Lancashire victorious by the slenderest of margins after an absorbing contest at Parc na hEireann on Sunday
By Martin Mannering
This proverbial game of two halves began in glorious sunshine and London bathed in it as they threatened to blow their opponents away.
Faster to the ball and faster with it they took an early lead through a Niall Campbell free after the corner forward was upended himself. John Daly made it two after four minutes with a huge drive from wide on the left wing.
Lancashire were struggling to find any rhythm but finally got on the scoreboard when Michael Molloy collected Stephen Sands pass and turned to fire over.
Chris Mullen levelled it after Craig Owen did the spadework ten minutes in. London began to turn the screw going into the second quarter but a mixture of profligacy and resolute defending helped keep the scores down. They had a penalty claim turned away on sixteen minutes but two minutes later Mark McLoughlin did point to the spot after a tussle between Gary Morris and Alfie McNulty.
There was nothing at all wrong with John Daly’s spot kick but Michael Donnelly dived full length to his right to pull off a magnificent save. Undeterred London piled on the pressure, Ryan Jones and James Gartland took a grip on midfield while James Grant made numerous raids down the left wing.
Patrick Irvine pulled the strings at centre forward and Lancashire had all backs to the wall. Shortly after the penalty save Niall Campbell was through on goal but drove his shot wide but was soon to make amends.
Irvine and John Daly combined to place him in space and this time he made no mistake, rattling the bottom corner.
James Grant fired over after another of his forays as London threatened to run riot. Somehow Lancs managed to keep a foothold in the game through stoic and sometimes desperate defending and when they did get forward they had Molloy as an outlet.
The Donegal man posted his second score with five minutes of the half to go but they were exposed at the back again when Irvine and Campbell worked the ball in for John Daly to blast home. Ciaran Harper pulled one back just before the break to leave a 2-3 to 0-4 scoreline at the break. Facing that five point deficit and a strengthening breeze things didn’t look promising for the Northwest side but my how they responded.
As the second half got under way clouds gathered overhead but it was the players in saffron who kicked up a perfect storm. It was an astonishing transformation as they took complete control. Pauric McGurk put the shackles on dangerman Irvine and drove his team forward.
Stephen Sands ably assisted by Kevin Lanigan took over in the middle while Molloy and Ger McCaughey tormented the London defence. Sands set the tone straight from the throw in as he raced through the middle and pointed. Now it was the southern side who were desperately defending and two goalline clearances were required to keep out Molloy and McCaughey.
The breakthrough came six minutes in when Molloy cut through from the left corner and passed across for McCaughey to palm the ball home. By the end of the third quarter Lancs were ahead courtesy of Sands and Molloy again before London finally caught their breath. Shane Buckley restored parity with a superb point from the centre of the field but the tide was still firmly in their faces. Sands hit his third of the half before McGurk embarked on one of his trademark sorties upfield.
A 60m solo run ended with the Monaghan man being dragged down and Molloy tapped over the free. It was pure helter skelter from here in as London tried desperately to rescue the game and Lancs countered. Substitute Mark Gilsenan made it a one point game after James Grant made inroads to create the opening. Chances went abegging at either end before that man again Molloy hit his fifth.
Again it was McGurk who powered forward and offloaded to the sharpshooter who calmly slotted over with his seldom used right boot. John Daly pointed a free as the game entered stoppage time and London searched frantically for an equaliser.
The chance fell to Shane Buckley who held his head in his hands as his effort drifted wide. The final whistle brought a mixture of joy and relief to the winners while the London contingent looked shell shocked while the rest of us just tried to get our breath back.
It was a marvellous recovery by Lancashire with every man playing his part but in particular McGurk, Sands and the imperious Molloy shone like beacons. London were left to rue those missed chances in the first half when they could well have been out of sight but there was no disputing the merits of Lancashires win after that heroic comeback. Lancs will now face Kerry in the All Irerland semi final on Saturday week.
LANCASHIRE: Michael Donnelly; John O’Hagan, Ronan Gallagher, Michael Collins; Craig Owen, Paraic McGuirk, Gary Morris; Stephen Sands (0-03), Kevin Lanigan; Michael Comney, Ciaran Harper (0-01), Chris Mullen (0-01); Darren Russell, Gerard McCaughey(1-00), Michael Molloy (0- 05, 1f) Subs used: Michael Higgins for John O’Hagan (22 mins), PJ Magee for Darren Russell (52mins) Black Card: Denis O’Neill for Chris Mullen (45 mins)
LONDON: Conor Hallisey; James Cooper, Robert Reid, Richard Ellis; Kevin Delahuntly, Ryan Jones, James Grant (0-01);Ryan Forde, Shane Buckley (0-01); Phillip Murphy, Patrick Irvine, Eamonn McGovern; Niall Campbell (1-01, 1f), John Daly (1-02, 2f), Alfie McNulty. Subs used: Gavin O’Flaherty for Phillip Murphy (53 minutes) Black Card: Mark Gilsenan (0-01) for Niall Campbell (50 minutes)
REFEREE: Mark McLoughlin (Warwickshire)