Late Byrne strike sees 'Dales triumph over Rathnew
Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Avondale 1-15 Rathnew1-14
Avondale full-forward Conor Byrne became the hero of the day when he knocked home an Avondale goal four minutes from the end of the second half of extra time in their drawn Senior football championship quarter-final played at Aughrim on Sunday last.
Rathnew had brought the game to extra-time when Theo Smyth rescued them with a fine point from a '45' to push the game into two ten-minute periods of extra-time.
Byrne's goal put the Dales three points ahead but they still had to survive a nail-biting last few minutes as the Rathnew men battled to close the gap and had pulled back two points before the final whistle brought scenes of great jubilation from Avondale players, officials and supporters alike.
They now move on to the semi-final where they will encounter the champions St Patricks.
Ross Ward was a change from the Avondale selected side, coming in instead of Shane Beavor.
This meant that Eugene Dunne dropped back to defence and Ward took on a roving commission up front.
Likewise, Rathnew had a change from the start with J T Hayden coming in at centre back and Warren Kavanagh moving to the wing in place of Ronan Manley.
Graham Merrigan got the Rathnew men off the mark straight from the throw in with a point in their first attack.
Lively Dales' full-forward Conor Byrne leveled two minutes later and Ross Ward put the Avondale men ahead as we approached five minutes.
Eddie Doyle leveled from a free, centre back Eoin Baker put the Dales ahead again and once again Rathnew full-forward Nicky Mernagh made it all square at 0-3 apiece after ten minutes.
The game was being played at a lively pace with Avondale running hard at Rathnew at every opportunity.
Half-backs Eoin Baker and Dean Gahan were getting forward while Oisin McGraynor's strong running was causing problems on the right wing.
A great battle was developing at midfield between James Stafford and Barry Sheehan with the big Avondale man breaking the ball at every opportunity to combat the Rathnew man's renowned aerial prowess.
Another Eddie Doyle free restored Rathnew to the lead. Nicky Mernagh began to move out the field to get on more ball and he struck a big blow when he got on the end of a passing movement to punch home a Rathnew goal after 13 minutes.
Rathnew were now four ahead but Avondale reacted calmly and gradually reeled the Rathnew men back in over the next ten minutes.
Zach Cullen pointed and centre back Eoin Baker scored his second point to further reduce the gap.
Peter Dignam in the Rathnew net effected a great block on a Conor McGraynor goal effort from close range.
Conor Byrne reduced the gap to a point at the 20-minute stage and made the match all square at 1-4 to 0-7 three minutes later.
Nicky Mernagh lifted the siege for Rathnew and put his side back ahead with a fine score five minutes from the break.
However, Conor McGraynor brought the sides level again when he scored a mighty point from distance to leave the half-time at 1-5 to 0-8.
The first half had been full of exciting championship fervour played at a fast pace.
An Eddie Doyle free put Rathnew back ahead after half time but points from Ross Ward (free) and David Baker edged the Dales in front again.
Nicky Mernagh, who had a really fine game for Rathnew, put the red and green back on level terms after 12 minutes.
They were back ahead again at the three-quarter stage when Danny Staunton pointed.
When James Stafford, now operating at full-forward, scored two great points off his left foot it pushed Rathnew out to a goal ahead.
This was a significant lead coming into the final ten minutes but Avondale did not panic.
They continued their hard running game and Ross Ward pointed a free.
Oisin McGraynor pointed another free and when Ward again pointed a further free with six minutes left on the clock it was all square again at 1-10 to 0-13.
This game was going down to the wire and the odds on a draw were shortening quickly.
However, Dean Gahan had other ideas and his point with two minutes to go left Rathnew in a battle to save the game.
Battle they did and Theo Smyth came up trumps with a '45' two minutes into added time.
We now faced into two periods of extra-time. Conor McGraynor moved to midfield for the restart and won the throw in.
The ball was worked to Conor Byrne and the Dales went ahead again.
Once again Nicky Mernagh stepped up to the plate and brought Rathnew level after five minutes.
There was no further score in this period as the score stood at 1-12 to 0-15 at the beginning of the second period. Once again Conor McGraynor won the throw in at the start, putting Avondale on the attack.
The game became a little stop/start as players tired and we had stoppages for injuries and cramp.
Excitement was at fever pitch and the decisive blow was struck by Conor Byrne with four minutes left.
He punched home the deciding goal having been fed a pass across goal from Oisin McGraynor. Back came Theo Smyth with another point from a '45'.
Paul Ellis pointed two minutes into added time and Brian Burke was forced to bring off a great block just before the final whistle sounded.
Rathnew fought to the end but ran out of time.
Avondale will have many heroes but surely none more than the evergreen Barry Sheehan who ran himself into the ground before being replaced following an injury near the end.
Nicky Mernagh also had a great game for Rathnew.
This was a great championship game conducted in a fine sporting spirit and provided great entertainment for an appreciative attendance.
Scorers - Avondale: Conor Byrne 1-4, Ross Ward 0-4, Eoin Baker 0-2, Zach Cullen 0-1, Conor McGraynor 0-1, David Baker 0-1, Oisin McGraynor 0-1, Dean Gahan 0-1. Rathnew: Nicky Mernagh 1-4, Eddie Doyle 0-3, Theo Smyth 0-2, James Stafford 0-2, Graham Merrigan 0-1, Danny Staunton 0-1, Paul Ellis 0-1.
Avondale: Brian Burke; Eugene Dunne, Saoirse Kearon, Liam Kinsella; David Baker, Eoin Baker, Dean Gahan; Ian McDonald, Barry Sheehan; Conor McGraynor, Zach Cullen, Oisin McGraynor; Cian O'Hannain, Conor Byrne, Ross Ward. Subs: Simon Cullen, Paddy Kinsella, Shane Beavor.
Rathnew: Peter Dignam; David Jameson, Jamie Snell, Paul Merrigan; Gary Byrne, J T Hayden, Warren Kavanagh; James Stafford, Sam O'Dowd; Danny Staunton, Theo Smith, Graham Merrigan; Leighton Glynn, Nicky Mernagh, Eddie Doyle. Subs: Paul Ellis, Jack Healy.
Referee: Eugene O'Brien (Aughrim).