Wednesday 21 March 2018

Stafford salvo stuns 'Vinnies' on dream day for Rathnew

Rathnew 1-13 St Vincent's 1-9

Rathnew players celebrate their victory Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Rathnew players celebrate their victory Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Conor McKeon

Conor McKeon

All last week, Harry Murphy's phone buzzed with media requests. "It's always the same when you play the Dubs," he laughed yesterday afternoon after his Rathnew team had pulled off arguably the shock of this GAA season and in doing so, added another layer of mystique to Aughrim's aura.

"But I think it was a token gesture. It was like, 'you're going to get beaten…but you might as well have your say before you get beaten'.

Jamie Snell of Rathnew in action against Shane Carty of St Vincent's Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Jamie Snell of Rathnew in action against Shane Carty of St Vincent's Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

As it panned out, James Stafford had the decisive say, kicking the last 1-2 of the match to oust the reigning Dublin and Leinster champions and cast Rathnew into the semi-final of a provincial competition blown wide open by yesterday's sequence of results.

"I suppose we're a big fish in a small pond in Wicklow but outside of that people mightn't have given us a chance," noted the effervescent Leighton Glynn, a survivor of Rathnew's last great coup, their 2001 Leinster final replay defeat of Na Fianna.

"Written off by everyone bar ourselves," he added wryly.

They began the day as 15/2 outsiders and with some justification. Vincent's had won Leinster in their four previous attempts.

Four year old Graciebelle gives her dad James Stafford a hug after his win Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Four year old Graciebelle gives her dad James Stafford a hug after his win Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

It had been six years since a Dublin club had been beaten in the provincial competition.

"We knew it was going to be a massive task. But we felt if we played as well as we could possible play, we could give them a good go," outlined Murphy, who managed the team to that 2001 triumph over Na Fianna.

More recently, Murphy had little joy with the Wicklow county team after taking over from Mick O'Dwyer in 2011 but yesterday was another day of days for him.

"And I don't think we could have played much better. We started a bit nervously and we gave them some chances early on."


Vincent's disappointment this week will be in knowing that for all their inertia, they should have kicked on after Mossy Quinn's goal put them in the lead in the 46th minute.

Instead, it was to be their last score of the game.

Without the injured Nathan Mullins, Brendan Egan and the unavailable Cameron Diamond, they found their reserves of back-up to be shallower than required.

Ger Brennan limped off midway through the second half.

Diarmuid Connolly, an injury doubt during the week, was peripheral throughout: he scored just a single pointed free, and never really escaped the adhesive attentions of Damien Power.

"Just goes to show," Murphy nodded. "Damien is one of the guys that's hanging in from the Leinster win in 2001.

"So to go in and play on a footballer like Connolly… Damien is normally a full-back but Connolly dragged him all over the field."

Vincent's opened up a 0-4 to 0-1 lead early on but on a heavy pitch, their attacking play was slow and forced.

Shane Carthy gave them a useful ball-winning outlet all afternoon but the final ball - and frequently, their shooting - wasn't polished.

It granted Rathnew impetus and a one-point half-time lead and thanks to Glynn and Ross O'Brien, that quickly increased to three after the resumption.

With those two scores, Aughrim hummed with excitement.

"Second half, they put in a masterful performance," noted Murphy.

"We knew we'd have to do that. We knew we wouldn't beat a team with the calibre of footballer they have… we've been playing in fits and starts all year.

"But you weren't going to be able to do it to them. That second-half performance was as good as we've ever played."

In the 46th minute, after Enda Varley had snipped Rathnew's lead down to a point, Eamonn Fennell won a kick-out and fed Carthy ,who slipped a ball to Varley.

The former Mayo forward found Quinn at the back post, where he palmed the ball into the Rathnew net.

Such has been their efficiency at this time of year, it felt then as though Vincent's had the required experience to manipulate a win from their new-found position of authority.

It turned out to be their last score.

Stafford, a totemic presence in midfield, put the Wicklow champions back level.

Then, after O'Brien sent a long ball in to the edge of square, Stafford fetched with one hand, spun and buried his shot past goalkeeper Michael Savage.

"I was just thinking the same as any other one," he reflected. "Rattle it in."

And to cap it off, the veteran kicked another long-range point in injury-time to the delirious roars of the Rathnew support.

"Our crowd are a resilient crowd," announced Murphy proudly. "They're a good set of lads. They battle right to the end. They believe in themselves.

"It's a great trait to have," he added. "To fight until the end."

SCORERS - Rathnew: J Stafford 1-2, M Doyle 0-4 (3fs), E Doyle 0-3 (2f), L Glynn 0-2, P Merrigan, R O'Brien 0-1 each. Vincent's: T Quinn 1-3 (0-2f, 0-1 '45), E Varley 0-2, G Burke, D Connolly (f), R Trainor, S Carthy 0-1 each.
RATHNEW - P Dignam; P Merrigan, D Power, J Snell; W Kavanagh, R O'Brien, E Glynn; J Stafford, T Smith; G Merrigan, L Glynn, D Staunton; S Byrne, M Doyle, E Doyle. Subs: J Manley for Staunton (52), J Merrigan for Byrne (58).
ST VINCENT'S - M Savage; M Concarr, J Curley, C Wilson; F Breathnach, G Brennan, L Sheehy; L Galvin, D Murphy; G Burke, S Carthy, Cormac Diamond; E Varley, D Connolly, T Quinn. Subs: E Fennell for Galvin (35), R Trainor for Diamond (40), J McCusker for Brennan (44), J Feeney for Murphy (52), T Diamond for Burke (61).
REF - D Gough (Meath)

Irish Independent

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