O'Connells' Niall Conlon in possession with Jackie Agnew (O'Connell's) and Curraha's Mark Phelan. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Leinster Intermediate Football Championship
O'Connell's 0-12 Curraha 2-7
O'Connells' run in the Leinster Intermediate Football Championship came to an end at the Grove on Saturday afternoon as Meath champions Curraha departed having narrowly secured a place in the provincial semi-final.
A two-goal salvo from the counter-attacking Andrew Battersby swung the game in Curraha's favour, but the Royals were far from impressive in completing the job. They came with high expectations, though for large parts of the game, the O'Connell's were the better side.
The winning goal summed up the game for Paddy Bates' men, as it led from a promising O’Connell's attack. A shot from Jackie Agnew seemed to be sailing over the bar when it turned at the last second to bounce off the upright into replacement Dean Corrigan’s hands. The goal was at his mercy, but his shot was blocked down and from there Curraha raced up the field for Battersby’s crushing second major. To compound matters, Stuart Reynolds - full of frustration - got a black card for verbals straight after and with Seán Connolly suspended, youngster Dean Kieran - known as an outfielder - came into the fray for his senior game between the sticks.
A failure to capitalise on a blistering first-half caught up with the Castlebellingham men three-minutes after the interval. Stuart Osborne uncharacteristically coughed up possession for Battersby’s first goal against the run of play and a James McEntee free undone all their good work. It gave the visitors a foothold in the game and that was all they needed. Using a highly unorthodox defensive set-up, once Curraha restored parity on the scoreboard they were never out of touch.
However, it wasn’t until the final minutes of the game where the Meath men crucially took the lead for the first time.
The home side put together a scintillating display of attacking football in the first-half. Entirely positive throughout, Robert Quigley was the sharpest forward on display, notching four of his five-points in the opening-period. Dean Stanfield was humming too and he fired two fine scores over the bar in trademark fashion.
Most of the football was played in the O'Connell's half, though their high pressure and patience were evident as they forced the visitors to cough up possession on numerous occasions. Defensive solidity has been a pillar of the O'Connells' success this year, and once again their defence stood out, particularly in the physical skirmishes as more often than not they prevailed from contact with possession in hand.
Curraha were reduced to one-point from play in the entire first-half. And on the occasions where the O'Connell's gave frees away, McEntee's free-taking was not always the most reliable.
The Meath county player's influence grew when required in the second-half, though. He kicked a lead score, only to be cancelled out by a superb curler from Conor McGill. Conlon pushed the O’Connell's out to a two-point lead, but Curraha did not dismay as the lively Conor Moriarty and sub Evan McGovern levelled before Battersby’s second goal.
O’Connell's responded, fighting to the bitter end and forcing goalmouth scrambles where Stanfield saw red. Conlon and Quigley frees reduced the deficit to one-point, mind this only served to make the defeat all the more agonising.
O’Connell's: Stuart Reynolds; James Clerkin, Salem Rifaie, Jason Carroll, Emmet Byrne, Stuart Osborne, Keith Woods; Dean Stanfield (0-2), Seán Cairns; Conor McGill (0-1), Robert Quigley (0-6, four frees), PJ Tuite; Niall Conlon (0-3, two frees), Conor Kieran, Jackie Agnew
Subs: Dean Corrigan for Tuite (38), Dean Kieran for Reynolds (53, black card)
Curraha: Luke McCarthy; Mark Phelan, Niall Murphy, Seamus Hogan; Seán O’Hanrahan, Phelim Dowling, David Toner; Brian Joyce, Brian Murphy; Andrew Battersby (2-0), James McEntee (0-3, two frees), Gavin Coyle; Neil Shorthall, Conor Moriarty (0-3, two frees), David Coyle
Subs: Evan McGovern (0-1) for Gavin Coyle (38), Seán Keogh for David Coyle (53)
Referee: Seamus Mulhare (Laois)