Allianz NHL – Div 3B Final
By Larry Cooney
At Kildallan Wolfe Tones GAA Club, Ballyconnell
Lancashire hurlers have been promoted to Division 3A at their first attempt after a hard-earned seven-point victory over Leitrim in Ballyconnell last Sunday afternoon.
But the Exiles required extra-time before finally seeing off the gallant 2017 Lory Meagher Cup finalists who, although reduced to fourteen players for all of the second-half, had looked set for a famous victory in normal time.
A disputed 57th minute second-half goal from Clement Cunniffe had put Leitrim firmly in control and the Westerners even held a four-point lead with six minutes of normal time remaining.
But four unanswered points, including two from switched full back Edmond Kenny, saved the Exiles from the brink of defeat.
And with Leitrim tiring badly in extra-time there was only one team in it before referee Kevin Brady blew the final whistle much to the relief and delight of the Lancashire team and management.
After their close second round clash in Ballinamore last month this encounter always had the potential to be a very competitive match, and so it proved from the throw-in.
Although a Darren Crowley point got Lancashire off to a good start in the second minute it was Leitrim who settled the better of the two teams.
A foul on Liam Moreton gave Clement Cunniffe a chance to equalise and when Tommy Duane was penalised for ‘steps’ Leitrim were ahead a minute later. An assist from Zak Moradi then set up centre back Conor Byrne for a long range score.
However, the Exiles responded well with a brace of Ronan Crowley points, including the first of his ten successful frees. They then opened up a two-point lead after twenty minutes through scores from Daire Maskey and another point from play from Ronan Crowley.
However, Leitrim continued to remain in touch until Lancashire full forward Martin Hawley raised the first green flag of a tense encounter in the twenty-sixth minute to leave the score 1-7 to 0-6 in favour of the Exiles.
But after Clement Cunniffe and Ronan Crowley traded pointed frees, Leitrim were dealt a blow when Kevin McGrath was dismissed on a double yellow card as the first half drew to a close.
Hawley’s goal separated the teams at the break on a score of: Lancashire 1-8 Leitrim 0-8.
It looked ominous for Leitrim but to their credit they re-grouped very effectively. Indeed, Leitrim took control with three unanswered points from Ronan Byrne, Clement Cunniffe and Zak Moradi.
Although two Ronan Crowley pointed frees in three minutes had Lancashire back in front, Leitrim were now looking extremely menacing and energised.
And after a foul on Karl McDermott enabled Clement Cunniffe to cut the deficit, Leitrim’s top scorer then took on the Lancashire defence to hit a rasping a goalbound effort for a ‘goal’ in the fifty-fifth minute.
But a hesitant and unsure umpire was initially very reluctant to raise the green flag before referee Kevin Brady finally instructed him to do so and put Leitrim two points clear.
And although another Ronan Crowley free halved the gap a determined Leitrim now had their ‘tails up’ with a brace of David McGovern scores giving them a two-point lead.
When a Clement Cunniffe pointed free made it a four-point lead with six minutes of normal time remaining, a rattled Lancashire were now looking a beaten docket.
But the switch of full-back Edmond Kenny to the edge of the square proved to be a real ‘game-changer’ and moving goal-scorer Martin Hawley to the ’40 also meant that centre back Conor Byrne was not as influential for the remainder of the game.
Still leading by three points after a Ben Murray point, Leitrim were finally overhauled thanks to two late points from Edmond Kenny and another Ronan Crowley pointed free to leave the score at the end of normal time: Leitrim 1-16 Lancashire 1-16.
Leitrim were now able to introduce substitute Peter Poniard to bring their team back up to fifteen players, but crucially they were still extremely tired as extra-time got under way.
Within a minute a superb Ronan Crowley point had the Exiles ahead and by the end of the first period the result was inevitable.
After Clement Cunniffe saw a goalbound effort hit a post, Lancashire outscored Leitrim by 0-6 to 0-1 with scores from substitute Daragh O’Brien, Edmond Kenny and three more Ronan Crowley placed balls in reply to just a Clement Cunniffe free to leave the score: Lancashire 1-22 Leitrim 1-17.
And although Cunniffe cut the deficit to four points there was no way back for a gallant Leitrim team, as Lancashire finished with a flourish.
Lancashire captain Greg Jacob was presented with the trophy on an historic day for the Exiles at the end of a tremendous unbeaten five-match match campaign that resulted in promotion in their inaugural year in the competition.
Scorers: Lancashire – Ronan Crowley 0-16(0-2)65s(0-10)f, Edmond Kenny 0-4, Martin Hawley 1-0, Darren Crowley 0-2, Daire Maskey, Eoin McKillop and Daragh O’Brien 0-1 each. Leitrim – Clement Cunniffe – 1-10(0-9)f, Conor Byrne (0-1)f, Ben Murray, Zak Moradi and David McGovern 0-2 each.
Lancashire: Pa Coates; Liam Knocker, Edmond Kenny, Justin Cleere; David Power, Greg Jacob (capt.), Nathan Unwin; James Fitzmaurice, Stephen Duncan; Darren Crowley, Tommy Duane, JJ Dunphy; Daire Maskey, Martin Hawley, Ronan Crowley. Subs: Patrick Duggan for Daire Maskey 40, Sean Power for Darren Crowley 66, Eoin McKillop for JJ Dunphy 74, Daragh O’Brien for Tommy Duane 76, Cathal McKillop for Justin Cleere 88,
Leitrim: Declan Molloy (capt.); Kevin McGrath, Cathal McCrann, Paul Earley; Enda Moreton, Conor Byrne, Niall McLoughlin; James McNabola, Liam Moreton; Ben Murray, Karl McDermott, David McGovern; Cathal O’Donovan, Clement Cunniffe, Zak Moradi. Subs: Declan Ryan for James McNabola h/t, Peter Poniard (extra-time).
Referee: Kevin Brady (Louth).