Fisher strikes to make sorry Sarsfields pay heavy price
Sean O'Mahony's boss Alan Craven was "lost for words" yesterday in Drogheda. And why wouldn't he be? The Dundalk club took another major stride on a journey that has seen them go from the Louth intermediate championship to the last four standing in the province in just two years.
O'Mahony's 1-8 Sarsfields 0-8
And no one can argue they don't deserve their new status.
Sarsfields hadn't played in a month since their Kildare final win and they looked rusty early on. This still didn't excuse their insistence on trying to run the ball through an organised Sean O'Mahony's defence which played into the home side's hands. Turnovers were their oxygen and Sarsfields were only too willing to oblige by refusing to deliver a few kick-passes.
It was never pretty. The first half didn't see a score from play until injury-time, when David Dowling dropped one over to give his side a 0-4 to 0-2 lead at the break. Other than that, free-kicks were the only thing keeping the umpires warm and that suited the Louth men down to the ground.
Craven revealed afterwards that the management team had watched footage of Sarsfields going back as far as four years. What they saw told them they needed to avoid a shoot-out.
The Kildare men turned to Alan Smith - their sole represnetative on this year's Kildare senior panel - at half-time and he made an instance impact. However, while their approach work sharpened up significantly, the end product was sorely missing.
Con Kavanagh miscued in front of the posts before Ben McCormack followed suit, on a day when scores were going to be hard to come by.
At the other end, O'Mahony's were operating at maximum efficiency and they stretched their lead to four. It then got even better for the home side.
O'Mahony's rarely gave Sarsfields time on the ball and when they forced a turnover in their defence, Stephen Fisher had a clear run on Andy O'Brien in the Newbridge men's goal. He kept his composure and suddenly the Louth men were seven points up.
But games can turn on the strangest things.
Gary White picked up a red card after he appeared to move his head in the direction of Conor Martin. Reduced to 14 men and seven points in arrears with 15 minutes to go, Sarsfields then played their best football.
They would rattle off the next six points. Smith hit two and when Ray Cahill pointed a free late on, it left the minimum between the sides and they looked ready to complete a most remarkable comeback.
But O'Mahony's have been effectively on the road since the 2014 championship and that experience showed in the end.
Just when Sarsfields were getting ready to deliver the knockout blow, the home team landed two-injury time points through former Everton trainee Ben McLaughlin and Kilcoyne to finally put the issue to rest.
"It wasn't looking great at that stage," Craven said when Sarsfields got on their late run.
"But we have shown in the past the team has great resilience and belief and courage. And I don't mean just physical courage, but in that they are not afraid to take the game to teams when it's in the melting pot."
John Crofton was left to rue what might have been as his side's late rally fell short.
"We had systems failure in the first half," he admitted. "I can't recall us producing two points against any opposition in a half of football. Our skill execution even though the conditions were a bit slippy was just shocking.
"In fairness, we didn't get to the intensity of it. We were knocked off the ball very easily in the first half, but we got our act together. The frustration is we showed what we could do in that period of 14 versus 15.
"It wasn't that they had to do anything dramatic against us because we were so inept in the first-half, but they are well organised, fit and quite strong."
For O'Mahony's, it's all about surfing the crest of the wave they find themselves on.
"We have a small parish with a once-in-a-generation set of players. And we are trying to make hay with that for as long as we can. There's no superstars, but there's a huge commitment that comes from the players and that happens Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays," said Craven.
"The first target we had was that we had to match them in aggression. We are well aware of their pedigree and reputation and they have a lot of skilful footballers. But we had to make them aware very early on that if they were going to come out of Louth with a win it was going to be hard fought."
Leinster club sfc quarter-final
SCORERS: Sean O'Mahony's - C Finnegan 0-4 (4f), S Fisher 1-0, S Kilcoyne 0-2, B McLaughlin, D Dowling 0-1 each.
Sarsfields - R Cahill 0-4 (fs), A Smith 0-2, C Hartley, B McCormack 0-1 each.
Sean O'Mahony's: B MacTraynor; J Connolly, R Byrne, M Clarke; K Murphy, J O'Brien, C Martin; L Dullaghan, S Brennan; C Finnegan, B McLaughlin, S Fisher; K McLaughlin, C Crawley, S Kilcoyne Subs: D Dowling for Crawley (17), K McLaughlin for N McLaughlin (42), P O'Brien for N McLaughlin (49 BC), B Mackin for Connolly (58).
Sarsfields: A O'Brien; C Duffy, S Ryan, D McDonnell; C Tiernan, G White, C McInerney Aspell; C McDonnell, C Kavanagh; R Fitzgibbon, R Cahill, C Hartley; D Nea, B McCormack, R Connor Subs: A Smith for Connor (ht), J Healy for Duffy (37), C Costigan for Nea (46).
Ref: D Gough (Meath).