Tuesday 20 August 2019

Dowdall provides inspiration for never-say-die St Loman's

St Loman's 0-13 Simonstown 1-8 - AIB Leinster Club SFC semi-final

Conrad Reilly of St Loman’s celebrates after the final whistle at TEG Cusack Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Conrad Reilly of St Loman’s celebrates after the final whistle at TEG Cusack Park. Photo: Sportsfile

Frank Roche

They are the most over-used and abused truisms in Gaelic football: character, resilience, never-say-die attitude.

And yet buried behind every hackneyed cliché is a hidden truth. So when management and players laud the spirit, resolve and sheer stickability of St Loman's, they're telling it as it is.

Paul Sharry of St Loman's Mullingar tangles with Nathan O'Brien of Simonstown Gaels. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Sharry of St Loman's Mullingar tangles with Nathan O'Brien of Simonstown Gaels. Photo: Sportsfile

At a soft-to-yielding TEG Cusack Park yesterday, with just 15 minutes on the clock, the three-in-a-row Westmeath champions were staring into the abyss. Already seven points adrift of Simonstown Gaels. Still scoreless. And losing battles all over the pitch.

But where others might have cowered at the cliff-face, Loman's spied an opportunity. Two weeks ago, they had trailed Mullinalaghta by six points on enemy turf with barely 15 minutes remaining. No need to panic then.

Just over an hour later, the Mullingar men were celebrating qualification for their first AIB Leinster club SFC final.

That will take place on December 10 in Portlaoise. Moorefield, a club managed by Luke Dempsey to Kildare SFC titles in 2013 and 2014, will provide the opposition.

John Heslin of St Loman's Mullingar in action against James Kilcullen of Simonstown Gaels. Photo: Sportsfile
John Heslin of St Loman's Mullingar in action against James Kilcullen of Simonstown Gaels. Photo: Sportsfile

Staggering

Now Dempsey - having claimed a staggering five consecutive county SFC titles - will seek one of his finest managerial achievements by usurping his old Newbridge comrades.

After this latest fightback, encapsulated by Paddy Dowdall's inspiring influence from centre-back, the much-travelled boss deflected all the praise towards his players.

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"They've been just magnificent since the county final, calling training themselves on the Wednesday night after. That was needed to beat Mullinalaghta, who are a very, very tough team to beat. And needed today," Dempsey admitted.

"That resilience - you could see it in the last few attacks, you'd Paul Sharry back on his own goal-line with (John) Heslin. Those lads drive the whole thing on and deserve to be in this Leinster final."

And yet, for whatever reason, they remain prone to somnolescent starts and it threatened to prove fatal here.

They probably should have found the net from their first attack, Ronan O'Toole fisting wide, but then it quickly unravelled.

Visiting skipper Padraig McKeever bookended their 1-4 salvo with a free and then an inspirational point from distance.

In between, Ciaran Kilmurray had flashed another Loman's goal chance wide whereas Mark McCabe made no mistake at the other end.

Nathan O'Brien was moving like a thoroughbred in that opening half. After the corner-forward had flashed his own goal chance narrowly over, he brilliantly engineered the game's only goal in the 11th minute.

Twisting away from his man in the left corner, O'Brien picked out Niall Kane who in turn found McCabe for a point-blank finish.

Loman's were labouring for a possession foothold, prompting Heslin's early switch from inside sentry to midfield. Their skipper was yellow-carded for a late tackle, which seemed symptomatic of their travails.

But Heslin never lost faith. "Being seven points down at any stage of the game… OK, if it's the last five minutes you'd start panicking a little bit," he conceded.

"But after 10 minutes and you're behind like that, I don't think it even enters the train of thought. Well, it certainly didn't enter mine. And by our performance today, it didn't enter the rest of the lads'.

"The experience of being in that position against Mullinalaghta stood to us. We didn't train for an event like that, but it just unfolded. And I suppose the quality and character of any team is to be able to adapt to a particular situation."

Which is precisely what transpired. Ken Casey ended their scoring drought in the 17th minute. Three more points quickly followed from Sharry (a testing free), Shane Dempsey (settling for a point with the goal beckoning) and a Heslin free, the first of his 0-6.

Even though Simonstown riposted through O'Brien and Seán Tobin, Heslin hit back with a priceless brace that offered half-time hope to the hosts, trailing 1-6 to 0-6.

Loman's now had whatever wind advantage was going, but a black card for Seán Flanagan and another 10-minute barren period upped the ante even though they were now dominating the Simonstown kick-out.

But Heslin's 41st-minute free had a revitalising effect; they would score six on the spin to go from three down to three up after 52 minutes.

Conrad Reilly, so effective off the bench, edged them ahead for the first time with a superb 48th-minute effort from the right wing.

"When we did go that one point up, the roar that we got from the crowd was unbelievable. I don't think I've heard a roar like that from a Loman's crowd before," Heslin noted.

Last stand

After 24 scoreless minutes, Simonstown summoned one last stand and points from Shane O'Rourke and Conor Sheridan cut the margin to one. But then Kieran Lynam crowned his dynamic cameo with the last point in the 56th minute.

Loman's then survived a couple of injury-time aerial missiles in their goalmouth, leaving Colm O'Rourke to rue what might have been.

"We could have been more up, because I thought we were in complete control at one time," the Simonstown boss suggested.

"We missed a lot at the end of the first half, poor shot selection, and Loman's got back into it. Fair play, we have no complaints."

Scorers - St Loman's: J Heslin 0-6 (5f), P Sharry (1f), S Dempsey 0-2 each, K Casey, C Reilly, K Lynam 0-1 each. Simonstown: M McCabe 1-0, N O'Brien, P McKeever (1f) 0-2 each, B Conlon, S Tobin, S O'Rourke, C Sheridan 0-1 each.

St Loman's - J Daly; N O'Toole, S Flanagan, G Grehan; G Glennon, P Dowdall, J O'Toole; P Sharry, C Kilmurray; K Reilly, R O'Toole, D Windsor; K Casey, J Heslin, S Dempsey. Subs: K Lynam for Kilmurray (29), C Reilly for Flanagan (BC 37), G Hickey for Windsor (51), D Whelan for N O'Toole (60), B O'Loughlin for Casey (65).

Simonstown - R Burlington; S Gallagher, S Moran, N McMahon; B McGrath, B Conlon, N Kane; S O'Rourke, J Kilcullen; S Tobin, S Kenny, M McCabe; N O'Brien, C Sheridan, P McKeever. Subs: M Gardiner for McMahon (46), J Lyons for Kenny (46), N O'Brien for Kilcullen (51), M Brennan for Sheridan (55), S Barry for Tobin (58).

Ref - F Kelly (Longford)

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