Just over sixty seconds before referee Kevin Carroll blew his whistle for full time Gaels were in the semi final of this year’s senior championship.
By the time he actually called a halt to this bitterly contested quarter final clash on Friday those in the Blue and White collapsed to the ground, heads in hands and thoughts of a semi final date with Cooley Kickhams up in smoke. One mad minute had made all the difference.
That short and hectic period started when Eanna McArdle converted what looked like the game winning free from 20 yards out. Normal time had just elapsed. All thoughts turned to gettting back possession from O’Connell’s kick out and working down the clock.
But a previously lacklustre and blunted O’Connell’s seemed to find something from deep within. They bolted down the park. Paul McKeever, who had been so ineffective beforehand that he was substituted, but then returned to the fray, picked the ball up down the Gaels left flank and dashed towards the endline, he cut in and smacked over a wonderful score to the draw the match.
A replay beckoned surely?
Yet at these moments an experienced head is sometimes the difference. They don’t come more experienced than Mark Stanfield. The Bellingham midfielder may be thinning on top, but he still knows where to be at the right time.
Having wrestled back the ball from Gaels kick out, Stanfield twisted a gap for himself 25 metres out and went for it. It split the posts and sank Gaels hopes.
It was hard luck on the Gaels though. They had battled throughout the game, never letting a rather lethargic looking O’Connell’s side get more than a couple of points ahead.
In the cold light of day perhaps Sean Fee’s decision to go for a point instead of a goal with four minutes left could be seen as a crucial moment.
Fee got hold of the ball after O’Connell’s keeper Stuart Reynolds disastrously fisted a clearance which was intercepted by Gaels. It left Reynolds in no mans land and Fee baring down on goal. With just one O’Connell’s defender on the line Fee quickly switched his attention to the posts and raised the white flag.
Those on the sideline expressed their dismay at the missed goal chance. It might just have changed the course of those last five minutes.
From the off it was clear that neither side was going to be capable of grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and dominating. A downpour of rain before throw-in left the surface greasy and fielding became a gamble.
Gerard Fee shot Gaels into the lead with a point on two minutes. Robert Quigley quickly countered that with a long wind-asisted point for O’Connell’s.
And so the game proceeded for the first fifteen minutes until a fortuitous Andrew Sharkey point gave O’Connell’s a two point lead.
That became three when Jackie Agnew sprang from half back and charged up the field to convert the score of the evening so far.
Sean McCann, on free taking duties cut that sdore to two three minutes before the interval. It was finely balanced as far as scoring went, but lacking in both quality and pace.
Still the second half seemed to have more bite to it. Two back to back scores tied the game for Gaels, with a McCann free and a peach from Gerard McSorley doing the damage.
The Bellingham men seemed to have lost their way a bit, but Stanfield and Niall Conlon resestablished their two point lead in the twelfth minute of the half.
Gaels manager Benny McArdle went for it and made a double substitution. On came Shane Callan and Niall Hearty in an attempt to increase Gaels firepower.
It worked. Callan sprinted down the right and popped over Gaels seventh score of the day. Just the one in it now with seven minutes remaining. Then Fee’s debated chance arrived.
Those last mad seconds ultimately saw O’Connell’s through. The range of emotions expressed and felt by both sides was enough to tire the hardiest soul.
Scorers O’Connell’s Robert Quigley (0-2), Cian Doyle (0-2), Mark Stanfield (0-2), Paul McKeever (0-1), Jackie Agnew (0-1), Andrew Sharkey (0-1), Niall Conlon (0-1, 1f).. Gaels Sean McCann (0-2, 2f), Sean Fee (0-1), Stephen Coleman (0-1), Gerard Fee (0-1), David McComish (0-1), Gerard McSorley (0-1), Eanna McArdle (0-1), Shane Callan (0-1).
O’Connell’s: Stuart Reynolds; Andrew Shields, Conor Byrne, Jason Carroll; David Doyle, Jackie Agnew, Keith Woods; Conor Keenan, Mark Stanfield; Salem Rifaie, Niall Conlon, Andrew Sharkey; Paul McKeever, Robert Quigley, Cian Doyle. Subs: Emmet Byrne for P McKeeever, 42 mins; Dean Stanfield for C Keenan, 45 mins; Stephen Hoey for D Doyle, 47 mins.
Gaels: Stephen McLoughlin; Daire O’Callaghan, Jamie Faulkner, Eamonn Kenny; David Moley, David Maloney, David McComish; Stephen Coleman, Gerard Fee; Sean Fee, Sean McCann, Gerard McSorley; James Stewart, Derek Crilly, Conall McArdle. Subs: Gary Shevlin for D O’Callaghan, 21 mins; Shane Callan for G Fee, 46 mins; Niall Hearty for C McArdle, 46 mins; Eanna McArdle for S Fee, 56 mins.
REFEREE: Kevin Carroll.