Saints march on to semi-finals

County SHC Round 2 replay: St Brendans 2-11 Crotta O'Neills 1-13

Timmy Sheehan, Austin Stack Park

There's a feeling within GAA circles that draws are rarely replicated in replays, but in this second round replayed tie in the County Senior Hurling Championship played in the Austin Stack Park last Monday there was many similarities with their first meeting just over one week ago.

Indeed, Shane Nolan had opportunities late in the game to bring the tie into extra time once again, but untypically for him, unlike the previous encounter he was unable to capitalise with some chances from placed balls.

Certainly, Crotta will look back on the game as one which they could well have won, having recorded twelve wides and very nearly securing a match winning goal in the dying minutes, only to be denied by a brilliant stop from the St Brendans goalkeeper Darren Delaney.

However, viewed in its overall context Crotta, after a productive enough opening half, didn't display enough composure, or combine to any great effect in the second. Indeed a tendency to hit hopeful deliveries into the heart of the St Brendans defence was never going to pay dividends against a pretty resolute and compact St Brendans rearguard unit, which had players working in tandem, supporting each other, with the ability also to win possession in a lot of 50/50 situations, which largely nullified Crotta's attacking options.

Crotta started quite brightly with Donal Hunt impressing with some surging forward runs, and indeed, he could well have found the net in the opening minute of play, but, elected to pass to Jordan Conway, who ultimately pointed, but, a more precise pass could well have yielded a bigger dividend. Hunt followed up with a fine individual score to give Crotta a two point lead inside as many minutes. However, the advantage was short lived with St Brendans responding with the first goal of the game in the fifth minute, courtesy of a confident finish from Cian Hussey, after Tom Moloney's defence splitting run had created the chance for him.

Two minutes later the lead had changed once again when Shane Nolan latched onto a cross field delivery, stepped inside his marker, and, applied a fine finish low to the St Brendans net.

Level after ten minutes on 1-3 apiece the encounter was still deadlocked 1-4 apiece at the end of the opening quarter. Crotta had the ball in the net once again in the seventeenth minute, after the match official initially played advantage after a foul, but, called it back for that free which Shane Nolan converted, and, added another five minutes later to double Crotta's advantage 1-6 to 1-4.

They stretched that lead to four points by the twenty seventh minute, and, in between Cian Hussey seemed to have justifiable claims for a penalty before Tom Moloney and David Griffin narrowed the gap to just two points 1-8 1-6 as the first half drifted into added time. With one minute of additional time having elapsed, St Brendans were back in front, having been awarded a penalty on this occasion after a foul on Cian Hussey. He duly converted the resultant strike from the spot, but, from my position a Crotta player seemed to have been fouled initially.

The goal afforded St Brendans a 2-6 to 1-8 interval lead, and while they finished the half stronger, Crotta were marginally the better side throughout that opening thirty minutes of play.

They restarted the second half with more urgency and two pointed frees from Shane Nolan had them back in front by the thirty fourth minute 1-10 2-6. However, with Cian Hussey influential St Brendans regained the lead by the thirty seventh minute 2-9 1-10, but they failed to convert two gilt edged goal chances, with Adrian Mahony coming to Crotta's rescue on one of those occasions. Shane Nolan's returns from placed balls continued to keep Crotta in the hunt, and, the contest was level for the fourth time 2-9 1-12 going into the final quarter.

Still deadlocked 2-10 1-13 with eight minutes of normal time remaining Crotta had chances to go back in front, registering four successive wides, and, with David Griffin shooting a vital score for St Brendans, they restored a narrow one point advantage as the game drifted into stoppage time.

Crotta pushed forward in numbers in their efforts to retrieve the situation, and, very nearly snatched a winning goal, with Shane Nolan's low drive from close range being denied by Darren Delaney's razor sharp reflexes. He also smothered the follow up thereby denying Crotta of what probably would have been a pretty dramatic victory. Crotta did have one final chance in the 64th forth minute to level matters, but Shane Nolan's effort from long range looked like it had the distance to clear the crossbar, but was batted clear and dispatched from the danger zone. It concluded a contest, which quality wise wasn't always out of the top drawer, but in championship it's all about survival and progression, and when they needed to do it, St Brendans dug deep to confirm their place in the last four.

Crotta still have the chance to join them, but, the indications are that it might be a pretty difficult task for them.

St Brendans: Darren Delaney, Killian Woulff, Stephen Leen, Fionan Horgan, Kevin Orpen, Kevin Hannafin, Darren Dineen, Padraig Kearney, David Griffin 0-3, Cian Hussey 2-1 (1-0 pen), John Egan 0-4 (3f, 1 '65'), Tom Moloney 0-1, Jerry Wallace, Tim Hannafin 0-2, Seamus O'Halloran. Subs: Michael Davis for K Orpen, Colm Healy for S O'Halloran, Kieran Fitzgerald for J Wallace.

Crotta O'Neills: Adam O'Sullivan, Adrian Mahony, Darragh Kennelly, Sean Weir, Ryan McElligott, Tomas O'Connor, Bill Keane, Donal Hunt 0-2, Barry Mahony, Declan O'Donoghue, Tom B McElligott, Shane Nolan 1-9 (0-8f, 0-1 '65'), Paudie Quille, Jordan Conway 0-2, Raymond Nolan. Subs: Jeaic McKenna for Tom B McElligott, Richard Nolan for D O'Donoghue, James Sheehan for Raymond Nolan.

Referee: Eamonn Stapelton (Limerick)

The game in 60 seconds

Main man

A number of players on both sides enjoyed productive periods at varying intervals, but, the contest didn't produce a standout performer for the duration. Seán Weir, Tomás O'Connor and Shane Nolan impressed for Crotta, as did David Griffin, Darren Delaney, and Darren Dineen for St Brendans, but Cian Hussey was the player who did most to influence the victory.

Key moment

Undoubtedly, Darren Delaney's save from Shane Nolan in the sixty first minute. A goal at that particular juncture would have given Crotta a two point lead, and, probably have qualified them for the semi finals. The St Brendans custodian has been in inspired form throughout the championship to date, and, his heroics on this particular occasion marked him out as a number one in every sense of the word.

Talking point

The schedule of fixtures, both at national and local level. Club championships are restricted by the programme put in place for inter county competitions. But, what has transpired is a congested glut of games at all levels imposing unnecessary commitments on amateur players. Certainly there is a need for a complete rethink and overhaul, but, that seems unlikely, given that the club All Ireland finals are now being pencilled in for January!