Quick on the draw

Roscommon County SHC Final Athleague                      0-12 Padraig Pearses            1-9 A pointed free from captain Shane Sweeney in the fourth minute of injury-time gave Padraig Pearses a deserved draw in a frantic Roscommon Senior Hurling Championship final played in dull but perfect conditions before a disappointing attendance at Athleague last Sunday.   If one was to hear that we had a bizarre goal, missed goal chances, an Athleague point in injury-time that many felt was wide and two controversial late frees in injury-time one would be forgiven for thinking that this was a very exciting final. That however would be a mistaken perspective as this was a disappointing game in terms of the quality of hurling.    It was very well-contested and at times hard-hitting but overall it never lived up to expectations and a draw was probably a fair result in the end.   Padraig Pearses will rue missing a number of clearcut scoring chances late on, and a number of missed frees over the hour. In truth however Athleague were never really out of the hunt and were it not for one of the most bizarre goals that I have ever seen on a hurling field, Pearses would have struggled, given their less than clinical attacking display on the day.    Athleague were not great up front either but the peerless Mervyn Connaughton led by example again. He was in brilliant form again and he contributed nine of his side’s points over the course of the game.    It may well be that Pearses needed the game a bit more because they had been idle for four weeks and like Athleague in the drawn game against Oran recently, they may have been a bit ring-rusty.   Conditions were perfect for the game with little breeze to affect the play.  Athleague were a point up within 40 seconds when Gary Fallon flashed over a great score. Athleague had made the better start and Mervyn Connaughton was on target with a 50-metre free in the 3rd minute.   Christy Sweeney scored a good ’65 a minute later but another excellent strike from Mervyn (from play) made it 0-3 to 0-1 after five minutes of play. The scoring rate slowed after that as both defences got on top and it was now a tough and competitive contest, albeit featuring largely scrappy hurling.   Two points for Pearses from Christy Sweeney (another ’65) and a Shane Sweeney free levelled the scores by the 13th minute and it set the tone for the rest of the game. Shane Sweeney and Mervyn Connaughton exchanged pointed frees before we saw two good scores from play.   John Galvin edged Pearses in front with a sweet strike before John Connolly levelled the scores again with a mighty puck from all of 70 metres. It was tough going for the attackers as the defenders ruled the roost and Pearses’ centre half-back John Mulvey was having a particularly good game.   Mervyn Connaughton edged Athleague ahead with a pointed free in the 29th minute before Alan Sweeney scored probably the point of the game on the turn, in the 31st minute. But Athleague went in a point ahead at the break when Mervyn  was on hand again to point a free after Tommy Reddington was fouled 30 metres out. Half-time score was Athleague 0-7 Padraig Pearses 0-6.   Athleague were by far the more determined outfit early in the second half. Mervyn scored two points (one a free) in the 3rd and 4th minutes to stretch the lead to three points but in the 5th minute came a bizarre goal that changed the course of the game.   Anthony Sweeney drove the ball goalwards from 50 metres but it was a routine clearance for the Athleague goalkeeper David Connell as there was no Pearses forward within twenty yards of him. However as he scooped the ball up to clear it, the sliothar flew over his shoulder and into the empty net for a quite unbelievable own goal.   It was just the boost that Pearses needed and from there to the finish the match was very tight.   Shane Sweeney pointed his side into the lead with a 10th minute free but Mervyn levelled again two minutes later with another pointed  free. There were then ten minutes without a score as the exchanges became very scrappy. Both sides had chances to score but the wides tally mounted and Pearses in particular were guilty of some bad misses.   With eight minutes left Shane Sweeney  nudged his side ahead with a point from 30 metres and then with the winning post  in clear view Pearses pushed on in search of the winning scores. They had two goal chances inside the last three minutes of normal time but players seemed to get in eachother’s way and both Alan Sweeney  and sub Cathal Kelly in particular missed golden goal chances which would have sealed a famous victory for their club.   Into injury-time then and in the 32nd minute Gary Fallon scored a disputed  point from out on the right wing. It certainly looked wide to me, however the point was given by the umpire and that’s the only thing that matters.   Then with the game looking like a draw Athleague were awarded a controversial free 30 metres from the Pearses goal and Mervyn Connaughton duly obliged – and it now looked like the two-in-a-row was on. However there were two more minutes of play and when Pearses were awarded an equally controversial free in the 35th minute, Shane Sweeney equalised. In truth a draw was a fair result.   Athleague only played in fits and starts last Sunday. They were almost totally dependent on Mervyn Connaughton  again for their scores although they did play well in defence – Colm Moran, Niall Connolly and Alan Cunniffe all did well in that sector. Mervyn was again a giant at midfield but up front Athleague struggled. Gary Fallon and Tom Reddington only got going very late on and they will be hoping for a big improvement in the replay.   Pearses were something similar to Athleague on the day. Their defence played very well. David Loughnane, Alan Loughnane and John Mulvey were outstanding at the back but further forward  they struggled a lot. There were far too dependent on Shane Sweeney to get the scores from frees and play and it was only when subs Cathal Kelly and Dara Mulvey came into the action that Pearses looked dangerous.   However it’s another chance for both teams and there is cause for optimism in both clubs as they face the replay. It’s all to play for now! Padraig Pearses: Padraig Dolan; David Dolan, David Loughnane, Sean Donoghue; Alan Loughnane, John Mulvey, Christy Sweeney (0-2, ’65s); Robbie Donoghue, Aidan Sweeney; John Galvin (0-1), Michael Donoghue, Anthony Sweeney; Shane Sweeney (0-5), Alan Sweeney (0-1), Thomas Seale. Subs: Cathal Kelly for Anthony Sweeney, Pat Downey for Aidan Sweeney, Ollie Dolan for Christy Sweeney, Dara Mulvey for Alan Sweeney.  Athleague: David Connell; Tommy Mulligan, Colm Moran, Pat Glennon; Alan Cunniffe, Niall Connolly, John Connolly (0-1); Mervyn Connaughton (0-9, 6 frees), David Delaney; Ivan Connaughton, Tom Reddington, Gary Fallon (0-2); Shane McGeeney, Declan McGeeney, Joe Fallon. Sub: David Flaherty for Fallon. Referee: Brendan McDermott.