Decider against Ballinacor takes place in Aughrim on Saturday
It took Rathnew two bites of the cherry to make the Finnegan Cup final after they were held to a draw last Friday night in Greystones, before getting the job done in convincing fashion on Monday in Ashford.
The Villagers will face Ballinacor in the decider at Aughrim on Saturday at 3.30pm after the Glenmalure men were given a walkover by Blessington in the other semi-final.
A second-half Daire Devine goal was the inspiration behind Greystones’ comeback to salvage a draw in the first game, as they came back from four points down to set up the replay; the lack of floodlights prevented the match from going to extra-time as it would have.
Up to that point, Rathnew had led throughout, only falling behind once in the first half.
It took them six minutes to take that lead, before which they registered three consecutive wides while assuming territorial superiority. In the end, however, John Healy put them in front with a pointed 45, only for Greystones to go up the other end and equalise through Eoghan Ó Longaigh.
After both sides traded scores, Éire Óg took their one and only lead on 11 minutes through an Ó Longaigh free. That one-point advantage was reinforced with another score, this time from Brandon Byrne, to give them a two-point cushion.
They wouldn’t get another score in the first half, however. In the meantime, Rathnew rattled off four without reply. Three quickfire scores from the ever-reliable Mark Doyle – two of which being frees – put them back in front, before James Hunter sent them into the break leading 0-6 to 0-4.
That score was, of course, set up by Mark Doyle, who led the late first-half comeback with his left-footed prowess, while Gary Byrne provided the foundation at centre-back and Jordan Graham was a tireless workhorse at full-forward.
They carried that momentum into the second half, with Doyle once again stepping up with a score to put them three-points to the good. However, there was more intensity, purpose, and aggression to what Eire Og were doing going forward, as they progressively capitalised on a Rathnew side that grew somewhat complacent as the game wore on.
However, Greystones were unable to capitalise on that change in intensity at first. Their first point of the half did not arrive until 42 minutes in. Up to then, they hit four wides, while Rathnew extended their lead to four points through a John Healy 45.
Even when they did get their first point of the half through David Prendergast, Rathnew responded through Ronan Doyle to keep the gap at four points.
On 48 minutes, the game took a twist which dragged Eire Og back into the game. Throughout the half, Rathnew were getting sloppier and more conservative with ball in hand, while Greystones, encouraged by this, were putting more intent and belief into every tackle.
This all manifested in the game’s only goal of the evening. After John Healy was turned over in midfield on the right-hand side, Eire Og countered rapidly. When they reached the Rathnew goalmouth, it was left to Daire Devine to ruthlessly dispatch the shot beyond the helpless Peter Dignam.
All of a sudden, with 12 minutes left to play, there was just a point in it and Éire Óg were in the ascendancy. The pressure on the Rathnew kick-out was relentless, with each shot kick plagued by pressure.
And yet, Rathnew were able to get out of their own half for long enough to get their final score of the day, and a crucial insurance one at that, with Mark Doyle – who else? – claiming it.
Undeterred, Greystones bounced back and finally equalised with just two minutes left to play. First, Billy Cuddihy made it a one-point game yet again, before Jack Mockler found his way up from corner-back equalised with a sensational score from the guts of 45m out.
Ironically, despite being second-best for much of the second half, Rathnew could well have stolen the win deep in injury-time, when Jordan Graham turned on his heels and kicked for the posts, but for it to drift out to the right, much to the forward’s disappointment, as he slumped to the ground when the final whistle finally blew.
Unfortunately, the game was unable to go to extra-time, as the malfunctioning floodlights prevented it from continuing. The two sides did finally meet on Monday night, with Rathnew booking their place in the final, winning convincingly by 2-15 to 0-4.
Rathnew: Peter Dignam; Eric Doyle, Paddy Keogh, Fionn O’Sullivan; Killian Klarke, Gary Byrne, Jamie O’Connor; John Healy (0-2 45), Darragh Hosey; Ronan Doyle (0-1), Paul Merrigan, Dean Breen; Mark Doyle (0-5, 2f), Jordan Graham (0-1f), James Hunter (0-1).
Éire Óg: Conor Browne; Jack Mockler (0-1), Conor Nolan, Andy Clarke; Luke Prendergast, Daire Devine (1-1), David Prendergast (0-1); Dan Clarke, Billy Cuddihy (0-1); Brandon Byrne (0-1), Eoghain Ó Longaigh (0-2, 1f), Will Dalton; Nathan Unwin, Sean Lawless, Eoin McTague.
Referee: Darragh Byrne