Donaghy leads Austin Stacks past gutsy Ballincollig
Austin Stacks 0-15 Ballincollig 1-9 (After extra-time) Munster club SFC Semi-Final
Never pretty, always enthralling. It won't make many highlights reels but there was a charm to this game.
For most of the afternoon, Austin Stacks had a little bit more but Ballincollig ensured they'd have to find it a few times over. Time and again, Stacks showed them the door but the Cork men refused to go quietly.
Their defiance was summed up when John Miskella landed a beauty with the last kick of the hour to force extra-time.
It turned out to be only a stay of execution as they were three points down at half-time in extra-time but still didn't give up.
They got back to within a point before Stacks finally finished the job. With the light fading in Tralee, both sides went off to loud cheers from vocal support. For sheer desire alone, it was well deserved.
Afterwards, Stacks manager Stephen Stack wasn't too worried about the quality of fare on offer. Instead he was just glad his side came through a thorough examination of their character.
"I don't mind what type of game it was and to be honest I'm not particularly worried when you get out the other side of it," Stack reflected.
"There were two very committed teams going at it who came through two tough campaigns and were worthy winners of both county championships. I would argue if we weren't prepared mentally in the way we were they could have beaten us. I think that was important."
They made life hard for themselves. The Stacks fans had landed to the game en masse shortly before throw-in but their team were nowhere to be seen for the opening quarter.
Ballincollig opened the scoring on three minutes through an excellent Cian Kiely point and four minutes later they found the net through county star Paddy Kelly who was quickest to a dropping ball to fire home.
Stacks managed a reply through a Shane Carroll free when Kieran Donaghy had been fouled but Ballincollig didn't let up.
The attacked in waves, creating overlaps that Stacks struggled to cope with and with Sean Kiely making a powerful start to the game, they opened up a six-point advantage.
At this point, most things were going wrong for the Kerry champions. Donaghy was getting little change out of Stephen O'Donoghue and their work in the tackle was poor. By the time the clock saw 20 minutes, they had already conceded ten frees with Ronan Shanahan's defensive display one of the few bright lights in that period for the Kerry champions.
But Donaghy's switch towards midfield brought about a major change. Greg Horan notched the Kerry men's first point from play on 22 minutes and then David Mannix came alive.
He put Pa McCarthy in the clear to point and then landed scores two himself as Stacks found their groove to kick four points in as many minutes.
Shane O'Callaghan added another to cut the gap to the minimum. Stacks might have completed their recovery by half-time but Carroll dropped a free short. The short whistle was a welcome respite for the Cork men, who took a 1-4 to 0-6 lead in at the break.
Stacks carried their momentum into the second half and Carroll made no mistake when he hit two frees to hand his side the lead for the first time in the game five minutes after the restart.
Ballincollig were struggling for primary possession. However, they did muster a reply when Kelly and Miskella combined for a score to end an 18-minute scoreless period for the visitors. Midfielder Horan replied immediately with his second point of the day to restore the Kerry side's lead.
The game hung in the balance then. Moving into the final quarter both sides missed chances to score and bend the game to their will. Stacks extended their lead to two only for Kiely to bring his side back to within a point as the game rolled into the final ten minutes.
With scores so hard to come by, both sides opted for low-risk strategies, dropping numbers behind the ball. Attacks frequently broke down and when Ballincollig took the direct route, Donaghy was there to pick off any loose ball.
Stacks also struggled to make an impact up front as they failed to score for the final 12 minutes of the game. The controlled possession for large parts but held the narrowest of leads. With the two minutes of injury time almost up, they came on another raid.
This time Miskella recognised they were struggling for any real traction up front and took on the responsibility himself. The former Cork star kicked from 45 metres and his effort landed on the roof of O'Brien's net in a staggering last-gasp score that ensured no one in Austin Stack Park was going home.
Stacks started extra-time brighter. Darragh Long, Pa McCarthy and Mannix all pointed to hand them a three-point lead at the turn-around.
To their credit, Ballincollig rallied again and soon had the gap down to the minimum. Stacks were also reduced to 14 men when Collins was shown a black card and they couldn't replaced him as they had used their full complement of subs.
But by now, the Cork men were out of puff but manager Michael O'Brien hailed their efforts.
"Maybe we just ran out of legs, because Austin Stacks probably finished that bit better than us. But overall, the players gave it everything. Lads can't even walk, coming off the field. You can't ask any more than that. I'm just proud to have managed them."
For Stacks, their winning season continues. Only once this year have they tasted defeat and Stack dismissed the suggestion that a long season might start to take its toll on the club.
"When you're missing out 20 years on the trot, I can tell you if I had to go to Christmas 12 months I'd keep going."
Scorers - Austin Stacks: S Carroll (3fs), D Mannix 0-3 each, G Horan, P McCarthy, D Long (2f) 0-2 each, D McElligott, S O'Callaghan, K Donaghy 0-1 each. Ballincollig: P Kelly 1-0, J Miskella, C Dorgan (1f, 1 45) 0-3 each, C Kiely, S Kiely, J Kelly 0-1 each.
Austin Stacks - D O'Brien; R Shanahan, F MacNamara, C Jordan; P McCarthy, B Shanahan, D McElligott; W Guthrie, G Horan; S O'Callaghan, S Carroll, D Bohan; D Mannix, K Donaghy, M Collins. Subs: F Mangan for Collins (h-t), J Dennis for Shanahan (33), D Long for Carroll (53), C O'Connell for Bohan (55), W Kirby for Horan (58), G Horan for McElligott (61), M Collins for Mannix (65), D Bohan for MacNamara (72).
Ballincollig - D Lordan; L Prendergast, S O'Donoghue, N Galvin; JP Murphy, L Jennings, C Kiely; S Kiely, C O'Sullivan; G Durrant, P Kelly, N Allen; J Kelly, C Dorgan, J Miskella. Subs: P O'Neill for O'Sullivan (29), C Moore for Prendergast (h-t), D Tobin for Allen (41), I Coughlan for J Kelly (48), D Kerstein for Murphy (55), JP Murphy for O'Neill (65).
Ref - R Hickey (Clare)
Attack remains the way forward insists Gavin
Jim Gavin has insisted that attacking football, rather than 13-a-side teams, remains the best way to cure the game's ills.
The Dublin manager remains unconvinced about the merits of reducing player numbers on the field, despite presiding over a 13-man Dublin side that played an Ulster selection in Saturday's charity match in Belfast. Ulster won the game 2-18 to 1-19.
The game, the brainchild of former Antrim football captain Anto Finnegan who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease two years ago, was a 13-a-side affair because of the narrower dimensions of the rugby pitch at Kingspan Stadium.
Given the claustrophobic, defensive nature of the modern game, reduced playing numbers would be one way of creating more room for attacking football.
However Gavin, who prides himself on an offensive approach - win, lose or draw - believes that if more teams adhered to his philosophy, the game would be fine left just the way it is.
"It (13-a-side) leaves more space but in the Dublin teams I've managed, we play in a particular style," he said.
"There is no right or wrong way to play Gaelic football but I believe in an attacking style of football and an expansive game."
Saturday night's game attracted a crowd of 6,200 to Kingspan Stadium, formerly known as Ravenhill.
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