Jake hits hat-trick, but last-gasp block secures victory
Blessington 3-7 AGB 2-8
A JAKE O’KELLY hat-trick and a last-second block from Liam Phibbs proved crucial as Blessington won the Macra na Feirme Cup against Arklow Geraldines-Ballymoney on Thursday night in Ballinakill.
Leading by ten points at one point, Blessington were dragged right back into the game by a ferociously spirited AGB outfit in a tense, high-temperature clash. However, Phibbs’ invaluable block on the goalline saved the win for the men from the west.
While entertaining, the game was also one peppered with less-than-quality shooting from both sides.
Blessington were the superior side for the entirety of the first-half, and would lead by 2-5 to 0-4 at the break to show for it, but they still spurned a litany of chances, registering 11 wides.
Nonetheless, they did take enough of their chances to forge a sizeable lead over Arklow. Lucas and Danielius Sarkauskas, in particular, were excellent, providing dynamism, width, and energy in the wide areas.
The latter did get involved in the game’s first major flashpoint towards the end of the half, when Arklow’s Luke Delaney went down off the ball.
However, referee Con Keddy was facing the action and did not see whatever it was that happened, and with the absence of line officials, there was nothing he could reasonably do.
Blessington did rack up an early 0-4 to 0-1 lead in the first-half, but their wastefulness in front of the posts kept the door open for Arklow, who brought the scores back to four points apiece through Daniel Boyle and Jason Redmond (two).
After another Blessington wide, they fired the first major across the bow. An Arklow kick-out was plucked out of the air by Lucas Sarkauskas. From there, all he had to do was square to the waiting Jake O’Kelly, who scored his and the game’s first goal.
One goal became two shortly thereafter. Once again, Lucas Sarkauskas was involved, as he defied the strapping on his knee to put on an efficient, industrious performance in the first-half.
He won possession back near the left-hand touchline and moved it onto Sean Byrne, who would leave an indelible mark on the game.
He dropped a high ball into the square. Arklow goalkeeper Sean Murphy hesitated to go for the ball, O’Kelly didn’t, as he punched the ball into the back of the net to double his personal tally.
Arklow, who grew into the game as the half wore on, had a goal ruled out late on, when a kick pass down the left was seized upon by Joe McGeary, who stroked in. Con Keddy gave a free out for a push, instead. Blessington went into the break leading by seven – 2-5 to 0-4 – rather than four.
Arklow introduced Oran Kelly at half-time for Mark Fitzgerald, but it was Blessington who kicked on after the break.
Gavin Murray, who was far more commanding in the middle of the field when the second-half became more of a war of attrition, kicked the ball down the left-hand channel into Jake O’Kelly. He did the rest, carrying the ball inside and clinically dispatching into the back of the net to complete a sensational hat-trick.
At ten points down, the game should have been done and dusted for Blessington. The opposite proved to be the case.
It helped that, on 36 minutes, they arrested the deficit back to seven points when Sean Byrne pushed Sean MacCarthy over for a penalty.
Tom Connors stepped up and fired the ball into the bottom corner. To be fair to Arklow, given the position they found themselves in following O’Kelly’s goal, and perhaps because of perceived injustice concerning the Luke Delaney incident and disallowed goal, they approached the remainder of the game with defiance.
They got their second goal when Joe McGeary stabbed home following good football down the right-hand side.
There was momentary confusion when the ball appeared to go through the net, but the goal was quickly awarded.
All of a sudden, the gap was back to just three points and Blessington’s wastefulness in the first-half threatened to come back to bite them on the rear end.
Blessington reasserted their four-point advantage in contentious fashion. Arklow won a foul in their own territory.
However, following some ill-tempered afters, a throw-up was awarded.
Blessington promptly turned the ball back over and Sean Byrne put the ball over the bar.
Arklow kept coming as the game ticked into its dying embers. Jason Redmond reduced the gap to within a goal and they went about drawing themselves level by throwing the kitchen sink and then some at the Blessington rearguard.
Another AGB free was fired at goal by Tom Connors, but it was blocked away.
That wasn’t the most dramatic block, however. That came minutes later, when Daniel Boyle smashed the ball towards goal. Barry Behan desperately dived to his left, expecting it to come through the crowd. Instead, Liam Phibbs stook an arm up and flicked it over the bar.
Cue heads in hands on the AGB touchline and relieved proclamations on the Blessington side.
The final whistle blew moments later and the cup was heading west.
Blessington: Barry Behan; Liam Phibbs, Stephen Flanagan, Killian Bailey; James Dooley, Glen Farrell, Killian O’Connell; Gavin Murray (0-1), David Phibbs; Danielius Sarkauskas, Jake O’Kelly (3-0), Lucas Sarkauskas (0-2); Robbie Richardson, Sean Byrne (0-2), Conor Dolan (0-2). Subs: Sean Mescal for D. Sarkauskas (48).
Arklow Geraldines-Ballymoney: Sean Murphy; Eoin Byrne, Luke Delaney, Luke Cummins; Oran Dunning (0-1), Sean MacCarthy, Niall Higgins; Richie Neary, Daniel Boyle (0-2); Padraic Birmingham, Joe McGeary (1-1), Mark Fitzgerald (0-1); Cian McBride, Tom Connors (1-0 pen), Jason Redmond (0-3). Subs: Oran Kelly for C. McBride (HT), Donal O’Keeffe for S. MacCarthy (48, inj)
Referee: Con Keddy.