Senior Football Championship QF Replay
Dundalk Gaels 0-12 Sean O'Mahony's 0-11
Barry Watters was the toast of the Ramparts on Sunday night with his 63rd minute point enough to send Dundalk Gaels into a third Louth Senior Football Championship semi-final in four-years.
The Gaels’ half-forward showed nerves of steel to steady himself and loop over the winning point as the Sean O’Mahonys' grip on the Joe Ward Cup loosened in dramatic style.
It had looked as if Malachy O’Rourke’s charges had blown their chance upon Stephen Kilcoyne’s equalising score as this Haggardstown epic entered the final minute of normal time.
With the Gaels having relaxed into a defensive mould, one which almost cost them so dearly, the O’Mahony’s levelled with five-points in the final 10 minutes. Indeed, when Kilcoyne scored to make it 0-11 apiece, you fancied the Point Road outfit to push ahead and claim the spoils.
However, after a phase where both sides offered up possession cheaply, substitute Jason Clarke found himself in space and he showed equally as much composure in picking out Watters with a diagonal punt as the scorer did in clipping over the winner – a score which drew an almighty belch of delight from the Gaels faithful.
Over the two matches, they were worthy winners. Though, the O’Mahony’s showed champion-like resolve in refusing to take defeat lightly. Like a dog with a bone, Alan Craven’s men never gave in despite playing well below their best.
In choosing man of the match contenders, John O’Brien is the only O’Mahony’s man to enter the fray. The centre-half was a colossus, driving his team forward at every opportunity, but thereafter the star performers were in the blue of the Gaels. Derek Crilly, Éanna McArdle and David Moloney were heroic, while Jamie Faulkner gave a full-back masterclass.
And he needed to as well, especially in the closing quarter when Conor Crawley was the intended focal point of the Point Road men’s attack.
Also worthy of a mention is the match referee, Noel Hand. The official awarded 50 free-kicks across the hour of play, 23 to the Gaels and 27 to O’Mahony’s, all of which were textbook decisions.
The Gaels began the match on top with Crilly, Gerard McSorley and Faulkner raising white-flags before Conor Finnegan opened the O’Mahony’s account with two quick fire frees before the 10th minute.
Chris Sweeney had a glorious goal chance before McArdle dropped over the point of the match, left-footed from the left-hand touchline, to stretch the Gaels’ lead to two.
They led 0-7 to three by the 21st minute with McSorley, McArdle (free) and Crilly (free) on target before the teams traded a point apiece to end the first-half. The Gaels led 0-8 to 0-4 at the interval, a cushion which they will feel could have been more.
However, typically, the O’Mahony’s provided a blitz early in the second-period with Finnegan and O’Brien edging them towards parity.
It took the Gaels 11 minutes to find their opening score of the half through Chris Sweeney, who doubled his tally in a subsequent move despite having the goal at his mercy.
Ahead by four-points entering the final nine-minutes, a brace each for Mackin and Kilcoyne had the match level. The play was all one-way at this stage with the Quay men picking up all the loose ball around the middle as the Gaels struggled. Though, crucially, they shot twice off target as extra-time looked inevitable.
But, on the breakaway, the Gaels found it within themselves to finally take the initiative when it mattered most, with Watters their hero.
This victory evidently meant a lot to the winners, who avenged their semi-final defeat of 12 months ago in the process of reaching the semi-finals. And, as is also the case with their last-four opponent, Naomh Máirtín, they remain on course for a Joe Ward and Cardinal O’Donnell Cup double.
Dundalk Gaels: Stephen Faulkner; David McComish, Jamie Faulkner (0-1), Dáire O’Callaghan; Óisín Murray, James Stewart, David Moloney; Derek Crilly (0-3, two frees), Seán McCann; Eamonn Kenny, Seán Murray, Barry Watters (0-1); Éanna McArdle (0-3, two frees), Gerard McSorley (0-2, one free), Chris Sweeney (0-2)
Subs: Jason Clarke for Kenny (60), Peter McGinnity for Sweeney (60)
Sean O’Mahony’s: Kevin Brennan; Michael Clarke, Chris O’Neill, Ronan Byrne; Niall McLaughlin, John O’Brien (0-2), Liam Dullaghan; Conor Martin (0-1), Shane Brennan; Conor Finnegan (0-3, two frees), Ben McLaughlin, Stephen Fisher; Stephen Kilcoyne (0-3, two frees), Conor Crawley, Jonathon Connolly
Subs: Barry Mackin (0-2) for Connolly (40), Connolly for Finnegan (52)
Referee: Noel Hand (Hunterstown Rovers)