St. James’ 2-10 Gusserane 1-10
St. James’ mixed the good with the bad in O’Kennedy Park, New Ross on Saturday on the way to securing a deserved spot in the semi-final of the Dominic Smith Electrical Senior football championship for the first time since their title-winning year of 2015.
Whether that’s a bright omen or not remains to be seen, but what cannot be disputed is that they will be going no further if they fall apart in the same manner that allowed Gusserane to come storming into the game after the interval.
St. James’ were very impressive in the opening half as they established a deserved 2-6 to 0-2 lead, with their second goal of the highest quality as it arose from two long kicks that swiftly turned defence into a devastating attack.
However, the O’Rahillys must be commended for the strength of their recovery, with the Mark Rossiter-inspired side reeling off 1-3 without reply in the first five minutes on the restart and really making a game of it right up to the very last kick.
That was in the hands of Rossiter when he had the near-impossible task of driving a close-in free past a crowded goal-line in order to secure extra-time, but the shot was beaten away and St. James’ survived.
And ultimately winning was the only concern for Mick Walsh’s charges, regardless of how it was achieved, bearing in mind they had lost an incredible five quarter-finals on the trot between 2016 and 2020.
They only survived relegation last year with a tense last-day dismissal of neighbours Horeswood, so they should be full of positivity ahead of Sunday’s semi-final showdown with Castletown – a mere fortnight after losing by six points to the same opposition in Oylegate at a stage when both were already qualified.
It mightn’t feel like it right now for the Gusserane players and mentors, but in many respects this was an excellent campaign for last year’s runners-up.
After being completely decimated by injuries and foreign travels, it was a top-notch achievement to be the first team to qualify from their tight group, with one round left to play.
And if some of those missing men are back for 2023, they will be an even tougher team to beat.
Mark O’Neill was unfortunately missing once again here after making a brief comeback against Starlights, while Graeme Cullen’s best efforts to be fully fit were also thwarted and he had to cry off.
St. James’ looked to make the most of those added difficulties as quickly as possible, and Alan Walsh forced Mark Flynn into a good smothering save in the third minute after the netminder initially got his hands to a high ball in from Kevin O’Grady.
Brian Molloy opened their account with one of his trademark points after a run from the half-backs to latch on to a Tommy Walsh handpass, before the latter doubled their lead in the seventh minute.
Left-footer Walsh added his second before a brief respite for Gusserane arrived in the form of their opening point from Tom Foran, after good work by the impressive attacking pair of Sam Wall and Mark Rossiter.
Wall quickly made it a one-point game from a Foran assist, but Gusserane shipped 2-3 without reply in the 14-plus minutes that remained until half-time to leave them in serious bother.
Mark Flynn stood up well to deny Kevin O’Grady after a long solo run by the speedy county regular, with Matthew O’Hanlon stroking over the ’45 that followed before O’Grady opened his own account for a 0-5 to 0-2 lead.
Josh White-Keating teed up Robbie Barron for a good solo point before two fine goals in the space of just 95 seconds propelled the Ramsgrange side into that massive ten-point interval lead.
A typical O’Grady run off the shoulder resulted in the opener in the 24th minute, with the only surprise being that the pass was supplied by Paul Barron who had wandered a long way beyond his own full-back line to join a lengthy spell of keep-ball.
The second goal was a cracker, and a timely reminder that there is still a role for the accurate long foot pass in the game.
Matthew O’Hanlon delivered one down the left flank for Alan Walsh, and he took a quick look over his shoulder before thumping the ball crossfield where Graeme Molloy was waiting to knock it down.
He found his intended target in Tommy Walsh, and the in-form attacker gave Mark Flynn absolutely no chance by getting in as close as he possibly could before unleashing a powerful finish (2-6 to 0-2).
Neutrals might have felt that Gusserane were dead and buried, but any notions to that effect were quickly dispelled on the restart.
Mark Rossiter was the main man in their revival, posing major problems first for Robbie Barron and later for his brother, Jason.
The Gusserane captain had a big role in all four scores that brought his team to life, with a point after a one-two with Tom Foran, another after a trip on Eoin Ryan, and then the pass for Sam Wall to make it 2-6 to 0-5, before the arrival of the goal.
Rossiter showed a human side with a missed free, but he latched on to the kick-out and fed Adrian Flynn – who had advanced from his sweeping duties – for a coolly-taken goal that reduced arrears to a mere four points.
When St. James’ needed a steadying influence, Matthew O’Hanlon provided it as he earned a free that O’Grady converted for their first point of the half after nine trying minutes (2-7 to 1-5).
Gusserane continued to grow in confidence all the same, with a Rossiter brace setting up the type of intriguing last quarter that hadn’t looked to be on the cards at half-time.
Rossiter was fouled, and he played the free to Sam Wall who narrowed the gap to two, but again O’Hanlon stood tall and pointed via a post from a Colum Fitzgerald off-load.
The long-time county hurler was impeded once more, and Kevin O’Grady did the needful for a 2-9 to 1-8 lead.
Aidan Shannon (twice) and Tommy Walsh had shots bravely blocked by some heroic defending in the same passage, before O’Hanlon sent over the ’45 that followed for the last St. James’ point.
They still had ten scoreless minutes to endure though, with Cillian Kehoe and Adrian Redmond pulling back Gusserane points before that defiant stand from Rossiter’s late free bridged a seven-year gap since their last semi-final appearance.
St. James’: John Ryan; Jason Barron (capt.), Paul Barron, Josh White-Keating; Darragh Lyons, Robbie Barron (0-1), Brian Molloy (0-1); Matthew O’Hanlon (0-3, 2 ’45s), Colum Fitzgerald; Alan Walsh, Kevin O’Grady (1-3, 0-2 frees), Tommy Barron; Aidan Shannon, Graeme Molloy, Tommy Walsh (1-2). Subs. – Darragh McPhillips for A. Walsh (45), Brendan Doyle for Lyons (58).
Gusserane: Mark Flynn; Adrian Redmond (0-1), Jamie Sheehan, Jack O’Connor; Cormac Kiely, Gavin Sheehan, Eoin Ryan; Cillian Kehoe (0-1), Ciarán Conway; Jack Burford, Tom Foran (0-1), Emmet Cullen; Adrian Flynn (1-0), Sam Wall (0-3), Mark Rossiter (capt., 0-4, 1 free). Sub. – Shane Culleton for A. Flynn, inj. (47).
Referee: Justin Heffernan (Blackwater).