CHRISTY RING CUP ROUND 1
By David Hennessy
It was substitute Luke Hands who found the net with the final puck of the game, dramatically securing a replay for London in Saturday‘s Christy Ring opener. Fergus McMahon’s team can feel hard done by for how a late Kildare goal forced extra-time in a game that London had led for almost the entirety of the second half and looked to have sewn up with a comfortable seven point lead late in the game. A Martin Duggan goal, thanks to the clever creation of Michael Ivors, had put London in the driving seat but two goals brought Kildare back into it. London will now travel to Newbridge this coming Saturday to take on the Lillywhites again. The winners will take on Derry in the next stage of the competition with the losers facing Mayo.
Having led by three points late in the first half, London allowed Kildare to get back into it and the sides went in at half-time 0-10 apiece.
London took control of the game after four minutes of the second half with the first goal of the game. Michael Ivors’ slick dummy and pass put Martin Duggan through on goal and the Kilburn Gaels forward made no mistake to put the Exiles ahead 1-11 to 0-11.
Duggan had another sniff of goal when he seemed to have taken the ball around Paul Dermody in the Kildare goal only for the custodian and full back Mark Grace to put their bodies on the line. Sustained pressure from London then saw Bernard Gaffney blocked down twice.
A Neil Rogers score and a brace of Peter Phelan frees stretched London’s lead to seven at 1-17 to 0-13 and with little over ten minutes remaining.
However, Kildare were not giving up yet and were about to hit London with a sucker punch. Paul Divilly launched a powerful solo run before laying off to Gerry Keegan who had the goal at his mercy and did not miss.
As the game neared it’s conclusion, a goal would bring Kildare level so we were set for a tense finish. Kildare went for it and Evan Dempsey was only denied by Conor Hickey’s excellent block. It looked like London had done enough.
Martin Fitzgerald of Kildare was shown the red card for pulling on Enda Cooney who needed some treatment.
Cooney and London were soon experiencing another kind of pain when Kildare found the goal with Mark Moloney following up on a 65 into the square and batting it goal wards. Like at the end of the first half, London’s lead had been completely eroded. At 1-20 to 2-17, it was all square at the final whistle and extra-time would be needed to separate the two teams.
Although it may have seemed unjust to have been pegged back in such a way, how they responded now was going to be a serious indication of London’s mettle. London came out for the extra period determined to put the game to bed, no doubt with a powerful team talk by captain Enda Cooney still in their ears, as Martin Duggan forced an excellent save from Paul Dermody in the Kildare goal. Michael Ivors restored London’s lead before Duggan went for goal again. Again Dermody was equal to it and prevented the goal but it did go over the bar from his stick.
However, the momentum switched for the second period with Kildare able to go in front and build a lead of three points. It seemed unfair to London but approaching the end of extra-time, the Exiles would suffer defeat in their first game of the campaign unless they could come up with a goal.
With their final assault on the Kildare goal, London’s Gaffney passed to Henry Vaughan and the Kilburn Gaels man’s effort was blocked only for substitute Luke Hands to be there and strike for goal. London had tied it up with the last action of the half.
This was an entertaining game of hurling. London hosted the winners of last year’s Christy Ring Cup and showed themselves to be able to not just match them but outplay them for large periods. With more fortune this weekend, they could come away with their first win.
London manager Fergus McMahon was somewhat relieved when he spoke after the game, pointing out the irony “they robbed us and then we robbed them”.
He said: “It was an up and down game. Both teams had periods of dominance and took advantage of them and went ahead and took some great scores but then it has to be said: Neither team died, neither team wanted to give it up. It’s just championship hurling. It’s brilliant. It’s what we all want.
“You’re trying to get it into their heads, the intensity of a championship match but until they’re actually in it themselves… It will bring our boys on.
“We probably took our foot a little bit off the gas before half-time and the team they are, they came back and hit three quick points and then all of a sudden they were level when we should have been three up after playing into the breeze. That was probably a key point in the game, they caught us back.
“We were just waiting for the finish line to come, three points up. Then Kildare get three points and they’re back into it. It’s just to keep the concentration until the whistle is gone. There’s no guarantees in championship hurling.”
About London’s late goal, Fergus says this was the very idea of bringing on an impact sub like Luke Hands: “He came on with one job only. I said, ‘if you get the ball, head for the black spot, nothing else. I don’t need you to score points for me‘. I wanted a goal. In fairness to him, he was in the right place at the right time.
“Until you play championship, you don’t know where you stand. You can play challenge matches and train all you want. When it comes down to the white heat of championship, you know where you’re going and where you are.
“Kildare were the champions coming over here, unbeaten the whole year, haven’t lost a game all year, challenge or league. For us to be able to stand up to them will definitely bring our boys on a tonne.”
London: James Barrett, Conor Hickey, Luke Gaule, Kieran Fitzpatrick, Christopher McAlinden, Martin Ryan, Tadhg Healy, Enda Cooney (0-3), Neil Rogers (0-3), Peter Phelan (0-5, 4F, 1 x 65), Nollaig Brophy (0-1), Martin Duggan (1-2), Michael Ivors (0-2), Mark O’Dwyer, Bernard Gaffney (0-4, 1F). Subs: Derek Markham (0-1) for McAlinden, Stephen Lambert (0-2, 1F) for Brophy, Philip Murphy for Phelan, Henry Vaughan for Gaffney, Luke Hands (1-0) for Ivors, Bernard Gaffney for Murphy.
Kildare: Paul Dermody, Niall O Muineachain, Mark Grace, John Doran, David Young (0-1), Martin Fitzgerald (0-1), Eanna O Neill, Mark Moloney (1-0), Paul Divilly (0-2), Johnny Byrne (0-2), Leo Quinn (0-3), Bernard Deay (0-2), Ryan Casey, Niall Kenny, Mark Delaney (0-7, 5F). Subs: Evan Dempsey (0-1) for Casey, Gerry Keegan (1-4) for Kenny, Dinny Stapleton for Quinn.