AIB Connacht Club (IHC) Championship Semi-Final
St. Gabriel’s: 1-13
Larry Cooney at McGovern Park, Ruislip
St. Gabriel’s hopes of appearing in a provincial club final in their Connacht debut year lay in ruins after a desperately disappointing two-point defeat by Mayo champions Tooreen at McGovern Park last Saturday.
The result means that, after a pulsating encounter, that ebbed and flowed, the provincial title holders still remain on course to defend their crown while St. Gabriel’s are left with many unanswered questions after a generally underachieving performance.
The London champions never really reached the level of performance that saw them regain the county title in such impressive style only a matter of a few weeks ago but what was more disappointing is the fact that St. Gabriel’s were never allowed to reach that level.
Tooreen led after a second minute point from mid-fielder Cathal Freeman and although the hosts took the lead twice in the course of a very entertaining game, the Mayo champions dominated all the important exchanges to leave much of the home support completely aghast as the hosts struggled to match the winners’ fitness and sharpness – not to mention their desire and determination.
But Tooreen’s true domination of possession was really reflected in their wides total of fifteen (including ten in the first half) compared to the London champions’ total of just five.
And were it not for the only goal of the game scored by Shane Lawless after twenty-two minutes the visitors would have been more than halfway there by the interval.
Instead, Tooreen led by just a single point after defending the pavilion end and playing with a strong breeze.
But the despite falling behind five minutes after the restart, Tooreen turned the tide with four unanswered points from a Sean Kenny brace followed by a score each from dual star Fergal Boland and a pointed free from man-of-the-match Shane Boland to open up a 0-14 to 1- 8 lead with thirteen minutes of normal time remaining.
Despite the expected St. Gabriel’s response with three unanswered points from top scorer David Nolan, To0reen still finished with a flourish to outscore the hosts 0-4 to 0-2 in the final quarter that also included a late semi-penalty awarded to St. Gabriel’s deep into the two minutes of added time.
But after goal-keeper James Barrett’s effort was saved and cleared to safety, the Mayo champions and their delighted travelling fans were soon celebrating another famous victory.
Tooreen’s Eoin Delaney was only change to the starting XV on the match-day programme as the visitors won the toss and elected to play with the wind advantage. Conditions were also sunny and dry and not too cold as referee Liam Gordon threw in the sliotar.
And while the visitors might have been expected to take a while to settle, that was certainly not the case after midfielder Cathal Freeman opened the scoring with a long-range effort in the second minute.
Tooreen were also looking much sharper and first to the ball in the opening exchanges where their midfield partnership of Freeman and David Kenny were on top and powered by the captain and centre-back Stephen Coyne, St. Gabriel’s were on the back-foot for much of the opening ten minutes.
A second Tooreen point from Brian Morley after four minutes was followed by two scores from Fergal Boland in the sixth and ninth minutes with Shane Boland also hitting a point from play in the seventh minute to give Tooreen the perfect start with a 0-5 lead by the tenth minute.
Eventually, the hosts did win possession in their half-forward line through the roving Michael Ivors who was playing deep as a third midfielder.
And a foul on the Tipperary man led to fellow Tipperary man David Nolan opening the St. Gabriel’s account in the tenth minute. A minute later the same Tipperary combination produced their second score from play and at last the hosts appeared to be getting their act together.
The London champions continued to enjoy a productive spell over the next seventeen minutes when they outscored Tooreen by 1-5 to just a single Shane Boland pointed free in the twenty-first minute to open up a 0-2 lead as half-time beckoned.
The crucial score in that period was also the only goal of the game from a clinical Shane Lawless finish in the twenty-first minute at the end of a three-man swift counter-attack that really caught the Tooreen defence flat-footed.
And when David Nolan soon added his fourth point (from play) of the afternoon it did not augur well for the wind-assisted visitors who also spurned many scoring chances in the half by hitting ten wides.
However Tooreen had the perfect response with late points from Fergal Boland and substitute Sean Regan (who replaced Cathal Freeman in the twenty-seventh minute) and a deserved one-point lead on the stroke of half-time from a Shane Boland free after the full forward was fouled to leave the half-time score: Tooreen 0-9 St. Gabriel’s 1-5.
A one-point lead was a poor reward for all of Tooreen’s first-half play and work-rate and they needed an early boost in the third quarter if they hoped to remain in contention.
And although a Shane Boland pointed free doubled their advantage soon after the restart, three unanswered points from St. Gabriel’s had the hosts back in the lead by the thirty-fifth minute.
A David Nolan pointed free in the thirty-third minute was followed immediately by a score from Stephen Lohan from an Andrew Curtin assist before goalscorer Shane Lawless put the London champions back in the lead for the second time in the game.
However, it was Tooreen who dominated the exchanges in the next twelve minutes to effectively set up their platform for a famous victory.
Two crucial points from corner forward Sean Kenny put Tooreen back in the lead after forty minutes but more importantly gave his teammates the belief that the game was still there for the taking.
That lead was doubled from another superb effort from Fergal Boland and when the same player was fouled in the forty-seventh minute, Shane Boland pointed the resultant free for a three-point lead for the visitors.
But although the visitors’ ‘tails were up’ they were still required to maintain their concentration approaching the final quarter and, more importantly, be prepared for a final rally from the London champions.
That challenge was provided by top scorer David Nolan whose three scores wiped out the Tooreen advantage with nine minutes remaining.
Nolan’s equalising point from play was one of the best scores of the day but it was not sufficient enough to inspire his teammates to support him in getting the London champions over the line.
Instead, it was the visitors through scores from Sean Kenny and substitute David Harrison who regained the initiative followed by the two winning points from Shane Boland’s fifth successful free and Sean Regan in reply to two late David Nolan pointed frees.
But as the game entered the second minute of added time St. Gabriel’s made one last effort to somehow salvage a desperate situation when they were awarded a ‘semi-penalty’. But goal-keeper James Barrett’s effort was saved and cleared to safety as the final whistle sounded on a final-score: Tooreen 0-18 St. Gabriel’s 1-13.
Tooreen – Stephen Lenehan; Aidan Henry, Michael Morley, Paul Delaney; Shane Morley, Stephen Coyne (capt.), Conor Henry; Cathal Freeman (0-1), David Kenny; Brian Morley (0-1), Fergal Boland (0-4), Daniel Huane; Sean Kenny (0-3), Shane Boland (0-6, 5f), Eoin Delany. Subs: Sean Regan (0-2) for Freeman, David Harrison (0-1) for Delaney, Conor English for S. Morley, Joey Ganley for B. Morley.
St. Gabriel’s – James Barrett; Tomas Higgins, Neil Rogers (capt.), Ronan Royston; Lee Murphy, Graham Maher, Conor Helebert; Cormac Thornton, Oisin Royston; David Nolan (0-10, 6f), Stephen Lohan (0-1), Brian Hickey (0-1); Michael Ivors, Shane Lawless (1-1), Andrew Curtin. Subs: Quentin Lynch for Thornton, Luke Hands for Royston.
Referee: Liam Gordon (Killimor, Galway)