DEFENDING Kerry club champions Rathmore came within the width of a crossbar from being dumped out of this year's competition.
With Rathmore clinging to a dangerous two-point lead, 1-10 to 0-11, three minutes into injury-time at the end of Saturday night's senior club quarter-final against Legion at home in Rathbeg, the Killarney side had one final chance to snatch victory when they were awarded a free just outside the square.
Destined to be the last kick of the game Kerry minor Conor Keane had to go for a match-winning goal. While his rasping, rising drive beat the nine Rathmore players crowding the goal-line, it cannoned back off the crossbar.
It was the second time in the closing stages that fortune favoured the home side because in the final minute of normal time, with the score-line still showing Rathmore with a two-point advantage, Rathmore goalkeeper Padraic Mccarthy produced a fantastic save to deny Legion ace James O'donoghue who had burst through one-on-one.
If either of those two late goal chances for Legion had found their intended target then Rathmore, quite easily, could be watching the semi-finals from the sidelines this weekend. Instead, they now face St Michaels / Foilmore, knowing that they need to produce a better performance and that they will also be without key forward George O'keeffe, who limped off with a hamstring injury in the first-half.
Rathmore manager Denis Desmond said: "We were very disappointed with our county league performance last weekend when we didn't perform at all. This was a lot better. There was a good work-rate all over the field but there is more to be done."
Desmond also agreed that Rathmore's secondhalf penalty after 40 minutes was crucial, as Legion were then leading by two points (0-8 to 0-6). But after a Legion defender was adjudged to have touched the ball on the ground inside the small square, the ref awarded the penalty. John Buckley made no mistake, rifling home to send Rathmore 1-6 to 0-8 ahead.
A fine solo effort from Legion midfielder Padraig Lucey levelled the game two minutes later but with Rathmore's physical power starting to tell, and Aidan O'mahony becoming a central figure in the middle third, the defending champions made a telling move.
Two quick points from the impressive Donal O'sullivan at midfield were followed by a Mark Reen point as Rathmore pushed 1-9 to 0-9 ahead with seven minutes left. After the impressive James O'donoghue – easily the best player on show and gave Tom O'sullivan no end of problems – was fouled, Conor Keane reduced the gap, only for another Donal O'sullivan free to stretch the lead to three, 1-10 to 0-10.
O'donoghue's sixth point of the evening for Legion narrowed the gap late on but Rathmore held on in dramatic fashion, if only just. Even in the first-half, after which Rathmore led 05 to 0-4 thanks to three Mike O'riordan frees late in the half, Legion looked the slicker outfit, with O'donoghue kicking 0-3, as well as being fouled for David O'sullivan's free.
Outscoring Rathmore by 0-4 to 0-1 at the start of the second-half, Legion deservedly led by two (0-8 to 0-6). But then the tide turned in the shape of Buckley's penalty, a score that helped Rathmore escape to a hard-earned victory. RATHMORE: Padraic Mccarthy; Kieran Cahill, James O'sullivan, Colm Kelly; Paul Murphy, Tom O'sullivan, Conor O'sullivan; Donal O'sullivan (0-5 3f), Aidan O'mahony; Mark Reen (0-2), George O'keeffe, Michael A Kelleher; Michael O'riordan (0-3f), John Buckley (1-0 pen), Brendan O'keeffe. Subs: Eoin Lawlor for George O'keeffe (inj, 19); John Moynihan for Michael A Kelleher (49) LEGION: Brian Kelly; Chris Davies, Sean Keane, Denis Sheehan; Derek Twomey, Gene Mccarthy, Padraig Mccarthy; Billy Maguire, Padraig Lucey (0-1); Jonathon Lyne, Thomas Moriarty, Michael O'sullivan; Conor Keane (0-1f), James O'donoghue (0-6, 3f), David O'sullivan (0-2f). Subs: Killian Treacy (0-1) for Thomas Moriarty (ht); Aidan Slattery for David O'sullivan (52); Kieran Slattery for Derek Twomey (52); Tim Regan for Michael O'sullivan (56) REFEREE: Pat Sheehy (Clounmacon)