Louth captain and Naomh Mairtin stalwart Sam Mulroy. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
By far the tie that got most people talking was the clash between Fergal Reel's last two sides, reigning champions Naomh Mairtin and a resurgent St Patrick's who collide at the Grove this Sunday (Throw in 5PM).
Not surprisingly the Jocks did little to catch the eye in the league. They finished in the top half of Division 1, but never looked a threat in the race for the league trophy. With county star Sam Mulroy unavailable, it was always about peaking for another tilt at the Joe Ward Cup.
The three in a row chasers answered a lot of questions and were made to work for every inch of their first victory by a St Fechins outfit that brought a lot of momentum with them. That momentum played its part as they bagged the first three scores.
People may have worried that they had become vulnerable, but the full forward line of Mulroy, Conor Whelan and Tom Gray were just clicking into gear. The trio had St Fechins run ragged either side of half time, contributing handsomely to the eight-point scoring run that got them over the line.
Next up was the Dreadnots. This ended up being a rather workmanlike performance from Reel’s men, with Mulroy showcasing once again his superb accuracy from placed balls, finishing with six despite his technique suggesting he may not be at full fitness.
The Martins quickly took control of the tie, either by going short from their own kickouts and slowly building it up the field or by turning the ball over when their opponents restarted the contest. Four in a row between the 10-18th minute building up a cushion that ended up being decisive.
The Long ball from the Clogherhead club was their only real threat and Jay Hughes did grab a goal to keep them in contention. More efforts came and went for the Dreadnots, the county champions taking the spoils, 1-16 to 0-9. That threat from high balls something for Fergal Reel to work on.
Making a triumphant return to the knockout stages is St Pats, who have been in flying form of late. They narrowly missed out on the top six of Division 1, but looked unstoppable in the second phase of the competition. For the championship they were faced with St Mochtas and the Newtown Blues.
Against Mochtas, Colin Goss’ troops favoured a patient approach, going through the phases around the middle, all in the hope of eventually getting it into the hands of Conor Grogan and Daniel O’Connor. County star Leonard Grey and Jack Murphy the men tasked with supplying the long ball.
However, 1-1 in quick succession from the Louth Village men helped them build up a 1-5 to 1-1 lead by half time. Yet so fired up were they not to lose for a third year in a row to the men in Blue and yellow, Pats found another lease of life in the final quarter.
Four wides in as many minutes from the Mochtas opened the door and let them retake the lead. In injury time, all they needed to do was stay composed and see the contest out.
But it was last year’s finalist that got the scores they needed, a spectacular brace from Ciaran Byrne coupled with a point from Gerry Gartland seeing them take a 1-10 to 1-8 win.
A wounded Pats knew they needed to lift their game to have any hopes against the Blues. Their hunger and desire was clear to all in attendance as they blew the Drogheda side out of the water.
Pats were moving the ball impressively, Ciaran Murphy, Joe Connor and Cathal Grogan the architects of the Blues destruction.
Their work rate off the ball, ability to win possession via aggressive tackling, along with both picking out and playing the target man role when required, was immense and kept defenders guessing. It helped them build up a five-point cushion that proved decisive in a 0-11 to 1-6 victory.
This is a cracking encounter and a first real test for the county champions. They should have another level to bring to the table and Pats will need to push on further to be competitive. But they have been pushed to their limits this year and have a hunger for success that matches anyone left in the race for Joe Ward.
It will be interesting to see if they can play a more direct style, as their ability to deal with a high ball against the Dreadnots looked to be a rare sign of weakness, albeit one they are sure to have ironed out for knockout football.
Joe Connor's running game was immense against the Blues, should Leonard Grey be able to supply a decent supply of long ball again, they are well capable of putting it up to the county champions.
A lot will be decided depending on Sam Mulroy, if back to full fitness he will be extremely hard to pin down and should be the difference maker.
He is not just a place kicker, his movement off the ball and ability to grab points from all angles is a huge asset. Coupled with the likes of Conor Whelan and Val Leddy to back him up, they should have enough firepower to get over the line. Yet any slip ups and the men from Lordship will punish them. It should be a cracker.
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