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Thursday 21 November 2019

Character aplenty

GAA: AIB Leinster club intermediate football championship - Ballynacargy 0-12, An Tochar 1-7

Brendan Lawrence at Lakepoint Park

An Tochar manager Shay Cullen praised the 'character' of his football team after their two-point defeat to Westmeath side Ballynacargy and anyone who was present in Mullingar to see the battle that unfolded would most certainly concur with his sentiments.

The Roundwood side showed huge character in the face of a strong Ballynacargy outfit, some really questionable refereeing decisions and the absence of some key players and should really have left the St Loman's home ground with victory had some decisions went their way.

However, the distinct impression felt when leaving the Mullingar venue was that while there was disappointment with the loss, the fact that all players emerged unscathed from the battle and that all players fronted up when required will surely send them into their Junior 'A' football final replay with Blessington this weekend in a positive mindset.

This was a thoroughly entertaining affair in a sunkissed Mullingar. An Tochar started really brightly despite an early scare that was taken care of by the excellent Peter Byrne. A long ball from William Halligan was plucked from the sky by Oisin Cullen who turned and fired over a sweet opening score.

Ballynacargy looked useful early on with some capable physical specimens around the field especially up the spine of the team with Eoin Nally, Cathal Burke, Troy Maher and Dwayne Maher looking like they could easily moonlight as doormen in their spare time.

The home side opened up a 0-3 to 0-1 lead after seven minutes with points from Declan McGuinness after a foul on Troy Maher, wearing 11 but playing full-forward, Danny Scally, and a very useful looking Ryan Maher.

But An Tochar settled and began to play football. Oisin Cullen was deployed inside and was causing problems while Gavin Fogarty was making himself very useful in the half-forward line while Stephen Connor was putting his quality man-marking skills to good use in the half-back line.

Gavin Fogarty bagged An Tochar's second after he won a Ballynacargy kick-out and drive forward before being fouled before points from Ger Byren and Eamon Wolohan pushed the Roundwood men ahead at 0-4 to 0-3.

Ryan Maher brought a savage save out of Peter Byrne soon after while corner-back and former Kilbride footballer Pat Donohoe thwarted Gary Keena from the resulting 45 but all An Tochar could register from the following attack was a wide after Oisin Cullen was almost put through on goal.

A long Ballynacargy free that should have been gathered and cleared by An Tochar was dropped and collected by Dwayne Maher who hoisted over a levelling score but a strong few minutes from An Tochar saw them surge 0-7 to 0-4 ahead with points from Gavin Fogarty, Peter Byrne from a 45, and Brendan Swords with the fist moments after referee David Fedigan from Louth caused outrage on both sidelines as he first sent off Declan McGuinness for what seem a very harmless incident only for him then to dispatch An Tochar's Ciaran Byrne to the line for a slightly late follow through that would have warranted a yellow at best at first viewing.

At the death of the first half, the Louth official done himself no favours with Shay Cullen and the An Tochar crowd when a blatant foot block by goalkeeper Darrell Connolly on Cian McHugh went totally unpunished and the resulting 45 was gathered by the netminder and the half-time whistle sounded.

Playing against the wind and with more space to fill was always going to present the An Tochar lads with a stiff challenge.

The Co. Wicklow side had chances in the early period of the second half but could only register two wides and watch as one shot came back off the upright and another was gathered by Connolly in the Ballynacargy goal.

The Westmeath outfit were growing in confidence. They had two wides, struck the post and the crossbar and had chances cleared by Peter Byrne and the sweeping Cian McHugh before they finally fired over a fine score from a Dwayne Maher free after 11 minutes.

Sensing the tide turning, An Tochar started preparing Brendan Kennedy for the fray but within minutes the Westmeath men were level at 0-7 apiece and the volume of noise from their supporters rose continuously.

In came Kennedy and he launched himself into the Ballynacargy defence with a surging run before feeding Oisin Cullen who fired low and hard to the bottom of the net for a massively uplifting goal after 16 minutes.

Ballynacargy attacked immediately and Troy Maher fired over. Centre back Cathal Burke was switched with Gary Fagan at full-back and Burke, although not impressed in the slightest at the move, retreated and performed admirably.

