WHILE last year's All-Ireland Junior Club semi-final involving a Kerry side might have been remembered for the wrong reasons, this one will definitely be remembered for the right ones. Kenmare showed courage and character in the face of adversity with 14 men to rescue what seemed to be a bridge too far.
At 1-8 to 0-7 down to Dublin side Castleknock with seven minutes left, Kenmare rescued a draw and forced extra-time that failed to determine a winner in a pulsating encounter in Mitchelstown.
This was a new position for the Shamrocks; they had always been well ahead or in control of their encounters in Munster up to this point. However, they proved that they had the heart for a fight as a combination of Mark and Dara Crowley along with Paul O'Connor, Alan O'Leary and DJ Brennan pulled them out of a precarious position and, while Castleknock showed a bit a character themselves in ensuring that both sides would meet again, the Dublin side will feel they should have got the job done in normal time.
Kenmare never led the game until the first minute of extra-time, indicative of how they were always chasing the game after Castleknock's Rory Corcoran converted a fourth minute penalty to give the Dublin side a lead they held right until Stephen O'Brien's late introduction.
Despite it being perceived to be a gamble with the knee injury that denied him a starting place, O'Brien had the presence of mind to flick the ball across to Mark Crowley for the crucial equaliser at the end of normal time. When they reflect on the game, however, Kenmare will look back on some of their shot selections, particularly in the firsthalf when they totted up a total of eight wides, a number of which seemed to be from very scoreable positions. Although Jimmy Wharton did his best to keep tabs on Castleknock's dangerman Ciarán Kilkenny, the Dublin side will be happy with how they performed at midfield (Shane Boland really standing out) on the day, but maybe they were guilty of not putting enough men forward when they had possession of the ball with Kevin Kindlon and Tommy Corcoran their main threat up front.
The Kenmare defence recovered from a poor start and looked more composed and assured (Colm O'Sullivan holding fort well) as the game went on, but Hughie Murphy needed to be brave on at least three occasions to deny the Dublin side what would have been match winning goals.
The first of those came inside the opening 60 seconds, the second a purely instinctive save after an effort at a point from Ciarán Kilkenny came off the post and into the path of Jamie Tunney, but Murphy was equal to the powerful rebound. His third save might have been straight at him, but considering it was at the end of the first period of stoppage time with the tension and margin for error at a frenzy, it still needed composure to clear away.
Kilkenny played his cameo in knocking over the point that ensured the replay, but it really is all to play for ahead of this weekend.
If Kenmare can get off to a better start the next day and put away their chances, they do have the experience of leading from the front throughout their own campaign to make their way to Croke Park the following weekend. Castleknock are battle hardened at this stage though and after being taken to extratime again (following a similar experience in the quarter-final with St Peters of Manchester) they will certainly be in for the long haul and it's likely to go all the way down to the wire again in determining Ballinasloe of Galway's opponents in the final.
On the weekend that legendary Dublin player and manager Kevin Heffernan passed away, it was fitting that a small little bit extra was written into the story of the Kerry Dublin rivalry, this being the first occasion that two sides from both counties faced each other in this competition.
Thankfully they are doing it again very soon.
"IT'S better than being out that's for sure!" said Kenmare selector Enda Crowley in the immediate aftermath of Kenmare's dramatic comeback against Castleknock last Sunday in Mitchelstown.
Crowley admitted that he feared the worst at one stage of the second-half of last Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final.
"We were about five and a half feet down the ground I would say but we rose up and came back from the dead. I can't describe to you the character that was shown by the lads. We were saying to the lads if only we could get in front in normal time then we might have won it outright but we went for a few goal chances today when maybe points were better options," Crowley said in acknowledging some of the chances that his side left after them on the day.
The decision to throw Stephen O'Brien into the fray was totally of the Kenmare forward's own desire.
"He came up to us on the line and said to us that there was 10 minutes in him and that he wanted to go in. We couldn't ask anymore of him really with the condition his knee was in, but thankfully it was a gamble that paid off in terms of setting up the equaliser," he told The Kerryman.
Crowley admitted that a missed free from Ciaran Kilkenny in the second period of extratime gave him the belief that Kenmare could get something out of the game but put his side's poor start down to the Christmas break.
"We haven't played a game since the second week of December (Munster Final) and it probably showed in the fact we were nervous and jittery at times but we got more composure as the game went on. Looking to the replay their half-forward won a lot of ball of ball and that's something that we'll have to look at, but I'm happy that our full-back line had a good outing today after some of the criticism they got after the Munster Final."