Deadly Dunbar guides Gorey into another final
Naomh Eanna 1-15 Clongeen 1-8
Cathal Dunbar was the man of the moment for Naomh Eanna in Bellefield on Saturday when his telling late intervention guided the Gorey side into the Joyces Expert Intermediate 'A' football championship final for the second successive year at the expense of fast-fading Clongeen.
The outcome hung in the balance when the county hurler was introduced for the last quarter, moments after a third point from play by dangerman Paul Curtis had brought parity to proceedings for the fourth time since the interval (1-6 to 0-9).
As well as hitting the target himself, Curtis was also fouled for all four of the frees converted by joint captain Jim Bennett, and that's what occured in the 46th minute when the side relegated from Intermediate ranks last season edged ahead.
However, Dunbar showed he was in the mood to leave a lasting impression with an excellent point from distance with his first touch.
Bennett did respond after Gorey's new arrival picked up a yellow card for a high challenge on Curtis, making it 1-8 to 0-10 with ten minutes left.
Anything Dunbar did after that was of a positive nature, though, with 1-2 of the unanswered 1-5 reeled off by his team arising from his drive and accuracy.
Fifteen of the 20 players used had featured at some stage of their Senior hurling quarter-final win six days earlier, and the strong fitness levels built up over a long year were evident as Naomh Eanna drove decisively for home.
Jack Cullen set up Dunbar for the levelling point before the lively Charlie McGuckin gave them the lead.
Stephen Bennett made a fine save to deny Peter Travers a goal, but the '45 that arose was nonchalantly stroked over the bar by Cullen (0-13 to 1-8).
The clinching goal arrived in the 59th minute after a missed free by the generally accurate William Cullen at the Bellefield Road end.
Dunbar won the kick-out on the right and made a powerful run towards goal without anyone laying a hand on him. And although Stephen Bennett saved his first effort, he hadn't a hope with the rebound as a brave Clongeen challenge was finally thwarted.
Late points from Dunbar and William Cullen left the final scoreline with a somewhat flattering look, and Naomh Eanna will now be seeking to make up for the disappointment of losing this particular decider three times since it was introduced in 2012 - in that inaugural year, after a replay against St. Fintan's; in 2014, against St. Mary's (Maudlintown); and twelve months ago, when they brought Crossabeg-Ballymurn to extra-time.
Clongeen had thundered into the game from the off, with joint captain and full-back Shane Kilkenny setting the tone with three timely interceptions to kick-start a strong individual display.
They also had three unanswered points on the board by the sixth minute, with Jim Bennett (free), Paul Curtis and Shane Cahill doing the needful.
William Cullen earned and converted the free that opened Gorey's account, but they were thankful to veteran goalkeeper Barry Kinsella for saving a Paudie Cahill goal attempt after good work by Adam O'Sullivan and Shane Cahill in the tenth minute.
Cullen narrowed the gap to one before Clongeen lost O'Sullivan to a dead leg, but his replacement, Daryl Murphy, made an immediate impact with his first touch.
The wily Jim Bennett created an opening and fed the new arrival who coolly slotted a low shot past Kinsella in the 23rd minute for a 1-3 to 0-2 lead.
Free-takers David O'Brien and William Cullen reduced the gap to two by half-time, and Naomh Eanna resumed on a high as this duo registered again on either side of the first of Charlie McGuckin's three points (0-7 to 1-3).
With Paul Curtis continuing to pose problems, and Jim Bennett on song from frees, Clongeen remained well in contention despite a rarity in the form of a right-footed point from Cullen who favours his left.
It was left to Cathal Dunbar to make all the difference, an impact substitute worthy of the term.
Naomh Eanna: Barry Kinsella; Daniel Sunderland, Aodhán Doyle, Seamus O'Donnell; Jack Cullen (0-1 '45), Pádraig Doyle, Brendan Travers; Conor McDonald, John O'Brien; Jack Cushe, Peter Travers (capt.), Seán Doyle; William Cullen (0-6, 3 frees), Charlie McGuckin (0-3), David O'Brien (0-2 frees). Subs. - Cathal Dunbar (1-3) for Cushe (45), Gary Molloy for McDonald (54), Eoin Conroy for J. Cullen (60), Gearóid Cullen for P. Travers (60+1), Michael Molloy for W. Cullen (60+1).
Clongeen: Stephen Bennett; Páraic Curtis, Shane Kilkenny (joint capt.), Jamie Keating; Richard Rochford, Paul Casey, Ger Foxe; Shane Cahill (0-1), Robert Farrell; Paudie Cahill, Jim Bennett (joint capt., 0-4 frees), Collie Byrne; Adam O'Sullivan, Paul Curtis (0-3), Leon Stafford. Subs. - Daryl Murphy (1-0) for O'Sullivan, inj. (19), Anton Stafford for Byrne (HT), Stephen Curtis for Casey, inj. (48), Jamesie Rochford for P. Cahill (51), Enda Murphy for L. Stafford (57).
Referee: Damien Donovan (Volunteers).