Stano makes his mark
IT may have taken an injury time point to book their place in the semi-finals, but in O'Connells' first season in senior football, the close nature of this quarter-final clash on Friday night took nothing away from the achievement.
It fell to the veteran Louth forward Mark Stanfield to put the ball between the posts in added time to see off the challenge of Dundalk Gaels, as despite leading for much of the game, a late flurry of scores from the Gaels had seen them take the lead for the first time in the match as the clock ticked into the 60th minute.
Winning their group courtesy of wins over Mattock Rangers and Glyde, Gaels will have been more than aware of the threat posed by the Castlebellingham side and they started brightly, dominating possession early on and showing some real menace their full forward line.
It was the Gaels who struck first through Sean Fee and then David McComish before a double from Robert Quigley drew the scores level. Steven Coleman fired over for the Gaels before the diminutive full forward Cian Doyle caught a high punt forward, showed great strength to hold off his marker and slot over.
A minute later the impressive Doyle pointed from wide on the right to put O'Connells ahead and from the midway point of the first half until the 60th minute, that's virtually how it stayed.
Both teams contributed to a ferocious battle in midfield giving referee Kevin Carroll plenty of work to do throughout.
Jackie Agnew broke free from the midfield malaise to slot over for O'Connells before Sean McCann converted a free from the deck.
However, Wayne McKeever's side retired with a 0-6 to 0-4 at half time, but it was the men in hoops who started the second half better, as they did in the first.
This time though, they registered scores through Gerard McSorely and Gerard Fee, the latter splitting the posts expertly.
At that point, with the scores temporarily level, the temperatures rose - on the pitch at least - on what was a chilly evening. Steven Coleman and Mark Stanfield clashed in the midfield in a a duel that had been simmering throughout, but it would be Stanfield who would have the last laugh.
O'Connells reaffirmed their lead before Sean Fee and substitute Shane Callan notched points late on to draw level once more. Then, in the last minute, another sub Eanna McArdle shot over to seemingly hand the game to the Gaels.
Remarkably, Paul McKeever struck back in additional time and there was a chance for Stanfield to get his second point of the night to win the game for O'Connells. A big game player, this season O'Connells collectively have proven they are big game players in the senior ranks.
O'Connells: Stuart Reynolds; Andrew Shields, Conor Byrne, Jason Carroll; David Doyle, Jackie Agnew 0-1, Keith Woods; Conor Kiernan, Mark Stanfield 0-2; Salem Rifaie, Niall Conlon 0-1 (1f), Andrew Sharkey 0-1; Paul McKeever 0-1, Robert Quigley 0-2, Cian Doyle 0-2. Subs Emmett Byrne for McKeever, Dean Stanfield for Kiernan, Stephen Hoey for D. Doyle, Paul McKeever for Quigley.
Dundalk Gaels: Steven McLoughlin; Daire O'Callaghan, Jamie Faulkner, Eamonn Kenny; David Moley, David Maloney, David McComish 0-1; Stephen Coleman 0-1, Gerard Fee 0-1; Sean Fee 0-1, James Stewart, Sean McCann 0-2f; Gerard McSorley 0-1, Derek Crilly, Conall McArdle. Subs: Gary Shevlin for Daire O'Callaghan, Shane Callan 0-1 for Gerard Fee, Eanna McArdle 0-1 for Sean Fee.
Referee: Kevin Carroll.