mount a charge, but as the wind died so did their hopes of avoiding the drop.

Sensing even the weather gods were on their side, the Fenians pressed on. With John Henderson helping to marshal a tight defence they set about getting the scores that secured their senior status.

John Broderick (two frees) and Kieran Grehan helped. Conor Tobin supplied the icing on the cake, fizzing another sideline cut over the bar to send Johnstown home happy.

SCORERS: Fenians - Conor Tobin (1-2, 0-1 line ball); Willie Brennan (1-1); Rory Phelan (1-0); John Broderick (0-2, frees); Kevin Power, Kieran Grehan (0-2 each); John Henderson (0-1, line ball). Tullaroan - Mark Walsh (0-2, 0-2 frees); Ken Coogan (0-3); Padraig Walsh, Jack Keoghan (0-1 each).

Fenians - P.J. Ryan, Luke Hughes, J.J. Delaney, Eoin Phelan, J.P. Grehan, John Henderson, Cathal Ryan, John Broderick, Willie Brennan, Kieran Grehan, Conor Tobin, Darragh Tobin, Kevin Power, P.J. Delaney, Rory Phelan. Subs: Danny Dermody, Diarmuid Broderick.

Tullaroan - Richie Butler, Paddy Campion, Diarmuid Doheny, Michael Maher, Shane Hennessy, Stephen Maher, Richie Maher, Tommy Walsh (Mountgale), Ken Coogan, Mark Walsh, Padraig Walsh, Martin Walsh, Peter Walsh, Tommy Walsh (Village), Paul Buggy. Subs: Jack Keoghan, Josh Moore, John Walton, Stephen Dowling.

Referee - Paddy Neary (James Stephens).