Rhode dig deep to keep their dream on track
Rhode started poorly and finished this Leinster club football quarter-final in Tullamore rather hesitantly but in between they showed brief glimpses of just why they are considered the most likely club to derail the inevitable Dublin juggernaut if it comes flying down the tracks at them in the coming weeks.
Rhode 1-12 Simonstown 1-9
Having lost four finals in the last 10 years there's a burning desire in Rhode to address that imbalance this year and that intention was clear in their previous game when they hammered Wexford champions Gusserane by 33 points. But this was a much different test.
Rhode manager Pascal Keelaghan had described Simonstown beforehand as "very unlike a Colm O'Rourke-team" - an observation he repeated afterwards - claiming they rely on heavy defensive orientation and counter-attack and indeed they found it hard to break them down at times, trailing by 0-4 to 0-1 after only 11 minutes.
But they got into their stride in the second quarter, driven on by the superb Anton Sullivan who is now likely to miss their semi-final with Louth's Sean O'Mahonys because of an imminent tour of duty with the Armed Forces.
That second quarter was key as Rhode used all their experience at this level and turned that three-point deficit into a two point interval lead, 0-6 to 0-4, firmly establishing control in that period.
Niall McNamee had some great moments and chipped in with the lead point, 0-5 to 0-4, on 24 minutes after a great ball from Sullivan.
It became a physical, hard-hitting battle with Longford referee Patrick Maguire dishing out the cards, sometimes too freely.
Simonstown midfielder Shane O'Rourke picked up two of them, the second of which earned him red for his challenge on Stephen Hannon in the 39th minute.
O'Rourke had been an influence in helping to build that early lead but his departure, when they trailed by just 0-7 to 0-6, left the Meath champions with 14 men for the last 23 minutes and looked like it might expose them.
When Conor McNamee cut through on 50 minutes to score Rhode's goal to open a six-point lead it looked like they would go on and win easily, especially when substitute Darren Garry added a further point two minutes later.
But to their credit Simonstown battled back superbly with 19-year old centre-back Brian Conlon making countless rampaging runs to underline why he is considered a future Meath senior.
Current Meath panelist Sean Tobin, who had missed much of the closing stages of Simonstown's first ever championship winning campaign with an ankle injury, started his first game since August and landed five points, three from play.
Eanna Donoghue converted a penalty to close the gap in the 54th minute after a Sullivan foot block was penalised to leave just four in it and Simonstown continued to press with substitute Mickey Brennan from a 45 and Tobin from a free leaving just two in it.
But McNamee used his guile and class to fist over a point to push the gap back out to three again and secure a semi-final passage.
Keelaghan said he expected it would take Rhode time to adapt to Simonstown style.
"We've done a lot of homework on Simonstown. They are very unlike Colm O'Rourke team - they play very defensive you know. Pat Spillane mightn't be overly happy so he might have a bit of a cut off him over that!
"They play very defensive and we knew that it was coming but still you have to adapt and it takes the 10 or 15 minutes to adapt to it, but it will bring us on because we are going to come up against that."
But he admitted disappointment with how they used the extra man.
"We went seven points up and you were thinking that we were going to kick on and we didn't. When we had the spare men, there was a bit of confusion about how as the spare man and who was meant to do the marking job, and we let them back into it, which was a little bit disappointing.
"But, I thought we went three down, to get five in a row to go two up, showed a bit of character."
Rhode will miss Sullivan and Jake Kavanagh, who also had a fine match and is Lebanon-bound too.
Manager Colm O'Rourke, who had been sent to the dug-out in the first half for voicing his displeasure at a heavy challenge on Conlon that went unpunished, reflected on a great year for Simonstown.
"We went through a bad patch before half time but that was always going to happen. We regrouped well. The goal really stung us but our lads fought back very weIl. I think now that the three or four best Meath teams are too far off that level."
SCORERS - Rhode: N McNamee 0-5 (2fs), C McNamee 1-1, D Garry 0-2, B Darby, A Sullivan, N Darby, P McPadden (f) 0-1 each. Gaels: S Tobin 0-5 (2fs), E Donoghue 1-0, P McKeever 0-2 (1f), J Lyons, M Brennan (45).
Rhode - K Garry; B Darby, E Rigney, J Kavanagh; N Darby, S Sullivan, J McPadden; A McNamee, C McNamee; A Sullivan, P Sullivan, A Sullivan; P McPadden, R McNamee, N McNamee. Subs: D Garry for McPadden (40), G O'Connell for P Sullivan (46), G McNamee for R McNamee (55) C Heavey for N Darby (57).
Gaels - R Burlingham; S Gallagher, N McMahon, S Moran; M O'Rourke, B Conlon, N Kane; S O'Rourke, C Sheridan; J Lyons, S Kenny, M McCabe; P McKeever, S Tobin, E Donoghue. Subs: B McGrath for M O'Rourke (ht), M Brennan for Lyons (41), S Barry for Sheridan (53), C Nash for Kenny (56).
REF - Patrick Maguire (Longford).