Still in the hunt

Ruby Oil S.F.C.  Western Gaels 1-8 Roscommon Gaels 1-8 Western Gaels and Roscommon Gaels played out an entertaining draw in Frenchpark on Friday evening in the opening round of the Ruby Oil Senior Championship although the result leaves both sides’ chances of progressing to the knock-out stages hanging firmly in the balance.   It took an injury-time point from Roscommon Gaels substitute Gerry Clogher to ensure they got a share of the spoils in an action-packed finale which in the end yielded 14 minutes of added time.   Indeed those final moments weren’t without controversy as it was widely disputed whether Clogher’s kick was in fact a point. Eventually referee Haulie Beirne awarded the score to the utter disappointment of the Frenchpark following.   It was a score which secured a deserved draw for a rejuvenated Gaels team after they found themselves trailing at half-time.   Western Gaels had played virtually all the football in the opening half. Their passion and drive was evident from the very first throw-in and had they made the most of their openings on front of goal they would have been ‘out of sight’ at the interval.   In the opening thirty minutes Eamon Ryan dominated at full-back, John Nolan drove his team forward at every opportunity from the centre half back position and Donal Casserly was lording it at midfield. Once corner-forward James McDonald scored a well-taken goal five minutes before the break the signs looked ominous for the Roscommon Gaels team.   Credit where it’s due though and when the Gaels upped the ante considerably in the second period and hauled themselves back into contention it was they who looked the more likely winners. They began to break even at midfield and with Mike Ryan controlling the game from centre-back they manufactured a winning position for themselves with a gutsy second half performance.   Both teams will be content with a draw on the balance of play although they will also acknowledge that there are departments they will need to improve on if they have serious aspirations to lift the Fahy Cup this season.   Western Gaels were impressive in the first half but their dominance diminished in the second period. Roscommon Gaels showed what they are capable of occasionally but put in a meagre performance in the first half and at times couldn’t live with the intensity that the home side played with.   A Gerard Nolan free three minutes in opened Western Gaels’ account after James McDonald had been fouled. Kevin Kilcline responded for Roscommon Gaels moments later when he showed good composure in front of goal after he joined in with the attack to level matters.   Western Gaels assumed complete control of the contest at this point with three scores in succession. David Jordan, Mark Drury and Kevin Higgins were responsible for those points, with the pick of the scores coming from county minor player Higgins after a sweeping move which confirmed their superiority at this stage of proceedings.    Robert Gaynor pointed expertly on the quarter hour to keep his side in touch but soon after McDonald struck for goal after he ghosted in unmarked and placed the ball calmly under the on-rushing Enda Daly.   Gaynor replied for the Roscommon side with a left-footed score from the sideline which was fit to grace any football pitch and Western Gaels centre-forward Ultan Mulleady rounded off the scoring with a neat point in injury-time to leave Roscommon Gaels with plenty to contemplate at half-time.   Contemplate they did though as the half-time break proved to be exactly what Roscommon Gaels needed and they were an unrecognisable side from that of the first half on the resumption.  Donal Casserly did add a point from a free for Western Gaels to temporarily push them further ahead but this proved to be the calm before the storm as Roscommon Gaels turned on the style in a fifteen minute period which saw them dramatically transform the game as a contest.   John McHale pointed from a free before wing-forward Eoin Coll finished to the net for the decisive score in the second half after intelligent play from Cian O’Brien. O’Brien then pointed minutes later after good work from David O’Gara had presented him with the opportunity and the turnaround was complete with a terrific point from Gerry Kelly to level proceedings.   Western Gaels weathered the storm with a neat point from wing-forward Jordan only for O’Brien to respond for the Roscommon side who had hauled themselves right back into contention as the finale beckoned.   Gerard Nolan looked to have kicked the winner from a free after Seanie McDermott made huge inroads into the Gaels defence with a surging run before being clinically fouled on route to goal.   The Gaels created numerous opportunities to get the all-important equailiser and finally it came with substitute Clogher showing maturity beyond his years to kick a crucial point deep into injury-time.   I’m afraid it wouldn’t be a true senior championship encounter without a profound talking point. Cue the drama and controversy. The umpires were unsure whether it was actually a point or not but after many minutes of consultation and uncertainty Haulie Beirne ordered them to raise the white flag, much to the relief of the Roscommon Gaels faithful.   As it happened a draw was a fair result on the day but certainly that outcome leaves both teams far from assured of a much sought-after place in the quarter-finals – and with plenty of work to do in the weeks ahead. Western Gaels: Padraig Cunmmins; Adrian Freyne, Eamon Ryan, Dermot McGarry; Thomas Mahon, John Nolan, Seanie McDermott; Adrian Dockery, Donal Casserly (0-1, a free); David Jordan (0-2), Ultan Mulleady (0-1), Kevin Higgins (0-1); Mark Drury (0-1), Gerard Nolan (0-2, two frees), James McDonald (1-1). Substitutions: Christopher Collins for James McDonald (58 mins.), Donal Ward for Thomas Mahon (60 mins.). Roscommon Gaels: Enda Daly; Martin O’Keeffe, Paul Gleeson, Ollie McGuinness; Ronan Rogers, Michael Ryan, Kevin Kilcline (0-1); Niall Moran, Gerry Kelly (0-1); David O’Gara, Robert Gaynor (0-2), Eoin Coll (1-0); John McHale (0-1), Cian O’Brien (0-2), James Comiskey. Substitutions: Dara O’Gara for Oliver McGuinness (39 mins.), Gerry Clogher (0-1) for Ronan Rogers (47 mins.). Referee: H. Beirne.