Allianz NHL Division 3B – Round 4
By Larry Cooney at Glennon Bros Pearse Park
Longford ended Warwickshire’s unbeaten run with a six-point victory over the Exiles at a sunny Glennon Bros. Pearse Park last Saturday afternoon. But the result of this highly entertaining encounter was in the balance right up to Reuben Murray’s late goal three minutes into added time which gave the Irish Midlanders a rather flattering margin of victory.
Already looking forward to their appearance in the final on 2 April before last weekend’s encounter, Warwickshire took the opportunity to give a number of the fringe members of their large panel some valuable game time before the same counties meet again in the match that really matters in three weeks time.
And according to manager Tony Joyce they also came away with some very useful intelligence about their final opponents not to mention the current form of their own squad.
But the one performer who really stood out at this level of hurling was Longford’s Cathal Mullane, a native of Killeedy in Co. Limerick.
The hosts were also bolstered by three hurlers from neighbouring Westmeath and are also managed by Westmeath man Ray Gavin. The Dalystown man is also in his third year at the Longford hurling helm and is also involved in his team’s third consecutive final after losing the previous two deciders to Fermanagh and Warwickshire in 2015.
In ideal conditions on a sunny afternoon Warwickshire settled well after the throw-in as they faced the sun. The hosts even forced an early save in the opening minute when full forward Conor Robins almost gave them the perfect start. But his goal-bound effort at the town end was saved well by goalkeeper Breen Eliott for a ’65. Chris Convery took his opportunity to open the scoring with the first of his six successful placed balls.
However Longford were soon on the offensive and corner forward Cathal Mullane required little time and space to equalise two minutes later.
A minute later Mullane put Longford ahead for the first time before hitting the first of his five successful frees in the sixth minute. But Warwickshire responded well with a brace of points from Conor Robins, after a Mark Nolan assist, before a John Reddan point tied the scores for the first time after eight minutes.
However Longford hit another three unanswered points through a Mullane score from play before wing back Daire Duggan converted two long range frees by the 13th minute.
However the visitors were given a real boost when Conor Robins finally found the net a minute later and when Joe Meagher was fouled from the puck-out Chris Convery shot his side back into the lead to leave it Warwickshire 1-4 Longford 0-6.
But the Exiles’ lead was shortlived as Longford dominated the second quarter to outscore their opponents by 1-6 to 0-2.
Another three unanswered points from Reuben Murray after an assist from Seamus Hannon was followed by a Padraig Walsh pointed free before Hannon placed Conor Keegan for a point in the 23rd minute. Although a Conor Robins point a minute later cut the deficit to a single point, a fine effort from Hannon restored Longford’s two-point lead.
But Longford also finished the half well on top with further scores from play through Hannon and Mullane before a long range Daire Duggan free dropped in the Warwickshire square where the lurking Mullane was on hand to raise Longford’s opening green flag and open up a sevenpoint lead as half-time beckoned.
However a foul on Ian Dwyer presented Chris Convery with an opportunity to cut the deficit to six points and leave the half-time score: Longford 1-12 Warwickshire 1-6. Despite trailing by six points at the interval Warwickshire were still well in contention even after conceding another early Cathal Mullane pointed free.
The Exiles also introduced Tony Kelly and Kelvin McGee as half-time substitutes and both impressed especially McGee in attack. After Conor Robins set up another point for John Reddan, Warwickshire began to dominate the crucial midfield and halfback lines and forced three quick frees which were all converted by Chris Convery.
Two of those frees were awarded to Kelvin McGee who was making a right nuisance of himself as well as winning some very useful possession.
The visitors looked well placed as they cut the deficit to three points just eight minutes after the restart and they then decided to let substitutes Seamus Brough and Ciaran McMullan join the action midway through the half.
Longford were grateful for a Paul Barden point in the 50th minute which temporarily ended the Warwickshire momentum before another Convery pointed free made the score 1-13 to 1-11 with 13 minutes remaining.
However after Seamus Hannon took advantage of a poor Warwickshire turnover to hit his third point from play as well as Mullane hitting his fourth successful pointed free the balance of play began to swing back in Longford’s favour in 58th minute.
But Warwickshire kept battling and another Conor Robins point still left just one score between the teams and set an entertaining encounter up for a grandstand finish. But just as another Hannon point appeared to end the visitors’ hopes with less than nine minutes remaining, Warwickshire worked the ball upfield to the left corner.
After Conor Robins gained possession he sent a probing crossfield pass where his club mate Kelvin McGee first-timed to the net for the score of the game and leave just the minimum between the teams.
Longford refused to panic and although a ‘65 from centre back Willie Allen cancelled out Mullane’s fifth pointed free as Warwickshire valiantly chased the game, a late goal from Reuben Murray finally decided the outcome of a very entertaining encounter.
SCORERS: LONGFORD: Cathal Mullane 1-8(1-5)f, Reuben Murray 1-1, Seamus Hannon 0-4, Daire Duggan 0-2(0-2)f, Conor Keegan, Patrick Walsh (0-1)f and Paul Barden 0-1 each. WARWICKSHIRE: Chris Convery 0-6(0-5)f(0-1)65, Conor Robins 1-3, Kelvin McGee 1-0, John Reddan 0-2 and Willie Allen 0-1(0-1)65.
LONGFORD: Breen Elliott; Gerry Moore, Eoghan Kavanagh, Stephen Farrell; Johnny Casey, Karl Murray, Daire Duggan; Paul Barden, Patrick Walsh; Shane O’Brien, Seamus Hannon, Conor Keegan; Paddy Farrington, Reuben Murray, Cathal Mullane. Subs: Eugene Kiernan for Shane O’Brien (inj.) 29, Cian McLoughlin for Paddy Farrington 58; Jamie Rosney for Reuben Murray (inj.) 73.
WARWICKSHIRE: Ciaran Boyle; Shane Conlan, Donncha Kennedy, Micheal O’Reagan; Robbie Curley, Willie Allen, Kieran Phelan; Joe Meagher, Kieran Boxwell; Chris Convery, John Reddan, Ian Dwyer; Mark Nolan, Conor Robins, Ciaran Glennon. Subs: Tom Kelly for Robbie Curley h/t, Kelvin McGee for Ciaran Glennon h/t, Seamus Brough for Kieran Phelan 50, Ciaran McMullan for Mark Nolan 50, Paul Hoban for Chris Convery 57
REFEREE: Rory McGann (Clare)