The impressive Oisín Ó Rathallaigh struck a brace of stoppage-time points at St Anne’s Park on Saturday to hand pace-setters Cuala a narrow victory against Clontarf in a tense Dublin Adult Football League Division Four clash.
Despite being seven points in front (1-6 to 0-2) in the early stages of the second half, the southside visitors were pegged back by their determined opponents and looked set for a share of the spoils in their penultimate game of the campaign. That was until Ó Rathallaigh’s dramatic intervention, which ensures Cuala are one point ahead of St Sylvester’s in advance of their final round meeting at Hyde Park on July 13.
On a run of five successive wins heading into this fixture, Cuala edged in front early on with a pointed free from Tom McGee. Cillian Dunne and Rory McMahon had goal chances either side of this score, before inside forward Peter Jackson eventually rattled the net in clinical style on eight minutes.
Colum Sheanon and McGee (another free) added further points to ensure the Dalkey men were six in front at the first-quarter mark. ‘Tarf did improve as the half wore on, however, and Maitias Mac Donncha (an All-Ireland minor championship winner with Dublin in 2012) split the posts off a place-ball strike to finally get the hosts up and running in the 16th-minute.
Cuala responded with Ó Rathallaigh’s opening score of the action and the towering McMahon was desperately unfortunate to see his palmed effort rebounding off the crossbar moments later. A second Mac Donncha free off the ground followed for ‘Tarf and although they were trailing 1-4 to 0-2 at the interval, there was a sense they were still well in contention.
While Jackson and Ó Rathallaigh combined to stretch the lead on the resumption, a subsequent black card for Dunne made life tricky for Cuala in the third-quarter mark. Suddenly presented with a numerical advantage, ‘Tarf immediately made hay when Mac Donncha released Jamie Carroll for a goal on 36 minutes.
This reignited their challenge and with Mac Donncha and Carroll adding points to their respective tallies, Dunne found himself in a very different game upon his return in the 44th-minute. A fisted point by substitute Oscar Hussey settled Cuala after Shane McIntyre had reduced the gap to a bare minimum at the opposite end, but a rejuvenated Clontarf continued to press and wiped out their counterparts’ cushion inside second half stoppage-time.
Both teams had opportunities to edge into the ascendancy in a nail-biting finale, but it was Cuala who had that bit extra between their teeth in the end. The dependable Ó Rathallaigh squeezed a hand pass over the bar five minutes into time added on and the same player also kicked a fine score to round off a gritty victory for Cuala.
Scorers - Cuala: O Ó Rathallaigh 0-4, P Jackson 1-1, T McGee 0-2 (2f), C Sheanon, O Hussey 0-1 each. Clontarf: M Mac Donncha 0-4 (4f), J Carroll 1-1, S McIntyre, C Giles 0-1 each.
CUALA: J Jensen; N O’Sullivan, J Flynn, L McHugh; K Cunningham, E Breathnach, F Spillane; J Twomey, C Dunne; J Conroy, T McGee, C Sheanon; O Ó Rathallaigh, R McMahon, P Jackson. Subs: O Hussey for McMahon (28), D Callaghan for Twomey (53).
CLONTARF: I Sunderland; C Kyne, C Ahern, R Reynolds; C Cronan, M Walsh, P O’Grady; L O’Higgins, J Costello; F Dodd, P Mohan, N McCaffery; M Mac Donncha, DJ O’Flaherty, J Carroll. Subs: S McIntyre for Dodd (33), L Ennis for Reynolds (46), M Barrett for Carroll (50), C Giles for O’Flaherty (56), J Dunne for Cronan (58).
MENTORS - Cuala: S McMahon, D Lehman. Clontarf: T Rooney, J Treanor, P Monahan, A Eames.
Referee: R Hobbs (Garda).
WIDES - Cuala: 8 (4+4). Clontarf: 12 (8+4).
CONDITIONS: Mostly dry.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Oisín Ó Rathallaigh (Cuala).