Shelmaliers 3-11 Starlights 0-5
Shelmaliers showed exactly why they remain firm favourites to retain their Dominic Smith Electrical Senior football championship crown with this easier than expected quarter-final success over a very disappointing Starlights side under the Bree floodlights on Friday.
The titleholders started like a whirlwind and had 2-2 chalked up without reply by the 14th minute, with an early penalty miss not hampering them in any way as they waltzed to victory.
On the face of it, this looked like it might be a tricky assignment for the black and ambers. Quite apart from the notion that champions are often most vulnerable at this stage of a knockout series, there was the more practical reminder that Starlights won a semi-final thriller after extra-time when the sides last met two years ago before adding the county title.
The Enniscorthy men retained the vast majority of that team, with only three of the 2020 starters not featuring at some stage on Friday: Kevin Foley, James Peare and Pa Doyle, who was among the substitutes on the eve of his marriage to Angela Russell.
And while their group stage form had been patchy, there was still nothing to suggest that they would be so completely out of their depth that just one of their five paltry points would arrive from play.
That was an exquisite effort from the left peg of Ricky Fox in the 19th minute, but it had taken them that long to register and they were already eight points behind at the time.
Starlights were simply blown away by the power and pace of the Shels, who really know how to hurt teams inclined to give the ball away cheaply around the middle third of the field.
That happened all too often on Friday, while the losers were also far too slow to build attacks on the rare occasions when they did get their hands on the leather for a sustained period.
A couple of late bursts from midfield by Eoghan Nolan – going as hard in the 60th minute as in the first – were indicative of how the Shels played at a considerably higher tempo than their outclassed rivals.
And while the addition of Eoghan O’Gara has naturally been a big talking point and a huge plus, one of the best things going for the reigning champions right now is that they’re not reliant on him to be the main man in every game.
He’s simply one of several essential cogs in a very smooth-running machine, and if anything the players around him have upped their own contributions rather than looking to the multiple All-Ireland medal winner to take on an excess of individual responsibility.
The game was just over three minutes old when Conor Hearne soloed in from the right and was taken down for a penalty by Jack Kelly, who was sent for an early break in the sin-bin as a result. Netminder Craig McCabe was summoned downfield but stroked his low spot-kick to the left and wide, although the miss didn’t upset the Shels in any way.
They opened their account in the ninth minute when Aaron Murphy supplied the last pass for Eoghan Nolan to rattle the net at the end of a flowing team move that the scorer had also played a part in earlier.
That was only the start of it, because an additional 1-2 was shipped by the Starlights before centre-back Kelly was able to re-enter the fray.
Nolan and O’Gara picked off points before Conor Hearne found the advancing Simon Donohoe, and his handpass across goal was put on a plate for Brian Malone to palm in (2-2 to nil).
It was 2-5 to 0-2 by half-time, with Fox eventually getting Starlights off the mark before another long barren spell of almost 15 minutes until goalkeeper Anthony Larkin nailed a free in additional time.
Glen Malone had converted two frees in between, and Tony Smith’s last act before his interval substitution was to extend the margin to nine points from an O’Gara lay-off.
His replacement, Eoin Doyle, was the first to register on the restart after a Glen Malone free rebounded off a post, and Conor Hearne then made it 2-7 to 0-2 as Starlights could only put up weak resistance.
All three of their second-half points were registered in a row between the 39th and 45th minutes, a trio of converted frees from Alan Tobin that made no appreciable difference to the contest.
Nick Doyle had been moved to full-forward at the start of the second-half, but the service was poor to say the least and Shelmaliers remained in total control.
The strength of their bench is another big plus for the holders, and Paul Hearne became the second new arrival to score from his first touch in the 48th minute – a pass from his brother, Conor.
He also netted from his team’s second penalty award to make it 3-9 to 0-5, with Ben Edwards collecting a black card for pulling down Brian Malone after a defence-splitting Eoghan Nolan run was followed by an Aaron Murphy handpass into the veteran’s path.
Conor Hearne and another substitute, Páraic O’Leary, added late points for the Shels, who have now won all eleven of their domestic outings since that semi-final setback to Starlights two years ago.
The clubs have clearly moved in opposite directions since, because this was the losers’ second successive quarter-final exit after going down to HWH-Bunclody by one point in 2021.
Shelmaliers: Craig McCabe; Ross Banville, James Cash (capt.), Andre O’Brien; Glen Malone (0-3 frees), Graham Staples, Simon Donohoe; Seán Keane-Carroll, Eoghan Nolan (1-1); Jody Donohoe, Brian Malone (1-0), Conor Hearne (0-2); Tony Smith (0-1), Eoghan O’Gara (0-1), Aaron Murphy. Subs. – Eoin Doyle (0-1) for Smith (HT), Paul Hearne (1-1, 1-0 pen.) for J. Donohoe (46), Páraic O’Leary (0-1) for O’Gara (53), Mark Power for Murphy (55), Dan Campbell for O’Brien (55).
Starlights: Anthony Larkin (0-1 free); Rory O’Connor (capt.), Ben Edwards, Mel Doyle; Dillon Redmond, Jack Kelly, Nathan O’Connor; Liam Ryan, Nick Doyle; Oisín Pepper, Ryan Mahon, Craig Foley; Dylan McVeigh, Ricky Fox (0-1), Alan Tobin (0-3 frees). Subs. – Conor Farrell for Redmond, inj. (42), Darragh Pepper for Fox (42), Lenny Connolly for Foley (43), Bill Peare for O. Pepper (49), Jordan Petticrew for McVeigh (60+2). Sin-bin: Jack Kelly (4), Ben Edwards (52).
Referee: Jimmy Heavey (Geraldine O’Hanrahans).