O’Loughlin Gaels showed terrific commitment and skill when they won this eagerly contested Northern under-21 hurling championship clash.
The winners turned in a strong second half to close out this Roinn A Northern quarter-final in style at Canon Kearns Park on Saturday.
Last year’s champions, St Lachtain’s (Freshford) were hot favourites going into the game bearing in mind they had lost no one from their successful panel of last year. Their form was good, and they seemed set to march on again this time round.
However, a Davy Burke inspired O’Loughlin’s simply cut loose during the first half, building up a sgtrong lead of 1-8 to 0-2 at the break. After that they kept things tight, and sailed into the semi-finals.
When full-back Anthony Forrestal cried off with a dislocated shoulder after half time, St Lachtain’s took full advantage. They picked off three goals in quick succession to threaten the opposition.
O’Loughlin’s reorganised their team cleverly and they finished well to hold out the champions.
Three of the opening scores came from the stick of the influential Burke. He slotted the ball over the bar effortlessly with three lovely strikes, each one better than the last. The others involved Burke as well.
He showed great vision when finding Jack Nolan and setting him up for a point.
Nolan sold two dummies before shoot over his second score before Billy Leydon fired over a lovely effort for O’Loughlin’s to make it six in-a-row. Mark Croghan, an early sub for the injured Paddy Deegan, tested goalie Darren Brennan with a shot at goal. The young ’keeper did well to block before the ball was cleared.
When the 20 minute mark was reached Freshford still hadn’t scored. It wasn’t until the 23rd minute that they opened their account when Liam Hickey guided a shot over the bar.
Shane Donnelly pointed after a pass from Stephen Farrell. St Lachtain’s breathed a collective sigh of relief when that ball went over the bar.
Mark Croghan shot over for a swift response from the city side before a Paddy Butler 65 restored O’Loughlin’s six point lead. With the half time break nearing, Freshford seemed intent on holding things so they could get to the dressing rooms and regroup for the second half.
The losers had been totally out-hurled during the opening 30 minutes by a sure firing O’Loughlin’s team that had turned in the complete performance. They weren’t finished yet, however.
When Patrick Meany made a 60 metre burst from the wing back position to shoot a wonder score it was exactly what the winners needed to leave them on a high. There was no stopping the rangy number seven.
The score of the game started with Jack Nolan cutting through the middle of the Lachtain’s defence before laying off a pass to Meany, who was in full flight. The latter rifled the ball into the top corner of the net.
When the action resumed after half time the winners were intent on not giving anything away early. Until the 35th minute when Forrestal was helped off the pitch, O’Loughlin’s were in control.
Johnny Doyle and David Burke efforts sandwiched a score from Stephen Farrell. However, after this Freshford started to move with more freedom, and they got back into the game.
Two Brian Kennedy points from frees and a point from Donnelly edged them closer before James Maher split the Loughlin’s defence with a powerful run before hanging the ball up in the back of the net. Two minutes later they struck again.
This time it was Shane Donnelly who did the damage. A long ball into Farrell bounced from a cluster of players in front of the goal and dropped into Donnelly’s out-stretched hand. He kept his cool and finish the chance to the net before wheeling away in celebration. The momentum was with St Lachtain’s. Their grip on the title was still strong.
Jack Nolan pointed a free before substitute Stephen Hawe steadied the rocking O’Loughlin’s ship. He finished a chance in the 48th minute to push O’Loughlin’s ahead by 2-12 to 2-6.
With ten minutes left 18-year-old Maher blasted home his second goal of the game. Breaking forward from midfield once more, he took the ball into contact. The sliotar fell and dribbling past two players before he connected sweetly with the bouncing ball to fire it into the net.
Paddy Butler converted a placed ball before Johnny Doyle also raised the white flag after going on a direct run through the Freshford defence. Stephen Farrell was fouled bearing down on goal, and he converted the 21 metre free, giving the O’Loughlin’s players on the line no chance of stopping a perfectly struck shot.
Paddy Butler pointed his third free and finally O’Loughlin’s looked safe. In the last play, however, a determined Freshford forward line broke the last line of the winners defence once more. The ever alert Donnelly saw his scuffed attempt hobble harmlessly out over the endline and the committed Sammy Johnston, the O’Loughlin’s goalie, looked very relieved.
O’Loughlin’s held out for a well-deserved win. They looked to have been safe at half time, but the loss of Forristal upset the balance of the team. They face St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) in the next round. The champions of two years ago face a tough task.
Scorers: O’Loughlin Gaels - David Burke (0-4); Jack Nolan (0-3, two frees); Paddy Butler (0-3, frees); Patrick Meany, Stephen Hawe (1-0 each); Billy Leydon, Johnny Doyle (0-2 each); Fergal Brennan (0-1). St Lachtain’s - James Maher (2-0); Shane Donnelly (1-2); Stephen Farrell (1-1); Brian Kennedy (0-2, frees); Liam Hickey (0-1).
O’Loughlins Gaels - Sammy Johnston, Huw Lawlor, Anthony Forristal, Shane Parsons, Paddy Deegan, Paddy Butler, Padraig Meany, David Burke, James Lenihan, Vincent Wallace, Jack Nolan, Daniel Lenihan, Billy Leydon, Johnny Doyle, Richard Moylan. Subs - Stephen Hawe, Mark Croghan, Fergal Brennan.
St Lachtain’s - Darren Brennan, Lachtain Kennedy, Brendan Quinn, Craomhtain Bergin, Paddy White, Brian Kennedy, Philly Campion, James Maher, Fintan White, Liam Hickey, Colin Corcoran, Jack Boland, John Quinn, Stephen Farrell, Shane Donnelly. Subs - Darragh Quinn.