Baker relief as Crokes end brave resistance of Rathdowney
Kilmacud Crokes 0-23 Rathdowney-Errill 0-22 (after extra-time) - Leinster club SHC quarter-final
Pause for a moment and check out the quality photograph which accompanies this article. Right there, in that instant, is captured the unrelenting intensity of a full-blooded, close-quarters battle for possession of the sliotar between the champions of Dublin and the Laois title holders.
Multiply that by over 80 minutes of sheer bloody-minded, heart-and-soul passion which featured some bone-crunching collisions, mostly fair, some foul, with fortunes swaying in favour of one side and then the other, and you have an idea of the frenetic nature of this match.
Credit to the two sets of players. They gave their all over 61 minutes of 'normal' play, followed by 20 minutes of extra-time before Kilmacud Crokes earned the right to meet the winners of the Kilkenny championship on November 23.
And they did so by just a single point as players from both sides went down with cramp in the latter stages as their bodies were pushed beyond the normal limits.
Indeed, Ross King, a UCD soccer scholarship student and Laois senior panellist who scored 0-13 of his team's total, ten of them from placed balls, defied the screaming ball of cramp that was shooting up his legs to score point number 22 for Rathdowney-Errill in the last seconds before collapsing on the ground in pain.
Alas for King and his team-mates, they fell just a tad short of achieving a famous win in the Dubs' backyard, but they can hold their heads high after this performance.
So, too, can Ollie Baker's Kilmacud boys. Southsiders yes, but sprinkled with a few decent culchies such as Ryan O'Dwyer and Niall Corcoran who know a thing or two about hurling, and they're a bunch of hardy lads.
Their hero was full-forward Sean McGrath, phenomenally accurate from all distances and no bother to him whether it was against or with the strong breeze that blew down the pitch from the Donnycarney end.
McGrath slotted over 0-15, all but one of them from placed balls, and each and every score was so vital to his team's cause.
Kilmacud's manager Baker was a relieved man to be still in the competition. His team kept pulling a few points clear, and being slowly hauled back level by the dogged Rathdowney side.
"Very similar to the county final we played, Rathdowney threw everything at us," he reflected.
"We were fortunate to be still in the game after 20 minutes. We had a purple patch just before half-time which gave us a bit of a cushion but we were in disarray at certain times.
"But look, the lads eked out a victory out of maybe the jaws of defeat again. We're just delighted to be in a Leinster semi-final."
Kilmacud led by 0-11 to 0-7 at half-time, were four points clear again at 0-17 to 0-13 with eight minutes to go, but did not score again in regular time.
Rathdowney-Errill clawed their way back level with four points - two by Ross King from frees, the others from play by Darren King and Patrick Purcell - and agonisingly sent two late, late chances wide, either of which would have won the game.
Marksman McGrath, with three from frees, and a well-taken score by Ross O'Carroll left the Dubliners two points ahead at 0-21 to 0-19 when the first period of extra-time ended, as the Laois side only got two - a John Purcell point after a great run through the middle, and a free by Ross King.
Over the final ten minutes of extra-time, Sean McGrath went off injured, but Kilmacud had just enough left in the tank to see them through.
Points by sub Ronan Walsh and Caolan Conway (free) got them to 0-23, and despite gutsy defiance and late scores by Rathdowney's Enda Meagher, Eoin Burke and that man King as he went down with cramp, the victory was claimed by the Crokes.
Former Tipperary hurler Conor Gleeson, manager of Rathdowney-Errill could not fault his players for their efforts.
"We're devastated. The lads are visibly very disappointed. They've put in a lot of work to get to this stage. Maybe we might be coming up here as slight underdogs today, but we felt we had a great chance," he said.
"We tried everything. We did what we could today, but we just came up a little bit short. They're a fantastic bunch of lads, the best I've ever been involved with as a coach.
"You couldn't ask for any more out of them."
No goals were scored by either side, which was largely due to some fine close-range blocks by the respective goalkeepers Matt Collins of Crokes, and Noel Brennan of Rathdowney-Errill, plus sterling defensive work at both ends.
For Kilmacud it's onwards and upwards.
Manager Baker is glad of a break before the next match.
Scorers: Kilmacud Crokes: S McGrath 0-15 (13f, 65); C Conway 0-3 (1f) ; R O'Dwyer , B O'Rorke, D Kelly, R O'Carroll,; C Clinton 0-1 each. Rathdowney-Errill: R King 0-13 (9f, 65); P Purcell 0-2; J Purcell 0-2; T Dowling 0-2; D King, E Meagher, E Burke 0-1 each.
Kilmacud Crokes: M Collins; N Corcoran, R O'Carroll, J Clinton; C MacGabhann, J Dougan, B O'Carroll; D Mulligan, R O'Carroll; R O'Dwyer, D Kelly, J Sweeney; C Conway, S McGrath, B O'Rorke. Subs: R Murphy for B O'Carroll (40), B Mulligan for C MacGabhann (44), O O'Rorke for B O'Borke, C Lafferty for J Sweeney (51), B O'Leidhin for B Mulligan (74), J Burke for S McGrath (75).
Rathdowney-Errill: N Brennan; A Delaney, B Campion, J Corrigan; J Fitzpatrick, P Mahon, L O'Connell; S Dollard, P Purcell; E Meagher, J Ryan, J Purcell; M Kavanagh, R King, T Dowling. Subs: D King for E Meagher (h-t), D Bowe for J Ryan (36), L Tynan for M Kavanagh (57), E Burke for S Dollard (70), E Meagher for D Bowe (70).
Referee: P O'Dwyer (Carlow).