Gary's wonder strike secures win for Village
Group 1 of the Boom and Platform Hire Senior Football Championship: Rathnew 1-11 Tinahely 1-10
Gary Byrne broke a car window in Donegal when he pointed from over 80 yards out for the Wicklow hurlers a few months back and he broke Tinahely hearts in Aughrim last Saturday when he galloped half the pitch before firing a screamer past Alan Nolan for the score that secured a magical victory for Rathnew after a humdinger of a battle in Group 1 of the Boom and Platform Hire Senior Football Championship.
It's when Rathnew are looking at their most vulnerable that they can hurt you the most, and with five minutes to go in Aughrim, down to 14, having lost their talismanic Ross O'Brien to a very serious injury and having fielded without the likes of Leighton Glynn and JT Hayden, they looked in serious trouble at the hands of Alan Costello's Tinahely. Those kinds of disadvantages, however, are music to Gary Byrne's ears.
They're down by a point. Peter Dignam hoofs out the kick-out, down on top of the double marked James Stafford. Ball breaks to Gary Byrne who exchanges a one-two with Danny Staunton and off he goes towards the Rednagh Hill end like a greyhound in hot pursuit of a juicy hare. Conor Hatton is flat out behind him but there's no way he's going to stop the dual star from unleashing a rocket off his right that flies past the outstretched Alan Nolan and comes to rest in the back of the Tinahely net as the Rathnew supporters and sideline erupt in celebration.
Tony Darcy would return us to a one-point game from a free with three to go but Byrne's goal would be the difference, serving to knock the stuffing out of a Tinahely challenge that came so close to recording a memorable victory over Harry Murphy's side.
The result sees Alan Costello's men sitting in third spot in the Group 1 table with AGB on top through score difference and Rathnew placed snugly in second. Tricky enough contests await both sides in the remaining two fixtures but all three of the aforementioned teams will likely qualify out of this group, although that will very much depend on how Tinahely respond to this defeat when they take to the field against a rapidly recovering Kiltegan side who took care of a depleted Newtown side last weekend and who will ask questions of Alan Costello's men.
Rathnew face Hollywood and Kiltegan in their last two games. The loss of Ross O'Brien will be damaging to their prospects of stopping Pat's marching to another Miley, but it would be a major shock if the Village outfit didn't emerge from this group given their battling qualities. No better teams than Hollywood and Kiltegan to tear up that script given half a chance all the same.
Where did it go wrong for Tinahely? Most certainly the controversial incident where referee John O'Brien didn't award a penalty for what looked to be a foul on Rory Stokes in the Rathnew square has featured hugely in the autopsy that has taken place in the days following the game. Had it been given and had Tinahely converted they would have levelled the game and most likely went into the half-time break leading rather than trailing.
Tinahely supporters will also point to a number of other decisions but, likewise, Rathnew - and every other team that plays championship football - could do the same. Why the free to Rathnew was allowed after Mark Doyle had reacted having been fouled by Willie Dillon and was shown a red card was a puzzling one; and the Village bagged a point from that situation.
But the simple fact of the matter is that Tinahely couldn't put a wounded Rathnew away when they had the chance. Lining out without Leighton Glynn and JT Hayden and losing full-forward Mark Doyle to that red after just nine minutes of the game and then Ross O'Brien to injury early in the second half suggested that this was going to be one of those nightmare days for Rathnew. But when the odds are stacked against the Village there's no better team to come out fighting with every single fibre of their being. And that's exactly what they did.
The failure of Tinahely to get more ball to Eoin Darcy was a major factor in the outcome of this game. The lethal attacker had the upper hand in a significant way on the Rathnew defence and all he needed was a better supply of ball. The marking job by David Jameson on Paddy O'Rourke when the Tinahely speedster started to make a major impression on the game robbed Alan Costello's men of a vital supply route.
The threat of Mark Doyle in front of the Tinahely goal saw Willie Dillon deployed in his full-back line to guard against 'Yaboah' raising green flags. The dominance and sheer class of James Stafford at midfield saw Tinahely double mark him under the kick-outs, but it would have little impact on the fine fielding of 'Staff' over the course of this game.
Rathnew hit the ground running and had four points on the board before Tinahely got off the mark after 14 minutes through Noel Mulhall - Mark Doyle, Nicky Mernagh, James Stafford, and Eddie Doyle (free) all raising white flags for Harry Murphy's men.
Prior to Mulhall's point, Tinahely registered two wides and had failed miserably to pick out Eoin Darcy with a single decent ball. Rathnew had lost Mark Doyle to the red card after nine when the Rathnew full-forward appeared to strike Willie Dillon with his knee as he got back to his feet. Curtis Keating was deployed as the free man.
