Late goals finally decide extra-time final thriller in the Allianz NHL Division 3B Final
By Larry Cooney
Match at a glance
Patrick Walsh (Longford) The Waterford native was outstanding from start to finish and gave Longford a decisive and crucial edge in midfield as well as picking off 0-4. However he had plenty of contenders for the accolade including Warwickshire’s Shane Caulfield and top scorer Liam Watson who both accounted for 2-8 of the Exiles’ tally. A special mention also for Longford’s goalkeeper Breen Elliott who point-save for Kevin McGee in extra-time was surely the turning-point of the match.
Liam Watson’s 26th minute goal. When class was required the Antrim man delivered with a fine finish and it should have been enough to inspire his colleagues to victory. But apart from Shane Caufield and Paul Hoban Warwickshire just did not have the cutting edge.
Warwickhire’s poor second-half: While Breen Elliott’s extra-time save might have been the ‘game-changer’ the real damage for Warwickshire was done in the second when they were held scoreless between the 43rd and 61st minutes while Longford hit an unanswered 1-5 to overturn a 0-4 deficit.
Breen Elliott’s 1st minute save in extra-time. Having earned his team an unlikely reprieve with a last puck equalising goal in normal time, Kelvin McGee looked certain to rattle the net again until Elliott denied him. The Longford goalkeeper also denied Sean Hennessy with a crucial save when Warwickhire were pressing to get back in contention in the second half.
Longford were promoted to Division 3A after finally seeing off Warwickshire by two-points in a memorable decider at Carrickmore, Co. Tyrone last Sunday afternoon. After conceding two goals in the second period of extra-time, it just proved to be ‘a bridge too far’ for Warwickshire’s gallant hurlers after a thrilling league final in Carrickmore, Co. Tyrone last Sunday afternoon.
Although it was a bitterly disappointing result for the Exiles, who had battled their way back from the brink of defeat in normal time, in the end nobody who had witnessed the ninety minutes of nonstop action on the Eire Og Hurling Club’s pitch would begrudge the Irish Midlanders their right to play Division 3A hurling next year after their deserved two-point victory.
The match had originally been fixed for Healy Park but was switched last Thursday because of a water-logged pitch. But there was also a marathon event in Omagh last Sunday afternoon which may have been another reason to move the game to a more rural venue.
However even the switch caused confusion with both teams believing that it was the St. Colmcille’s pitch (home of the old Nally Stand) and not Carrickmore’s hurling pitch opposite the Dean McGurk College secondary school where both teams had to change. Since the Warwickshire team were also obliged to fly to Belfast instead of Dublin to avoid the weekend’s rugby clash involving Leinster and Wasps it was also decided to play the fixture in Ulster.
But why the Longford hurlers were asked to play in Co. Tyrone rather than Belfast where their footballers were also fighting for their Division 3 survival was also baffling. In the end it proved a great weekend for Longford with both teams delivering the desired results. Back in Carrickmore after a game that ebbed and flowed from start to finish, a disappointing Warwickshire team never really played at their full potential despite leading by the minimum at the end of a close first half of normal time when the score was 1- 10 to 1-9.
Longford raised the first of the match’s seven green flags of the afternoon when Paddy Farrington was on hand to scramble home after a great double save from Ray O’Brien and Conor Keegan in the 20th minute. That score put Longford two points ahead and after four points were exchanged in the next four minutes a superb Liam Watson strike found the Longford net in 26th minute to put Warwickshire back into the lead. But after Paddy Farrington punished another defensive error with a point to tie the scores in 34th minute after a successful ’65 from Liam Watson the same player gave the Exiles a narrow lead from another placed ball on the stroke of halftime.
Although Warwickshire were ahead they were still struggling to play with any kind of fluency until early in the third quarter when three unanswered points from Emmett McCabe, a Liam Watson pointed free and the impressive Shane Caulfield put the Exiles four points clear eight minutes after the restart. However after a harmless looking ground stroke from Paddy Farrington somehow ended up in the back of the net, Longford recaptured the momentum to hit five unanswered points and open up a four-point lead with ten minutes of normal time remaining. But after a Shane Caulfield point stopped the rot for the Exiles in the 61st minute the teams traded six points in the tense closing minutes.
A torrid afternoon for Warwickshire went from bad to worse for them with five minutes remaining when Sean Hennessy received a very harsh red card for a challenge on Longford full back Karl Murray as he effected a clearance.
However despite their numerical supremacy it was Longford who found themselves on the backfoot in the dying moments and with Liam Watson, Shane Caulfield, substitute Kelvin McGee and centre back Paul Hoban now in attack the Exiles always had a chance of ‘pulling the game out of the fire’. And as the clocked ticked down towards the final whistle of normal time Warwickshire launched one last-gasp attack that found Kelvin McGee who ran at the Longford defence despite the pain of an earlier injury.
Unbelievably the St. Barnabas clubman unleashed a pile-drive that finally beat Longford goalkeeper Breen Elliott for an equalising goal and take the encounter to extra-time on a score of 2-17 apiece. But as extra-time got underway the Longford goalkeeper denied McGee to give the Exiles a perfect start with a point blank save.
And, although Warwickshire held a slender one-point lead at the change of ends, two goals in as many minutes from Reuben Murray and Conor Keegan and a brace of pointed frees from Cathal Mullane in reply to 1-2 from Liam Watson finally ended the Exiles’ brave resistance. Warwickshire hurlers are back in Ireland in Lory Meagher Cup action in three weeks time when they take on Cavan.
SCORERS: LONGFORD: Cathal Mullane 0-7(0-6)f, Paddy Farrington 2- 1, Conor Keegan 1-2, Patrick Walsh 0-4, Reuben Murray 1-0, Paul Barden 0-2, John Mulhern, Seamus Hannon and Ray O’Brien 0-1 each. WARWICKSHIRE: Liam Watson 2-13(0-11)f(0-2)65s, Shane Caulfied 0-5, Kieran Boxwell and Sean Hennessy 0- 1 each.
LONGFORD: Breen Elliott; Cian McLoughlin, Karl Murray, Thomas Egan; John Mulhern, Daire Duggan, Johnny Casey; Patrick Walsh, Paul Barden; Conor Keegan, Séamus Hannon, Ray O’Brien; Paddy Farrington, Reuben Murray, Cathal Mullane. SUBS: Gerard Moore for R O’Brien (22). Unused Subs: Conor Gallagher, Eoghan Kavanagh, Aidan Sheridan, Eugene Kiernan, Jamie Rosney, John Gaffney, Alan Sorohan, Nigel Rabbitte, Stephen Farrell, Shane O’Brien.
WARWICKSHIRE: Michael Cremin; Chris Brough, Donncha Kennedy, Micheal O’Reagan; Willie Allen, Paul Hoban, Colm McBride; Kieran Boxwell, Ian Dwyer; Conor Robins, Shane Caulfield, Chris Convery; Emmett McCabe, Liam Watson, Seán Hennessey. SUBS: Joe Meagher for C Brough (25); John Reddan for Convery (45); Kelvin McGee for Dwyer (45); Páraic Crehan for McCabe (57); Emmett McCabe also returned to the action in extratime.
REFEREE: Aidan Ferguson (Fermanagh)