Troy Maher floated over a huge 45 and Dwayne Maher sent over a stunning point to level the game at 1-7 to 0-10 and An Tochar needed something huge, and quick.

Up and down the field they went, probing and jousting but it was Ballynacargy who struck for the lead score through a humdinger of a Dwayne Maher free.

An Tochar threw the lot at the home side, seeking an equaliser of better. Brendan Kennedy took a Ger Byrne pass and surged forward but his sweetly struck effort drifted across the face of the goal and was gathered by an An Tochar man who looked to be clear of the small square but the referee sounded the whistle for that exact infringement and Ballynacargy surged up the field where Troy Maher put the icing on the cake with a fine score.

'I'm really proud of the performance. It was a great performance,' was how An Tochar manager Shay Cullen reacted to his side's defeat after the final whistle of the AIB Leinster Club Junior Football Championship clash with Westmeath's Ballynacargy in Lakepoint Park in Mullingar last Saturday afternoon.

'We went into the game leaving off Brendan Kennedy, Conor Davis Stefan Collier, three of our top players, and we brought in a few replacements and I thought they all done really well. There were a few decisions - I'm sure they'll have a similar view - but there were a few decisions that went against us. I felt we should have had a penalty just before half-time when there was what I would call a very questionable tackle by their keeper which I was really disappointed with. It was a really dangerous tackle. We got nothing out of that and that could have changed things.

'We fought very well. We were in the game up until the last few minutes. There was another questionable decision at the other end where the umpire didn't even wave it wide and we had possession of the ball and the referee took the decision to award a kick-out or a free or whatever it was. I was a bit surprised at that.

'Look, these decisions can sometimes go with you and sometimes go against you. I know, I think they hit the post with one shot.

'These things level themselves out but by and large I'm happy to come out of that with what we got out of it, especially leading into next week's replay. Happy with the general performance, and three or four more lads got a start today and took their opportunity,' he said.

Cullen said that his players showed massive character in the game.

'There's one thing we can never question about these lads, and that's their character. We've been written off so many times this year, but every time they keep coming back for more. And you either have character or you don't, you can't teach it. That's one of the things I'm happy about with these players, they've got character in abundance.

'It looked like a shoulder (the incident that led to the red card for Ciaran Byrne). They had a straight red before that, and it was probably levelling it up a little bit. Their player made the most of it. At the end of the day we'll have to dust ourselves down and go again next week,' he added.

What about the injuries to key men heading into the Junior 'A' football final this weekend with Blessington?

'I'm not confident. We've had hamstrings and knee injuries there, they're slow healing injuries. We'll just have to assess it and see how it goes during the week and try and get recovery in over the next few days.

'But look, it's fantastic. We're heading into November and we're still playing football. I'm sure it was an enjoyable game for anyone who was there. We're happy enough,' he added.

Scorers - Ballynacargy: Dwayne Maher 0-5 (4f), Troy Maher 0-3 (1 45), Ryan Maher 0-2, Declan McGuinness 0-1, Danny Scally 0-1.

An Tochar: Oisin Cullen 1-1, Gavin Fogarty 0-2 (2f), Ger Byrne 0-1, Eamon Wolohan 0-1, Peter Byrne 0-1 (45), Brendan Swords 0-1.

An Tochar: Peter Byrne; Pat Donohoe, Gavin Kenny, Seán Davis; Eoin Murphy, Ger Byrne, Stephen Connor; William Halligan, Ciarán Byrne; Eamon Wolohan, Oisín Cullen, Gavin Fogarty; Cián McHugh, Liam Kenna, Brendan Swords. Subs: Brendan Kennedy for B Swords (46), Colm O'Brien, Enda Kavanagh for L Kenna (55).

Ballynacargy: Darrell Connolly; John Keena, Eoin Nally, Conor Keena; Gary Fagan, Cathal Burke, Declan McGuinness; Timmy Mescall, Ronan Burke; Danny Scally, Troy Maher, Jack Penrose; Ryan Maher, Dwayne Maher, Gary Keena. Subs: Darragh Keenan for G Keena (41).

Referee: David Fedigan (Louth)

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