Saturday 24 February 2018

O'Donnell Cup specialists looking for a silver lining

John Savage

THE Cardinal O'Donnell Cup has a welcome and regular visitor to Fr McEvoy Park over the past 23 years.

In Joe Ward's absence the race for League glory has provided supporters with many an end-of-season day out and, more often-than-not, some badly sought silverware.

A late surge up the Division 1 table and a comfortable nine-point win over Sean O'Mahony's on Sunday has ensured another crack at the consolation prize for the green and gold - trouble is their neighbours, and bogey side, St Pat's find themselves in the exact same predicament.

The decider is yet to be fixed, but after a semi-final Championship defeat to champions-elect Newtown Blues and a Paddy Sheelan Cup final loss to O'Connell's earlier in the season, Fergal Reel's men will be just as determined to sign off on 2014 with a trophy as their long-suffering neighbours.

Still smarting from back-to-back defeats to Blues in the Championship final and Pat's in their final League game, Cooley were understandably apprehensive in the opening stages of Sunday's clash and by the end of the first quarter found themselves trailing by two points.

The early sparring was cagey as Patrick Sheelan, from a free, and John O'Brien exchanged points, but Cooley seemed to settle with two superb scores from Conor and Mickey Rafferty, the latter playing a neat one-two with Ciaran Sheelan before firing over.

That was to be a sign of things to come from the Man-of-the-Match, as he weighed in with three more points from play, but it was O'Mahony's who seized the inititiave midway through the half.

With the action end-to-end, Stephen Fisher tapped over a 13m free to make it 0-3 to 0-2 in Cooley's favour, but the visitors hit the front a minute later as a David Crawley delivery somehow squeezed between two home defenders and set Stephen Fisher clear on goal. With Neil Gallagher racing from his line to narrow the angle, Fisher picked out David Dowling on the edge of the square, and while he had to stretch to make contact, the full forward poked the ball to an empty net.

It took the hosts a while to re-group as a couple of Brian White frees brought them level by the 23rd minute, but it was White's Louth teammate and midfield partner, Brian Donnelly, who really turned the contest in Cooley's favour, latching onto a Ciaran Sheelan lay-off and firing low past Benny Traynor to the bottom corner.

O'Mahony's cut the deficit to the minimum as Fisher helped himself to a quickfire brace, one from a close-range free and a well-worked score from play, but Mickey Rafferty and Michael Kane hit back before the break to give Cooley a 1-7 to 1-4 interval lead.

A final date with Pat's was still up for grabs at that stage, but it was Cooley who grasped it in the opening minutes of the second half.

The Rafferys made it 1-9 to 1-4 with a point apiece within three minutes of the restart, but with their hopes of causing an upset already slipping away, O'mahony's passed up a glorious chance to get back into the game with a penalty moments later.

It looked a soft enough award by Jonathan Conlon as Stephen Kilcoyne was adjudged to have been hauled down on the endline, but it mattered not as Neil Gallagher stretched low to his right to keep out Fisher's strike from the spot.

Instead of closing the gap to two points, O'Mahony's found themselves six point in arrears a minute later as Patrick Sheelan just about cleared the crossbar with a superbly judged strike.

From that point on the visitors were playing catch-up, but never really looked like turning it around as Cooley kept them at arm's reach quite comfortably.

Kilcoyne twice closed the gap to five points with close-range frees, but the visitors lost faith in the final quarter as a Sheelan free, a Donnelly brace and another fine effort from Mickey Rafferty added some gloss to the final scoreline for Adrian Sheelan's men.

Coming out of a hard-fought tussle with a nine-point victory was just the tonic they needed after a trying few weeks, but it will mean very little if they can't mastermind a rare win over their bitter rivals in the final.

COOLEY KICKHAMS: Neil Gallagher; David Reilly, Keith White, PJ Mc Givern; Alan Page, Conor McGuinness, Richard Brennan; Brian Donnelly 1-2, Brian White 0-2f; Michael Kane 0-1, Michael Rafferty 0-4, Patrick Mc Grath, Patrick Sheelan 0-4 (0-3f), Conor Rafferty 0-2, Ciaran Sheelan. Subs: Shane Marks for Conor McGuinness, Sean Mc Donald for Conor Rafferty, Darren Marks for Ciaran Sheelan, Emmet Page for Michael Kane, Anthony White for Richard Brennan.

SEAN O'MAHONY'S: Benny Traynor; Michael Clarke, Peter Nixon, Barry O' Brien; Liam Dullaghan, Keith McLaughlin, Liam Mc Carthy; Andrew Nixon, John O Brien 0-1; Conor Finnegan, David Crawley, Conor Martin; Stephen Fisher 0-2 (0-1f), David Dowling 1-0, Stephen Kilcoyne 0-3f. Subs: Barry Mackin for L Dullaghan, Paddy Byrne for K McLaughlin, Michael Crawley for C Martin, Kevin Quinn for D Dowling.

REFEREE: Jonathan Conlon.

The Argus

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