Monday 27 May 2019

All to play for after thriller

Belfry Senior Football Championship semi final: Coolera/Strandhill 2-7 Tourlestrane 1-10

David Goulden

Coolera/Strandhill and Tourlestrane must do it all again after their Belfry senior football championship semi-final finished all square in Collooney on Sunday.

A goal a piece from Coolera skipper Niall Murphy and half-forward Colm Parke in the first half saw John McPartland's men lead by a goal at the break. While Brian Kennedy's dismissal for an off the ball incident mid-way through the opening period offered real hope of an upset.

However, the reigning champions kept their push for three-in-a-row on track. Tourlestrane shading the majority of the second half hour despite the numerical disadvantage to ensure they would live to see the replay.

Clearly undaunted by their opponents' tag as favourites to capture this year's Owen B Hunt Cup, a driven Coolera showed their mettle early on. With the crowd only settled at their vantage points, it was the underdogs who plundered a green flag with just 30 seconds gone.

The conspicuous figure of Gary Cadden biding his time on the 45 metre line before picking out the cross-field run of Murphy, who spun before lodging the ball into the corner of Adam Broe's net from eight yards.

Tourlestrane refused to succumb to the shock, gathered themselves and were almost level two minutes later. Stephen Henry running free of his man before squaring for Gary Gaughan. The forward's initial effort at goal was blocked by a sprawling Kevin Kelly in the Strandhill goal only for play to land back in Gaughan's hand who promptly slotted over.

The green and gold turned the tide in their favour on the return to the well. Adrian McIntyre fleeing his marker, before linking up with Cian Surlis who returned the favour, allowing McIntyre the time to fire the ball under Kelly.

Parke and Liam Gaughan exchanged points as the south Sligo king-pins lead by the slenderest of margins heading toward the tenth minute. Liam Gaughan then turning down a great chance to extend the lead as his relatively simple effort fell short of the Coolera posts.

Murphy had the red and white level again just before the quarter hour after a prolonged period of Coolera possession where Tourlestrane just couldn't get near the ball. Coolera patiently played the ball around midfield and with every Tourlestrane man back inside his own 45 line, Murphy did just enough to eek out the space required to knock one over.

Then came the talking point of the half and what could have been Tourlestrane's down fall. Kennedy's moment of madness was missed by many in the stand but spotted by referee Barry Judge who dismissed the full back following an altercation with Murphy in the aftermath of Murphy's score.

The influential Murphy then had Coolera in the lead after he converted his own free. But the pendulum continued to swing evenly as Tourlestrane kept in touch and it was then Coolera's turn for tactical adjustment when Karol O'Neill was introduced in place of the black-carded Enda Mitchell. Rian Kennedy sent over a grounded free before Keelan Cawley was forced into a poor wide whilst under pressure from his marker.

Murphy pushed Coolera back into a one point lead with five minutes of the half remaining but parity was restored on the restart when Liam Gaughan drove over a superb left footed score from 35 yards out at the sideline.

But anything the champions could do, Coolera proved they could imitate. Barry O'Mahony's over-cooked effort from the end line looked neither a shot nor a cross, although Murphy managed to pull off what seemed like an impossible catch as the ball looked to land behind him whilst under pressure. The Coolera captain steadying himself before jinking his way past his marker and finding just enough to room to convert from the angle. The seasiders finished the opening half on a high when Parke, ball in arms, rounded Broe to finish to an empty net. Although Tourlestrane did manage to pluck up a sixth score in added time when Rian Kennedy sent over another grounded free after Gary Gaughan was tripped 20 yards from goal.

A goal down at the break, Eamonn O'Hara and Gerry McGowan kept their troops in the dressing room for well over fifteen minutes. And whatever orders were barked certainly did the trick as the recent division one winners gradually fought their way back. Rian Kennedy found the posts from the 45 metre line dead in front of goal three minutes in. While that score was supplemented by Cathal Henry and another white flag from Kennedy.

Henry manufacturing space in front of the Coolera rearguard to tap over with the instep of his right boot, while Kennedy's equaliser arrived from the left after Johnny Kelly was upended by an over-zealous challenge from a Coolera defender. The game tied at 2-5 to 1-11.

Coolera, who were camped inside their own half for prolonged periods, had gone an incredible 18 minutes of the second half without a score but were still in this game. The usually reliable Murphy badly skewed his free from a more than profitable position in front of goal.

The corner forward however atoned for his error one minute later when he clipped one over. Having managed not to crumble under prolonged Tourlestrane pressure, Coolera then stretched their advantage to two points courtesy of a fine effort from substitute Karol O'Neill who almost telepathically knew where the posts were having received the ball from a quick free with his back to goal.

With the game slipping away Tourlestrane needed calm heads but a big finish.

The experienced Pat Harte lead the way with seven minutes left. With nothing on in front of him, he kept moving with the ball and was rewarded for his perseverance and smarts when he cut inside to calmly fist the ball over Kelly's head.

A one point game, Tourlestrane then introduced both Colin Neary and John Marren to the fray as they pressed for the leveller.

Liam Gaughan must have thought he'd passed up the chance to force the replay on the stroke of full-time when he cut out a poor pass from in the Coolera back line. Gaughan left to look on as his shot came off the outside of his boot and sailed wide.

But Tourlestrane's pressing game eventually paid off in stoppage time as Coolera were forced into heavy challenges in an effort to defend their slender lead.

Henry ensuring there would be another day out for both sets of supporters as he calmly stroked the ball over the black spot from close range. Both sides did have chances to seal their ticket to Quigabar throughout the seven minutes added time. Neary looked like he would play the super sub role on 65 but he seemed almost too relaxed as he nonchalantly fired wide from the right. While Coolera's Barry Doyle looked to have both space to run in to and men in front of him, but he decided to go for it himself from long range, only for the ball to drag well wide of the target.

Coolera/Strandhill: Kevin Kelly; Enda Mitchell (for Karol O'Neill (0-1) 20, black card) (for Shay Doherty 58), Gary Cawley, Mark Comerford; Sean Murphy, Conor McDonagh, Aaron O'Boyle; Kevin Banks, Barry Doyle; Colm Parke (1-1), Keelan Cawley, Peter Laffey; Gary Cadden, Barry O'Mahony, Niall Murphy (1-5).

Tourlestrane: Adam Broe: Cian Surlis, Barry Walsh, Brian Kennedy; Oisín Kennedy (for Colin Neary 54), Adrian McIntyre (1-0), James Leonard; Stephen Henry (for Conan Marren 51), Pat Harte (0-1); Alan Dunne (for Barry Brennan 41), Cathal Henry (0-2), Rian Kennedy (0-4) (for John Marren 56); Gary Gaughan (0-1), Liam Gaughan (0-2), Johnny Kelly.

Referee: Barry Judge.

Sligo Champion