WITH the sides level with 10 minutes to play, Offaly champions Rhode showed their class by powering to a flattering nine-point win over Navan O'Mahonys in yesterday's Leinster Club SFC quarter-final in Tullamore.
In a keenly-contested affair throughout, Rhode hit 2-3 without reply in the final 10 minutes, made all the more impressive given that they played the final five minutes with 14 men after Conor McNamee picked up his second yellow card.
Niall McNamee hit one of those late goals while setting up influential centre-back Brian Darby for the fourth with the last play of the game. Darby returned to the starting team having missed the win over St Pat's in the first round due to being on honeymoon. Having someone like Darby to come back in was a massive boost for manager Pat Daly and Rhode.
"It was great to have Brian back. This game will bring him on a ton. It is not easy go on your honeymoon but Brian is fit from January to January every year. It is not easy to come back and get stuck into it," Daly said.
The Rhode manager was also quick to lay praise on the whole team and not individuals, citing their incredible work rate as a key trait. "We knew what we were facing today. We played them in a challenge match a couple of months ago. They are a good side. Our boys were well prepared.
"There is serious work rate in this team. They are a great bunch of lads. They just keep going and going. They take knocks and still keep going.
"I think we can take it to another level from today. Moorefield here in two weeks' time, they will be coming gunning but sure look, it will shorten the winter."
The Meath champions had fought back to level the game after an impressive start to the second half from the Offaly champions but spurred on by Niall McNamee and Anton Sullivan, the Rhode men found the extra gear in the end to set up a semi-final date with the Kildare champions in two weeks' time.
O'Mahonys will wonder how they lost by nine points and the scoreline is somewhat harsh on them considering they were level with 10 minutes to play and building momentum.
After Stephen Bray opened the scoring in the opening minute, Rhode burst into life when Alan McNamee fed Glen O'Connell for his first goal after only two minutes. Navan forced the game back level but a brace of majestic Niall McNamee points lifted Rhode into a 1-2 to 0-3 lead with 21 minutes elapsed.
Jake Regan levelled for O'Mahonys and they proceeded to kick three on the trot with the dangerous Stephen Bray kicking a brace. They led 0-8 to 1-3 with half-time approaching but they were knocked for six when Brian Darby won a penalty right on 30 minutes for Glen O'Connell to coolly dispatch and give the Offaly champions a 2-3 to 0-8 half-time lead.
While Stephen Bray registered the opening point of the second half, it was the Rhode men who pushed further ahead with four points in succession, all before the 37th minute with full-forward Anton Sullivan grabbing a smashing replica double to the delight of the home support.
Leading 2-7 to 0-9, Rhode were in the driving seat while assisted in the second half by the stiff breeze. O'Mahonys responded well and led an assault on the Rhode goals with four points on the spin of their own to level the match with points from Alan Forde, a second from Shane Crosby and two close-range frees from Jake Regan bringing them back level with 13 minutes to play.
Anton Sullivan was a man in form and he added to a Glen O'Connell point to send Rhode two up inside the final 10 minutes but Rhode were then dealt a blow when midfielder Conor McNamee picked up his second yellow card with five minutes left in the game.
Navan attacked with purpose but with Rhode leading 2-9 to 0-13 as 60 minutes approached, the home side showed their mettle by closing out a game that had a huge physical element attached to it. With only a minute left, Stephen Hannon sent in a dangerous ball to the Navan penalty area and it was talisman Niall McNamee who rose highest and fisted the ball to the net.
Then, with the last action of the game, McNamee laid a goal on a plate for centre-back Brian Darby to seal the deal.
Scorers - Rhode: N McNamee 1-4 (1f), G O'Connell 2-1, A Sullivan 0-4, B Darby 1-0, C McNamee 0-1. Navan O'Mahonys: J Regan 0-5 (3fs), S Bray 0-3 (1f), A Forde and S Crosby 0-2 each, S Gillespie 0-1.
RHODE - K Garry; J McPadden, E Rigney, J Kavanagh; C Heavey, B Darby, E Byrne; A McNamee, C McNamee; N Darby, P Sullivan, G O'Connell; P McPadden, A Sullivan, N McNamee. Subs: S Hannon for P McPadden (47), R McNamee for N Darby (47).
NAVAN O'MAHONYS - D Quirke; B Dillon, N McKeigue, J O'Reilly; D Smyth; S Crosby, G O'Brien; C McGuinness, D Moran; S Gillespie, D Bray, A Forde; J Regan, S Bray, R O Coileain. Subs: I Matthews for D Smyth (11), S McGabhann for C McGuinness (38), D Maguire for D Moran (53).
Ref - J Hickey (Carlow)