Glynn to fore as Rathnew survive scare
Rathnew 3-8 Blessington 0-12
The Rathnew Goliath eventually defeated the Blessington David, but not before the underdogs looked like achieving a form upset of biblical proportions in the second half at Joule Park, Aughrim yesterday.
Wicklow giants Rathnew, winners of 33 county senior football titles compared to just two by Blessington - their last victory coming in 1983 - were favourites in the pre-match predictions.
After justifying the confidence of their backers with a storming 3-4 to 0-5 first-half display, Rathnew were rocked back on their heels by Blessington's second-half revival.
Harry Murphy's team failed to score after the interval until a Graham Merrigan point lifted the siege with three minutes left of normal time.
Up to then Blessington, who last played in a final in 1988, had dominated the exchanges in slippery conditions.
They tacked on six points without reply after the interval to get to 0-11 against Rathnew's 3-4 by the 55th minute.
Rathnew skipper Leighton Glynn admitted that he had been concerned.
"If there was ever a game of two halves, that was it," said Glynn.
"We caused a lot of damage in the first half and played really well, but all credit to them, in the second half they really showed a bit of character.
"They cut us up the middle, and we kind of panicked at one stage, but thankfully come near the end we did tag on the scores and got it home."
Glynn has now won his 20th senior medal - 11 football and nine in hurling - the most recent success in the small-ball game coming for Rathnew two weeks ago.
He had a central role in his team's first-half blitzkrieg that yielded three crucial goals and, as events transpired, gave Rathnew precious breathing space.
The first came after eight minutes when Mark Doyle finished off a move involving Glynn, Jody Merrigan and Graham Merrigan.
Three minutes later Glynn raised a green flag for his side, and James Stafford got the third goal in the 24th minute to make the score 3-4 to 0-3 in Rathnew's favour.
Blessington started the game in somewhat unusual fashion - their manager Barry O'Donovan did not attend the decider.
O'Donovan's work commitments took him to Australia, and he was booked to return last Thursday for the match, but when he discovered he had to attend a meeting in Singapore today, the brief trip home had to be cancelled.
Selector Paddy O'Connor wore the bainisteoir's bib for the match but O'Donovan had been in contact via Skype in the days leading up to the final.
O'Connor praised the performance and courage of Blessington, but had to accept that once those goals were scored, the task was monumental.
"You can't give a team like Rathnew nine points of a lead and expect to come back. They showed today why they are tremendous champions.
"But fair play to our lads. They died with their boots on in the second half. I'm hugely proud of those lads. They were immense," he said.
Indeed they were. Blessington were a different side once the ball was thrown in for the second half.
They brought on big Gavin Murray to midfield at half-time, and Conor Kenny put the shackles on Glynn.
The work-rate and commitment of Michael McLoughlin, Curtis Geraghty, Eoin Keogh, Brian Carroll and skipper Kevin John Rogers was matched throughout their team as Blessington took control.
Eoin Keogh, Patrick O'Connor, Paul McLoughlin, and Anthony McLoughlin struck a point each in the first 11 minutes of the second period. Two more came via the efforts of David Boothman and Conor Kenny.
At 55 minutes, Rathnew still led by 3-5 to 0-11, but experience and battling defensive work by stalwarts Damien Power, Stafford, Glynn, and Nicky Mernagh protected Peter Dignam's goal from the Blessington predators.
Rathnew manager Harry Murphy, the ex-Wicklow boss, admitted: "I thought they had us midway through the second half. There was only one team in it, but in fairness, the lads dug deep.
"Staff (Stafford) won a few hard balls. Leighton got on the ball. Nicky (Mernagh) got on the ball. Real game-changers. They've been doing it all their lives.
"We needed to do it, because Blessington were coming on strong. In fairness to them, they showed great resilience to come back and put it up to us," said Murphy.
Graham Merrigan's 57th-minute point rounded off a five-man move that began with Glynn gaining possession around midfield.
The Rathnew men passed the ball around, taking the sting out of Blessington's impetus, before Merrigan clipped the ball over the bar.
Referee Declan Peppard added five minutes of injury-time, so the intensity never dropped.
The lack of a goal, however, gave Blessington too much to do despite their heroic efforts.
Mernagh and Eddie Doyle (two frees) completed the Rathnew scoring, while Geraghty got Blessington's last point.
"On the line, it was heart-attack stuff, but we weathered the storm," said Murphy.
Scorers - Rathnew: M Doyle 1-1; L Glynn and J Stafford 1-0 each; E Doyle 0-3 (2f); J Merrigan 0-2 (1 '45'), N Mernagh, 0-1. Blessington - C Geraghty (1f), A McLoughlin, P O'Connor and E Keogh 0-2 each; P McLoughlin, M McLoughlin, B Carroll and D Boothman 0-1 each.
Rathnew - P Dignam; P Merrigan, D Power, J Snell; W Kavanagh, R O'Brien, E Glynn; J Stafford, T Smith; E Doyle, L Glynn, G Merrigan; N Mernagh, M Doyle, J Merrigan. Subs: S Byrne for J Merrigan (44); D Jameson for E Glynn (61); C Healy for G Merrigan (bc, 62).
Blessington - S Kitt; B Murphy, S Bohan, D Fennessy; C Kenny, P McLoughlin, KJ Rogers; E Keogh, B Carroll; M Nugent, A McLoughlin, M McLoughlin; P O'Connor, C Geraghty, K Hanlon. Subs: D Boothman for M Nugent (28); G Murray for D Fennessy (h-t); M O'Connor for M McLoughlin (59); B Finan for B Murphy (63, bc).
Ref - D Peppard (Hollywood)
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, a trip to Old Trafford to watch Man United take on Liverpool in the Premier League, tickets to Ireland's home games in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.