Saturday 18 November 2017

Murray helps Brigid's find little bit extra


St Brigid's players celebrate at the final
whistle after their victory in the Leinster SFC
semi-final against Portlaoise at Parnell Park
St Brigid's players celebrate at the final whistle after their victory in the Leinster SFC semi-final against Portlaoise at Parnell Park yesterday
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In the dying light of a raw day in Parnell Park, Sean Murray provided one of those moments that stirred the blood of just about everyone present to witness arguably the best club game of the autumn campaign.

Murray is a much maligned figure. An All-Ireland medal winner with Dublin in September in his first inter-county season, there are afternoons, like the quarter-final against Horeswood, when he can look all at sea as a defender.

Even his manager Gerry McEntee recalled afterwards the "dreadful" first half he had endured as Brigid's struggled with the intensity of Portlaoise.

But by the time he rose spectacularly to claim Brian McCormack's sideline delivery that was dropping menacingly, he was the communal choice of everybody present, even the most partisan Portlaoise supporter, for Man of the Match.

The transformation in his game was quite striking once he moved from full-back to centre-back. Every time the ball came into his territory he found a way for it to stick.

"It (the switch) got him into the game and then he was unbelievable," agreed McEntee. "He was so assured under the high ball. And then not only did he come down, he made 30-40-yard runs three or four times."

Murray was taken off against the Wexford champions two weeks earlier, but McEntee was always confident of a response.

"These things don't bother Seanie Murray. Seanie Murray has a bad game. Seanie Murray goes home and thinks about it and Seanie Murray says 'I had a bad game, I need to do something about that'. It upsets some people but it doesn't upset Seanie Murray."

The catch drew a great guttural roar from the home side but importantly it commenced the move that would quickly lead to a conclusion after 80 energy-sapping minutes.

Lorcan McCarthy stepped between two Portlaoise players who fluffed their lines badly and burst away to create a two-to-one situation that Brigid's didn't spurn.

Flanking McCarthy as he ran was Philly Ryan and, stepping back inside, he calmly rounded 'keeper Mick Nolan for the killer blow.

It was redemption for Ryan, the hero of two previous provincial matches against Summerhill and Horeswood, as he had missed a simple opportunity at the end of normal time to give Brigid's what would have been a comfortable two-point lead.

McEntee hadn't forgotten. "Philly needed to make up for it because he had missed a score at the end of normal time to punch it over the bar," he said.

"He punched it against the post and it went out wide. That was the winning of the game and it would have saved us 20 minutes of an awful lot of anxiety."

At last there was clear daylight between two teams that had thrown everything into an absorbing semi-final. They had been level on nine minutes and apart from a brief spell in the first half when Portlaoise nudged four points (1-6 to 1-2) clear there was never more than two points between them.

Every time one team thought they had an answer they found themselves fielding further questions. The tension on the field was matched by tensions on the sideline and in the stands where both sets of supporters were quite vocal.

McEntee even found himself on the ground briefly in extra-time when one of the Portlaoise backroom team nudged into him as he passed. But when McEntee picked himself up he made nothing of it and wasn't inclined to afterwards either.

"I saw nothing. I've had worse," he laughed.

The joy of victory in these circumstances quickly glosses over something like that, though Leinster Council may take a different view.

Brigid's might not have been as dismissive of another moment of controversy at the end of normal time as they sought to kill the game.

From the view at the back of the stand towards the clubhouse end, a Ryan shot looked to have sneaked marginally inside the post for a point that would have given them a two-point lead with two minutes remaining .

That said, the flight of the ball cleared the height of the post, so tracking it accurately was difficult against a grey sky. The umpires initially awarded the score but after consultation with referee Cormac Reilly it was disallowed.

McEntee claimed afterwards that one of the linesmen had told Reilly that it was in fact a point. "He had to make a call on it. I don't have a problem," said McEntee.

It was a let-off for Portlaoise, who went down and levelled through Brian McCormack after another great pass from the hugely industrious Hugh Coughlan.

The controversy didn't end there, however. In added time, Brigid's worked a short free from their own half through many hands. Barry Cahill was the instigator, Murray the main driving force and eventually Cian Mullins put the rampaging Cahill through.

Referee Reilly was liberal with the amount of steps he allowed Cahill but there was respite for Portlaoise when Barry Fitzgerald boomed over a great free to force extra-time.

Portlaoise had all the enthusiasm early on, with a Colm Parkinson goal giving them a decisive advantage after 11 minutes.

But within five minutes Brigid's had responded when Paddy Andrews, once again a hugely creative force up front, flykicked a goal after a powerful Cahill run.

By the break Brigid's had closed that subsequent four-point lead and were level at 1-6 each. But Portlaoise, for whom captain Craig Rogers didn't start because of a gastric complaint, hit the front again through a series of sparking Adrian Kelly scores in the third quarter to establish a two-point (1-9 to 1-7) lead.

But Brigid's always had the resolve to keep at it and could have closed it out in extra-time. Portlaoise, for whom Brian Mulligan was outstanding on Ryan throughout, led by two points early in extra-time but didn't score for the last 15 minutes as fatigue kicked in and the Blanchardstown side powered on.

"It's an incredible dressing-room in there at the minute. The devastation is shocking. We've worked like Trojans with this game in mind. We nearly got caught in our preparations because the focus was always on Brigid's," said Portlaoise joint manager Mick Lillis.

Scorers -- St Brigid's: P Andrews 1-4, K Darcy 0-4 (3f), P Ryan 1-0, J O'Loughlin, M Cahill (2f) 0-2 each, A Daly, B Cahill, C Mullins, L McCarthy all 0-1 each. Portlaoise: A Kelly, B McCormack 0-4 each, C Parkinson 1-0, P Cahillane 0-3 (3f), B Fitzgerald, H Coughlan, C Rogers, I Fitzgerald 0-1 each.

St Brigid's -- S Supple; C Freeman, S Murray, G Norton; A Daly, M Cahill, G Kane; B Cahill, J O'Loughlin; C Mullins, K Kilmurray, M Cahill; K Darcy, P Andrews, P Ryan. Subs: L McCarthy for Freeman (33), O McCann for Kilmurray (43), D Plunkett for M Cahill (74).

Portlaoise -- M Nolan; B Mulligan, C Healy, K Fitzpatrick; K Lillis, T Fitzgerald, C Boyle; H Coughlan, B Glynn; C Parkinson, B McCormack, A Kelly; P Cahillane, B Fitzgerald, B Smith. Subs: C Rogers for Parkinson (42), E Bland for T Fitzgerald (55), I Fitzgerald for Smith (58). C Parkinson for Kelly (f-t), Kelly for Parkinson (74).

Ref -- C Reilly (Meath)

Irish Independent

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