Paudi Clarke was part of the Ardee St. Mary's team that saw off O'Raghallaigh's in Dunleer on Sunday night. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Anchor Tours SFC group two
Ardee St. Mary’s 2-14 O’Raghallaigh’s 3-10
Conor Gillespie provided substance to underline his undoubted ability, scoring two goals, as Ardee St. Mary’s earned their first championship victory since the 2016 semi-final on Sunday evening.
Knocked out at the group phase in each of the past two seasons, the Deesiders overcame a sticky finish to fend off an O’Raghallaigh’s side who were playing their first game since parting company with Aaron Hoey as manager.
So, under the circumstances, this was an admirable effort by The Gaelic Grounds inhabitants, albeit they never looked like winning the game. Ultimately, the success of their year is going to be measured upon whether they can retain the senior championship status they’ve held since 2012; their meeting with O’Connell’s in a fortnight’s time being pivotal to that.
Mary’s, meanwhile, can be content with this display for starters, their forwards having shown the type of clinical form which has given them rise to the upper echelons of Division One over the spring and early summer months.
Though they were quite generous defensively and fell into a slumber at various stages of a lively encounter, thus allowing O’Raghallaigh’s cameos of dominance, and this, being a typical factor of the Páirc Mhuire men in recent seasons, will be their chief cause for concern, especially with a prolific O’Connell’s attack awaiting them next weekend.
One such down period came off the back of them scoring the contest’s first five points. Just two was the difference by the time they next struck, more than 10 minutes later, only for Gillespie to expertly put away the opening goal beneath Joe Flanagan.
O’Raghallaigh’s, who had a sharp Barry Flanagan in attack, didn’t just roll over, though, and a goal from Chris Smith ignited a challenge that faded just before half-time, as Mary’s retired with a 1-8 to 1-3 lead, and Ronan Carroll in fine form.
Another Gillespie goal looked to have shaken O’Raghallaigh’s once and for all, at the beginning of the second period, but Olan Walshe’s major came a few minutes prior to a three-pointer by Rúairí Moore as the gap was whittled back to two. Ben Rogan at the heart of the Drogheda team’s revival.
But, with Clarke on form from placed kicks, Mary’s crept over the finish line, though there were nervy moments, including when Moore ended up in the net, having left the ball behind. The former Louth forward and his brother, Eoin, cut the gap to the minimum in injury-time, but the clock beat them, as, in the end, did Seán Barry’s Mary’s.
Ardee St. Mary’s: Duane Crosbie; Conor Keenan, Donal McKenny, Barry McCoy; Brendan Matthews, Karl Faulkner, Éimhín Keenan; Liam Jackson (0-1), Robbie Leavy; Conor Gillespie (2-1), Darren Clarke (0-4, three frees), Kian Moran (0-1); Mark Fay (0-2), Ronan Carroll (0-5), Ciarán Keenan
Subs: Niall Eccles for Matthews (40), Jamie Rooney for Moran (50), Paudi Clarke for Gillespie (53), Cian Commins for Ciaran Keenan (60)
O’Raghallaigh’s: Joe Flanagan (0-1, 45); Stephen Murphy, Ciarán Brassil, Emmet King; Alan Doyle (0-1), Dean Byrne, James Moonan; Bryan Smith, Eoin Moore (0-1); Barry Flanagan (0-5, two frees), Ben Rogan, Jack Carr (0-1); Chris Smith (1-0), Rúairí Moore (1-1), Olan Walshe (1-0)
Subs: Daniel Morgan for King (44), Scott Byrne for B Smith (50)
Referee: Brian Brady (Kilkerley Emmets)