Honours even – for now

Roscommon SHC semi-final Athleague              0-15 Oran                       2-9 Someone in the press box in Athleague last Sunday suggested before the ball was thrown in that this county semi-final could end up in a draw, such was the closeness of the sides when judged by the formbook. ‘It couldn’t be another draw or we won’t get the championship finished before Christmas at that rate’ was the humourous response of a well-known hurling board official to that prediction.    Well, lo and behold, the hurlers of Oran and Athleague could not be separated at the end of a very competitive and enjoyable semi-final on a day more suited to June or July, given the balmy weather.   Referee Michael Carroll perplexed the teams and the attendance alike by deciding to play only ten seconds of injury-time at the end of the second half when most observers thought that at least three minutes would have been appropriate. It has to be said however that a draw was a fair result.   The first half was error-ridden and low-scoring, but the teams came out in the second half to give us a full-blooded and rip-roaring contest, with plenty of good hurling, nice scores and bags of commitment and heart too.    The game also featured two mighty displays by two established county senior stars. Gerry Fallon for Oran and Mervyn Connaughton for Athleague drove their sides on and to award a man of the match accolade to one would be very harsh on the other as they both turned in brilliant displays on the day.   Athleague were first from the blocks in the scoring stakes with Mervyn Connaughton and Tommy Reddington on target with early points (in the 6th and 8th minutes). However Gerry Fallon scored a mighty point from all of 70 metres to open the Oran account in the 9th minute and we had a contest from there on in.  Connaughton and Michael Dwyer exchanged points in the 10th and 11th minutes before Fallon levelled the scores with a long-range free in the 14th minute. When Fallon pointed a 65 in the 20th minute, Oran were ahead.   Then Connaughton and Alan Cunniffe both pointed to put Athleague into the lead by the 30th minute before Fallon drove over a close-in free to leave the sides all square at the break at 0-5 apiece.   Early in the second half Connaughton and Fallon continued their dominance of the game when both players scored two points apiece to leave it 0-7 apiece by the 9th minute. The breakthrough that Oran were waiting for came a minute later when Brian Flynn pulled along the ground from 15 metres and the sliotar flew through a forest of legs and into the Athleague net for the first goal of the game.   Athleague came back immediately and less than a minute later Niall Connolly scored a massive point from play from all of 70 metres to narrow the gap. But Oran were always dangerous on the break and they hammered home another goal in the 15th minute when Kevin Carty pulled first-time to the Athleague  net for a three-pointer that was almost a carbon-coby of the first. Now it was Oran 2-7 Athleague 0-8.   Athleague poured forward now. Reddington narrowed the gap with a smart point from 30 metres and then Connaughton narrowed it further – to three points – in the 18th minute with a point from play.   Athleague were the better side now and by the 24th minute they were level through Connaughton (2) and Alan Cunniffe. It was pulsating stuff now as the winning post came into view. Oran were back in front with five minutes to go when the previously subdued Francie Quine angled over a marvellous point and Athleague had to do it all over again. But they were up to the task. There was more excitement as Gary Fallon drove over a great point to level it with two minutes to go.   Oran though were like a dog with a bone and refused to die. Keith McDermott looked to have put them into the final when he scored a great point from 40 metres in the 29th minute  but then with only seconds to go Roscommon’s Croke Park hero Gary Fallon struck from 25 metres to level the scores once more.    On the puck-out referee Michael Carroll called for the ball and although he could have easily played at least three further minutes of injury-time, a draw was a fair result and no-one was complaining that the sides will do it all over again next Sunday.   Athleague were a little ring-rusty on Sunday, having been out of competitive action for so long (six weeks) and they will no doubt benefit from this tough game. For them Davy Connell was a steady goalkeeper, while further out the field Colm Moran, Niall Connolly and David  Delaney did well in defence and up front Tom Reddington, Gary Fallon and Alan Cunniffe were very prominent – but the star of the Athleague show was ‘captain fantastic’ Mervyn  Connaughton who was a powerhouse for his side at midfield. Heaven only knows what Athleague would have done without him on the day.   For Oran Emmet Featherston was very solid  between the posts while in defence Padraig Crehan and Mark Dwyer were best and up front Keith McDermott amd Brian Flynn always posed a threat. As with Athleague, Oran had their hero and that was Gerry Fallon who was  excellent again and was at the heart of everything positive for his side. Athleague: David Connell; Pat Glennon, Colm Moran, Tommy Mulligan; Joe Glennon, Niall Connolly (0-1), David Delaney; John Connolly, Mervyn Connaughton (0-8); Shane McGeeney, Declan McGeeney, Gary Fallon (0-2); Alan Cunniffe (0-2), Joe Fallon, Tommy Reddington (0-2). Sub: Frank Farrell for Joe Fallon. Oran: Emmet Featherston; Padraig Crehan, Seamus Lawless, Damien Kenny; David Varley, Mark Dwyer, John Crehan; Gerry Fallon (0-6), Declan Beirne; John Shally, Keith McDermott (0-1), Michael Dwyer (0-1); Kevin Carty (1-0), Francie Quine (0-1), Brian Flynn (1-0). Subs: David Carty for Kenny, Shane McDermott for Shally, Jerry Crowley for Michael Dwyer. Referee: Michael Carroll.