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Saturday 7 December 2019

Éire Óg survive rally to go through to final

U20 ‘A’ Football Championship Semi-finals: Éire Óg 2-6 AGB 0-11

The Éire Óg Greystones team who defeated AGB to secure their place in the under-20 ‘A’ football championship final where they will face Kilaveney
The Éire Óg Greystones team who defeated AGB to secure their place in the under-20 ‘A’ football championship final where they will face Kilaveney

Andrew Ryan at Kilcoole

Having been given a comfortable advantage as a result of goals from Shaun Cranley and Kieran Sheehy, Éire Óg were made to survive a brave and dogged second-half comeback from Arklow Geraldines-Ballymoney to seal their place in the under-20 'A' football championship final.

Greystones went into the break with a seemingly secure eight-point lead following Sheehy's well-worked early goal, followed up by a Cranley penalty.

AGB did not give up the ghost, however, and upped the aggression and physicality in a heated second-half that saw Gavin O'Shea black-carded for Éire Óg. Ultimately, Éire Óg escaped Kilcoole with the win, as well as a place alongside Kilaveney in the final, despite the best efforts of Andy Maher.

Such was the wet, greasy conditions that coated the turf on Sunday afternoon, that there was a sense that the first score would prove crucial in a game of small margins.

It would be the Greystones side who would get that first notch through the boot of Kieran Sheehy. Half-back Cian Hynes played the ball into the channel for Shaun Cranley, who held it up before finding Rory Lucy. He, then, fed Conor Fulham, who released Sheehy to blast the ball into the back of the AGB goal.

Éire Óg may have fired the first shot across the bow, but it was AGB who spent much of the next 15 minutes in control. Andy Maher's three frees, either side of a Sean Crowley point, reduced the gap to within just one point, before Shaun Cranley landed a gut-punch of his own.

Moments after Cranley had seen a wicked strike bizarrely bounce back into play off of the tip of the post, he found himself with the chance to double his team's goal tally following a goal-mouth scramble that ended with the referee awarding Greystones a penalty, an opportunity he would not pass up.

The penalty seemed to suck the air out of AGB, as further points from Dan Clarke, Gavin O'Shea, Fintan O'Shea, and Cillian Keane sent Éire Óg into the break with a commanding 2-06 to 0-04 lead.

That Cillian Keane score would be the last that Éire Óg would register in the game, as well as being the match-winning point, as AGB mounted a dramatic comeback that would come just shy of salvaging the semi-final.

Arklow's salvage mission started five minutes into the second-half when, after Kieran Sheehy ad Conor Fulham had both notched wides, Andy Maher split the posts with a free.

Both sides would fall victim to the heated atmosphere of the second-half, with Gavin O'Shea being shown a black card for Greystones. Alan Merrigan, two Maher frees, and an exquisite Maher score from play closed the gap to within a goal.

Éire Óg were struggling to hold the ball under pressure from an AGB team that sensed blood, and were trying to break the play up with substitutions, with the introduction of Eoin O'Neill being one example.

Peter Hempenstall reduced the arrears to just a point with a terrific score from the 45-meter line after making a break-through midfield.

While his teammates were being challenged by the aggression of their Arklow counterparts, Greystones' Fintan O'Shea was a constant presence in the middle of the park; winning battles and distributing possession to get his side going.

It was his turnover in injury-time, as well as his winning of a free after winning possession, was one of those vital breaks in the play that maintained Éire Óg's advantage for long enough to see the game out.

Andy Maher would nail his seventh free of the day to make it a one-point game deep into injury-time, but it would be too little, too late for AGB. Despite their protestations, referee Eugene O'Brien called time on proceedings after three-minutes of additional time, sending Greystones to their first under-20 'A' championship final ever.

Scorers: Éire Óg: Shaun Cranley (1-1), Kieran Sheehy (1-0), Gavin O'Shea (0-2), Cillian Keane (0-1), Dan Clarke (0-1), Fintan O'Shea (0-1). Arklow Geraldines-Ballymoney: Andy Maher (0-8; 0-7f), Alan Merrigan (0-1), Peter Hempenstall (0-1), Sean Crowley (0-1),

Éire Óg: Conor Browne; David Prendergast, Conor Nolan, Daniel Healy; Dan Clarke, Daire Divine, Cian Hynes (for Thade Shanahan); Fintan O'Shea, Kieran Sheehy; Conor Fulham (for Eoin O'Neill), Conal Deeney, Cillian Keane (for Brian Lawless); Shaun Cranley, Rory Lucy, Gavin O'Shea (for Luke Dorgan - black card)

Arklow Geraldines-Ballymoney: Tiernan Murray; Nathan Cullen, Tadhg O'Callaghan, Ben Fennell; Hugh O'Brien, Ciaran O'Shea, Thomas Lynch; Peter Hempenstall, Sean Crowley; Tiernan McBride, Andrew Maher, Mark Fitzgerald; Jack O'Reilly, Mark Hurley, Alan Merrigan (for Quentin O'Reilly).

Referee: Eugene O'Brien (Aughrim)

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