Shels come of age
Shelmaliers 2-6 Starlights 0-12
A slick-moving Shelmaliers side laid their Tom Doyle Supplies Senior football championship semi-final bogey to rest in emphatic fashion in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday, although their task was made that bit easier when holders Starlights were reduced to 14 men after a mere four minutes of this rather pedestrian affair.
After winning the toss and opting to use the breeze first, the challengers already had two points on the board from Craig McCabe (free) and Eoghan Nolan when wing-forward Ross Banville went to ground after an off-the-ball incident.
Referee Barry Redmond consulted with linesman Fintan O'Reilly, and the crowd knew exactly what colour card was coming before it was brandished as Eamonn Furlong's anguished cry of 'no, Barry' could be clearly heard in the stand before the veteran attacker was dismissed.
Given the athleticism in the Shelmaliers side, and the type of running game they favour, it was going to be a nigh-on impossible task to keep them at bay for 55 minutes with a numerical disadvantage, and so it proved as Starlights relinquished their crown in a disappointing manner.
The word from Bellefield is that there has been a strong concentration on hurling in recent weeks, and it showed on the field as the holders were nowhere near their best.
Much of the credit for that must go to Shelmaliers, though, as the fact that all six of their previous semi-final attempts had ended in defeat didn't seem to play on their minds in any way.
Apart from that early sending-off, it also helped that they were gifted two first-half goals by Starlights as an unassailable interval lead of 2-7 to 0-5 was established.
Craig McCabe and captain Eoin Doyle added two more points after the dismissal before Dillon Redmond got the Enniscorthy team up and running with a brace of converted frees at the Clonard end.
Disaster struck for Starlights, though, in the 23rd minute, when netminder Pa Doyle could only parry a dipping point attempt by Eoghan Nolan into the grateful path of McCabe who knocked the ball over the line from close range (1-4 to 0-2).
Darragh Pepper and Brian Malone swapped points twice in quick succession before an Alan Tobin free narrowed the gap to 1-6 to 0-5, but his fumble from a Jack Kelly handpass close to their own goal led to that second costly concession in the 29th minute.
A.J. Lehane pounced on the gift and set up Craig McCabe who calmly rolled the ball into Pa Doyle's net. And when the goalscorer added a point from a free for good measure in added time, bringing his personal tally to 2-3 after a late tackle on Brian Malone, Shelmaliers were looking good with a 2-7 to 0-5 lead.
They went into this game with a record of never losing a Senior championship game to Starlights, and they now boast 6-0 figures from this head-to-head after the second-half went very much according to plan.
Although Alan Tobin scored first on the re-start from a free, any hope of his team getting back into contention faded completely when the Shels struck five points in a mere three minutes and ten seconds courtesy of A.J. Lehane, Eoin Doyle, Conor Hearne (two) and Lehane again (2-12 to 0-6).
It was 2-14 to 0-8 by the three-quarters stage, after Ryan Mahon and substitute Aaron Dobbs scored for Starlights on either side of two more for the Shels from Glen Malone and free-taker McCabe.
Conor Hearne and McCabe (free) stretched the lead out to 14 points, and it mattered little that the victors didn't score in a closing twelve minutes plus four and a half added on amid a flurry of substitutions.
McCabe did go close to claiming a hat-trick after a mark by Conor Hearne was followed by a slick inter-change between substitutes Jody Donohoe and Páraic O'Leary, but his first shot was saved by Pa Doyle before Alan Tobin cleared the rebound off the line.
The four late unanswered Starlights points from Aaron Dobbs (free), Ben Edwards, Tobin (free) and Lenny Connolly were mere statistics from a game they will want to quickly forget, although the writing was on the wall from a very early stage.
A novel final against Kilanerin awaits for Shelmaliers and, unlike their opponents, they don't have the distraction of a big hurling game next weekend.
After beating Starlights by eight points in August, nobody would have predicted an addition of two to the winning margin in what was expected to be a close-run affair, but the pattern of the game was framed by that early sending-off.
Shelmaliers: James Gordon; Dan Campbell, James Cash, Andre O'Brien; Simon Donohoe, Glen Malone (0-1), Graham Staples; Eoghan Nolan (0-1), Brian Malone (0-2); Seán Keane-Carroll, Eoin Doyle (capt., 0-2), Ross Banville; Craig McCabe (2-5, 0-4 frees), A.J. Lehane (0-2), Conor Hearne (0-3). Subs. - Ciarán O'Shaughnessy for Campbell (HT), Jody Donohoe for Keane-Carroll (44), Páraic O'Leary for Lehane (52), Cian Manley for O'Brien, black card (55), Thomas Barron for Staples (58), Brian Murphy for Nolan (60+4).
Starlights: Pa Doyle; Mel Doyle, Rory O'Connor, Jack Kelly; Kevin Foley, Ricky Fox, James Peare; Liam Ryan, Nick Doyle; Alan Tobin (0-3 frees), James Carty, Dillon Redmond (0-2 frees); Ryan Mahon (0-1), Eamonn Furlong, Darragh Pepper (0-2). Subs. - Aaron Dobbs (0-2, 1 free) for Redmond (40), Lenny Connolly (0-1) for Carty (42), Ben Edwards (0-1) for Mahon (51), Anthony Roche for Foley (52), Tommy Foley for Pepper (55), Conor Farrell for Tobin (58).
Referee: Barry Redmond (Clonard).