LIXNAW pushed their luck to the absolute maximum before overcoming an Abbeydorney team that will be kicking themselves for some time at the thought of having let this one get away.
With fourteen minutes left in this contest Abbeydorney led Lixnaw by seven points and looked unbackable to advance straight to the semi-finals. Then it began to unravel. Deep into injury-time in regulation time Abbeydorney clung to a three-point lead, 2-12 to 0-15, but still looked as if they would - almost in spite of themselves - hang for victory. They couldn't and they didn't.
As the game entered the 63rd minute Brendan Brosnan launched the sliothar high and in hope toward the Abbeydorney goal. In the largely unpopulated square the ball caused panic for Tim Fealy and two of his defenders, and as it pinballed around on the ground James Flaherty's miscued pull was good enough to see the ball bobble beyond Fealy and nestle into the netting.
Within seconds of the puckout Shane Hourigan signalled full time and extra-time, and even amid the din of celebration from the Lixnaw faithful in the stand one could still hear the optimism deflate out of the Abbeydorney players and be replaced by crushing resignation.
The boys in the stripes had the favourites on the hook, reeled in and almost in the bag. They they let them off. Lixnaw wouldn't be denied in extra-time.
Despite a third goal for Abbeydorney - from Eoin Egan's deft flick on Michael O'Leary's floated cross - five minutes into extra-time, Lixnaw knew when they had been handed a lifebuoy and they weren't going under a second time. Darragh O'Connell's converted '65' put Abbeydorney 3-13 to 1-15 ahead with just 13 minutes left, but thereafter Lixnaw outscored their opponents by seven points to none to book their place in the semi-finals where they might well carry the tag of favourites for the championship, despite their near miss here.
There is no doubt Lixnaw were greatly unsettled by the absence of John Griffin (the Kerry midfielder is travelling abroad at the moment) and it's not overstating it that Griffin could have been worth five or six points in a contest like this. He might only score two points, but he would certainly have prevented three or four of the Abbeydorney scores, such is his dominance around the middle third. Instead, Brendan Brosnan and Gary Hogan struggled to curtail Brendan and Daniel O'Leary at midfield, where the brothers enjoyed the upperhand for much of the contest.
Still, Lixnaw led 0-6 to 0-3 after the first quarter, and were 0-10 to 0-6 ahead as the first half crept into injury-time, thanks in the main to three converted frees each from Brosnan and Ricky Heffernan, as well as points from play from Conor O'Brien, Stephen Power, James Flaherty and Heffernan.
A little against the run of play, Abbeydorney worked the ball to Darragh O'Connell - who had a quiet game overall - and though he was well marked and forced out wide he still smashed a shot back across Martin Stackpoole and into the Lixnaw net. Moments later O'Connell floated over a free from halfway and the teams went in at the break level, 0-10 to 1-7.
In the Abbeydorney defence Aidan Healy and Kieran Dineen were immense, but the forward unit lacked that bit of bite, and over 80 minutes of play they managed just three points from play. In contrast, five of Lixnaw's starting forwards scored points from play, and over the entire contest the winner's attacking unit measured up much better.
Abbeydorney shaded the third quarter and four points from Daniel O'Leary (three frees) helped them into a 1-12 to 0-11 lead, before Damien Ryall broke through the Lixnaw defence in the 48th minute and drilled the ball low past Stackpoole to put his team seven points clear. Lixnaw were clearly worried and had every right to be. Abbeydorney's confidence levels were high and they looked to have the game to back it up.
Maybe it was over-confidence or inexperience or fatigue, but as soon as Abbeydorney got within sight of the finishing line they began pedalling squares. Ricky Heffernan, with three points, and James Flaherty dragged Lixnaw back to within a score by the 60th minute, 0-15 to 2-12, but it still looked as if Abbeydorney would hang on. They couldn't. Brosnan's long ball should have been dealt with but Flaherty's perseverence paid off and rescued the draw for Lixnaw.
Egan's goal and O'Connell's '65' put Abbeydorney back in front by four but Lixnaw totally dominated the last ten minutes.
The win puts Lixnaw into the semi-finals for which John Griffin will be a welcome and necessary addition, while Abbeydorney must extract all that was positive from this performance as they face the not inconsiderable challenge of Kilmoyley this Saturday in the quarter-final.
Lixnaw: Martin Stackpoole, Declan McCarthy, Maurice Corridan, Kenny Waltz, Jonathan Silles, Pat Corridan, Conor Fitzmaurice, Gary Hogan, Brendan Brosnan (0-5f), Conor O'Brien (0-1), Stephen Power (0-1), Paudie Lyons, Jason Wallace (0-1), Ricky Heffernan (0-8, 6f), James Flaherty (1-6, 0-3f). Subs: Cillian Fitzmaurice for G Hogan, Fergus Fitzmaurice for C O'Brien, Patrick Hogan for J Flaherty, Jeremy Lyons for P Lyons.
Abbeydorney: Tim Fealy, Kieran O'Connell, Chris McCarthy, Stephen O'Connor, Kieran Dineen, Aidan Healy, Niall O'Connell, Brendan O'Leary (0-1), Daniel O'Leary (0-7, 6f), PJ Ryan (0-2), Eoin Egan (1-0), Joe McCarthy, Damien Ryall (1-0), Michael O'Leary (0-1), Darragh O'Connell (1-2, 0-1 '65'). Subs: Padraig Dineen for K O'Connell, Sean O'Mahony for J McCarthy, Mike Hannafin for PJ Ryan.
Referee: S Hourigan (Rathkeale)
Aidan Healy and Michael O'Leary were excellent for Abbeydorney, while Pat Corridan and Ricky Heffernan were central to Lixnaw's win. However, James Flaherty's tenacity, skill and scoring ensured victory for the pre-match favourites.
Without doubt James Flaherty's goal two minutes into injury-time. Abbeydorney should have dealt with Brendan Brosnan's long delivery but instead Flaherty bundled the ball to the net to force extra-time. From there one could foresee only one winner.