Na Fianna fought back from a six-point deficit to earn a vital draw against an impressive Skerries Harps in their entertaining Dublin SFC1 Group 2 clash in Parnell Park on Saturday evening.
For long stretches of the game, Skerries belied their underdog status as they played with greater clarity and intensity and few neutrals in attendance would have quibbled if they had managed to hold on for victory in the closing stages.
However, their efforts began to take their toll late on and with their opponents having greater options off the bench, Harps proved unable to land that decisive winning score that would have secured a quarter-final berth.
The opening stages of the match were dominated by Skerries, and Stephen Smith in particular, and he served early notice of his intentions with a polished point inside 30 seconds.
The former Dublin U21 player added a free four minutes later and he put further daylight between the teams with his second point from play in the 6th minute.
Na Fianna were struggling in most areas and were grateful to Seán Caffrey for opening their account soon after but Smith's elusive running forced another free that he comfortably converted to restore his team's three-point advantage.
Caffrey and Smith traded fine points from play and in the 17th minute Na Fianna were spared a further setback as Smith seized on a poor clearance and unselfishly passed to Killian McGinnis but the corner-forward lacked composure and the clearcut goal opportunity fizzled out.
However, McGinn atoned by cancelling out a Michael Deegan point in the 20th minute as Skerries ensured a deserved 0-8 to 0-5 interval advantage as Seán Rocks made a fine block on JJ Martin as the prepared to pull the trigger in first-half injury time.
Na Fianna introduced both James Doran and Glenn O'Reilly at the start of the second-half but it was Skerries who struck the next blow when they doubled their lead in the 36th minute as Smith found space along the end-line before firing confidently past keeper David O'Hanlon.
With Donal McIlgorm a strong aerial presence at midfield, Harps were happy to drop deep with Bryan Cullen reveling in the sweeper role but a sweeping move in the 39th minute saw Doran upended and another substitute, Aaron Byrne, emphatically swept the resultant penalty to the right of the helpless Alan Cullinan.
By the 53rd minute, Na Fianna had drawn level thanks to a brace of frees from Michael Deegan and a point by the raiding Eoin Connolly but Skerries Harps regained the initiative through a well-worked score by Kevin Gilmore.
The conclusion was suitable frantic for two teams with their championship lives on the line as Na Fianna initially seized the initiative thanks to successive scores by Doran and Caffrey while McGinnis restored parity in the first minute of added time.
Alasdar Fitzgerald and Ross McGarry traded points as the desperation on both sides came to the fore and while there was no further scoring, Na Fianna's Dublin star Jonny Cooper received a second booking as his side held on by the skin of their teeth.
SCORERS - Na Fianna: A Byrne 1-0 (pen), M Deegan (2f), S Caffrey 0-3 each, E Connolly, T Foran (f), C McHugh, J Doran, S Coughlan, A Fitzgerald 0-1 each. Skerries Harps: S Smith 1-7 (0-4f), K McGinnis 0-2, H Dawson, K Gilmore, R McGarry 0-1 each.
Na Fianna: D O'Hanlon; D Kennedy, J Cooper, P Feeney; F Aughney, N McGovern, E Connolly; A Farrell, JJ Martin; S Coughlan, M Deegan, K Deeley; C McHugh, T Foran, S Caffrey. Subs: E O'Dea for Kennedy (21), J Doran for Foran (ht), G O'Reilly for Deeley (ht), A Byrne for Feeney (38), A Fitzgerald for Martin (53), O Ó Maoiléidigh for McHugh (57, blood sub), E Neville for Deegan (61).
Skerries Harps: A Cullinan; K Dalton, S Rocks, R McGarry; E Smith, D Reilly, E McGinley; C O'Brien, D McIlgorm; K Gilmore, S Smith, B Cullen; K McGinnis, H Dawson, C Doherty. Subs: T Ryan for Doherty (36), F O'Leary for O'Brien (41), J Smith for E Smith (41), C Murphy for Dawson (49).
REF: D Aston (Naomh Mearnóg).