Saturday 21 April 2018

Perennial bridesmaids book another big day out

COOLEY Kickhams are preparing for a fifth senior county final appearance in 10 seasons, and like the wild Mayo diehards heading to Croke Park from out west this weekend, the odds are they will win one eventually.

Mayo's famine stretches back a lot further than Cooley's 23-year stint without a visit from Joe Ward, but supporters and players from both teams have learned the hard way that success is never a divine right.

Two final defeats to St Pat's and, more recently, two more to Mattock Rangers, should certainly quell some of the inevitable hype that will greet this latest appearance in the county showpiece, but the very act of reaching a fifth decider in a decade shows a particular determination and resolve to set a long-standing and unwanted record straight.

After turning around at half-time at Dowdallshill just a point behind O'Connell's, a place in the final was there for the taking, and Adrian Sheelan's men didn't need to be asked twice, making much better use of a gale force wind than their opponents.

The conditions made attractive football almost impossible and save for a few sweetly struck scores and some eye-catching fielding from Brian Donnelly, quality was in short supply.

That's not to say there was any lack of drama or controversy as Paddy Mathews flashed straight red cards to Patrick Sheelan and O'Connell's goalkeeper Stuart Reynolds in the closing stages - the latter for an off-the-ball incident with the former, who was already off the field of play, but still hanging around close enough to the action to be involved in another flashpoint.

If the CCC follow through with a customary one-month ban, Sheelan is likely to miss the final against either St Pat's or Newtown Blues, while Conor Rafferty's participation could also be in doubt after shipping a nasty gash to his knee 20 minutes into the contest.

In that sense victory came at a cost for Adrian Sheelan, but it was never really in doubt once his team weathered a bright O'Connell's start.

With Cian Doyle and Robert Quigley well marshalled by Alan Page and Keith White respectively, O'Connell's needed an alternative outlet and it was Andrew Sharkey who stood up to the plate in the first period, kicking four of his side's six points before the break, two from frees and two superb strikes from play.

In hindsight O'Connell's probably needed a goal to really put Cooley under pressure after the break, but ironically their two big chances came in the second period as Neil Gallagher saved well from Andrew Shields and Salem Rifaie was denied what would have been a marvellous goal by the crossbar.

But in truth the damage was done in the first period as despite falling 4-1 and 5-2 down Cooley battled back to partiy at 0-5 apiece by the 28th minute and while Sharkey converted a late free to edge O'Connell's back in front before the break, it was Cooley who retired much the happier team.

Richie Brennan's opener apart, Cooley relied on Brian White and Patrick Sheelan placed balls to keep them in contention and even after the break defender Brennan was their main attacking threat.

He scored the first point of the the new half and then Sheelan punished a poor kickout from Reynolds to send Cooley into the lead for the first time since the seventh minute.

Reynolds was invloved again as Cooley tightened their grip on proceedings, tripping Ciaran Sheelan with a high challenge as he tried to round the former Louth stopper. The other Sheelan made no mistake from the spot and when White added his first point from play, the game was already drifting away from O'Connell's.

They did battle on to close the gap back to a goal, but with holes starting to appear at the back Cooley took advantage, as Brennan popped up on the end of a good Cooley move to drill low and hard past Reynolds.

The game was now over as a contest which makes Sheelan's subsequent red card all the harder to fathom.

Still, Cooley get a second chance to run the rule over the final opponents on Friday night and who could blame them for privately cheering on Newtown Blues?

It's not that the Drogheda outfit would be any easier a proposition in the decider, but Pat's pose a deep-rooted psychological barrier that they could probably do without if they are to finally deliver on a decade of promise.

The Argus