Kirwan goals key in finding Ballagh's path to glory amid late onslaught
Wexford champions Oulart-The Ballagh were made to fight all the way by a plucky Raharney side yesterday before emerging from the dense fog at Cusack Park, Mullingar having secured a place in the final.
Just over 1,900 turned up in bitterly cold conditions and, in truth, many fans were unsure of the final score at the end of the game, given that the worsening fog was obscuring the scoreboard and due to the plethora of late scores for both sides.
The early exchanges were closely contested until David Redmond soloed through the Raharney defence in the 13th minute and fired the ball to the net at the second attempt.
The home team battled gamely and were well in contention when Brian Connaughton was wide from a long-range free and, within 30 seconds, Nicky Kirwan struck for Oulart's second goal in the 29th minute.
The lively corner-forward was the first to react after Andrew Doyle had pulled off a fabulous save from Rory Jacob, who was a constant threat to the losers' defence. At the break, Oulart-The Ballagh led by 2-6 to 0-6.
When Nicky Kirwan rifled home his second goal in the 39th minute it looked like the Westmeath champions were in for a heavy defeat.
However, the Lake County men refused to throw in the towel and were rewarded when John Shaw pounced for a goal in the 47th minute, after Connaughton's unsuccessful attempt to blast home a 35-metre free.
The Slaneysiders led by 3-10 to 1-8 with less than two minutes of normal time remaining, but an amazing finale saw John Shaw rifle home another goal, this time from 35 metres past an unsighted Ben O'Connor.
Directly from the puck-out, Oulart sub Des Mythen found the net at the other end. There was still time for Paul Greville to score two late goals for Raharney, sandwiched between which Kirwan pointed a 25-metre free.
Overall, the Wexford champions were worthy winners, with Keith Rossiter outstanding at full-back, but the main talking point was the very poor visibility, particularly in the dramatic closing stages.
Scorers -- Oulart-The Ballagh: N Kirwan 2-3 (0-2f), R Jacob 0-6, D Redmond, D Mythen 1-0 each, G Sinnott, S Murphy 0-1 each. Raharney: J Shaw 2-3 (0-2f), P Greville 2-1, B Smyth 0-2, B Connaughton (0-1f), B McKeogh 0-1.
Oulart-The Ballagh -- B O'Connor; J Roche, K Rossiter, B Keogh; P Roche, E Moore, L Prendergast; M Jacob, D Redmond; D Nolan, G Sinnott, S Murphy; R Jacob, S Doyle, N Kirwan. Subs: F Cullen for P Roche (h-t), D Mythen for Murphy (47), D Morton for M Jacob (52).
Raharney -- A Doyle; R McKeogh, C Jordan, D Carey; T Doyle, B Connaughton, A Giles; N Flanagan, C Flanagan; C Boyle, J Shaw, B Smyth; B McKeogh, P Greville, F Boyle. Subs: M Conroy for Carey (21), J Boyle for N Flanagan (52), D Mullen for T Doyle (57).
Ref -- A Stapleton (Laois).