A Ross O'Brien point after 15 was followed by a Paddy O'Rourke point following a scintillating burst up the field from the Tinahely man. He is without a shadow of a doubt the fastest man in Wicklow club football and should certainly be considered for county duty whenever a new manager getting his first list of recruits down on paper given his pace and what he brings to the game.
The game saw seven wides recorded in the next few minutes, four for Rathnew, three for Tinahely, before Eoin Darcy collected the first top quality ball and split the posts with 24 minutes on the clock.
James Stafford off his left after 26 made it double scores at 0-6 to 0-3 before Eoin Darcy pointed a free after a foul by Gary Byrne on Rory Stokes.
A mark from James Stafford allowed the midfielder pick out Nicky Mernagh with a ball and Mernagh dropped over a beauty to send the Village in leading by three at 0-7 to 0-4 at the break with a huge half of football to come with Tinahely shooting into the dressing room end and with an extra man in their ranks.
Harry Murphy sent in Paul Ellis for Jack Healy and Ronan Manley for Warren Kavanagh at the break while Tony Darcy entered the fray for James Hedderman on the Tinahely side while Eoin Darcy was pulled out from goal in a bid to bring the talented attacker more into the game in the second half.
Within five minutes Tinahely led by a point following an Eoin Darcy point and a wicked goal by Willie Quaile after sweet feet from Darcy took him around the Rathnew defence. Rathnew's Ross O'Brien injured himself as he tried to disrupt that move and the game was held up for well over an hour before it was decided that the Rathnew defender, clearly in serious pain, could be moved off the field to await the arrival of the ambulance. O'Brien received a warm round of applause as he departed and all Wicklow GAA supporters would hope for nothing but the best for the dedicated and talented defender in his recovery. Sam O'Dowd took his place.
The break didn't seem to have harmed Tinahely as they pushed on with two points, one from Tony Darcy, the other from Willie Quaile, to see them leading by 1-7 to 0-7 after seven minutes of the second half.
Overcarrying in the Tinahely defence left Eddie Doyle with a chance from a free and he took it before Graham Merrigan fired over off the left after a fine gallop up the field to close within one of Tinahely.
Another Tony Darcy point seemed to settle Tinahely but Danny Staunton, who had worked tirelessly all day for the red and green, popped up with an important score after 40 minutes played.
Eoin Darcy from a free opened up the lead to two points before a mark from Jamie Snell resulted in Eddie Doyle picking out Sam O'Dowd for a vital score with 12 to go.
James Stafford was navigating his way to the edge of the Tinahely square every now and again at this stage as they went in search of a major to give them a lifeline while Tinahely spurned a number of chances for points as the clocked reached 25 minutes.
And then Gary Byrne stepped up. A searing run, an unstoppable shot and pure delirium among the Village faithful. Could Tinahely recover?
Tony Darcy pointed from a free to leave just one between the teams but that was as close as Tinahely could get and the final whistle brought cheers and pure delight to the Rathnew players and sideline with the substitutes and mentors enjoying the victory immensely and taking great pleasure in showing that joy to the Tinahely supporters on the bank.
In the overall context of the championship, Gary Byrne's goal could be huge. The big question now is how do Tinahely react. It's abundantly clear they have the talent at their disposal to have a major say in this championship. Can they push on and qualify?
The loss of Ross O'Brien will be felt in Rathnew but there's no better side to rally and recover than the Village so expect them to have a huge say as usual in the destiny of the Miley Cup.
Scorers - Rathnew: Gary Byrne 1-0, Eddie Doyle 0-2 (2f), Nicky Mernagh 0-2, James Stafford 0-2, Ross O'Brien 0-1, Danny Staunton 0-1, Graham Merrigan 0-1, Mark Doyle 0-1, Sam O'Dowd 0-1.
Tinahely: Eoin Darcy 0-4 (2f), Willie Quaile 1-1, Tony Darcy 0-3 (1f), Noel Mulhall 0-1, Paddy O'Rourke 0-1.
Rathnew: Peter Dignam; Jamie Snell, Paul Merrigan, David Jameson; Gary Byrne, Ross O'Brien, Warren Kavanagh; James Stafford, Theo Smyth; Danny Staunton, Graham Merrigan, Nicky Mernagh; Eddie Doyle, Mark Doyle, Jack Healy. Subs: Paul Ellis for J Healy, Ronan Manley for W Kavanagh, Sam O'Dowd for R O'Brien, Ronan Doyle for P Ellis, Luke Corcoran for D Jameson
Tinahely: Alan Nolan; Conor Hatton, Michael Byrne, James Hedderman; Noel Mulhall, Curtis Keating, John Blake; Stephen Dillon, Willie Dillon; Rory Stokes, Jason Cush, Eoin Darcy; Paddy O'Rourke, Eoghan Byrne, Willie Quaile. Subs: Tony Darcy for J Hedderman, Kevin Mulhall for J Blake, James Tyrrell for C Keating
Referee: John O'Brien (Newcastle)