AFTER a very poor first half, Clonbullogue came alive in the second half, outperforming in most quarters and qualifying for the Senior “B” Football Championship final for the second year in a row with a well-deserved victory over a very brave team from Gracefield.
Tullamore Court Hotel Senior “B” Football Championship Semi Final
Grace Field 1-10
Trailing 0-7 to 1-1 at half-time, Clonbullogue looked to be in trouble, even though they had the advantage of the wind ahead. However, they played very well in the second half as they outscored their opponents by 1-10 to 1-3 to advance to the decider, with their key players standing to be counted when the gun was pointed at their heads.
Gracefield’s appeal in the DRA which delayed this championship meant there was a lot of interest in this game, but that didn’t filter through to the players, who delivered an entertaining and fiercely contested game. There was a tough lead in the game with quite a few daunting challenges from both sides, but he didn’t stray from the line. It was very hard football, honest, without limits and all very fun.
Gracefield showed a lot of toughness and fight that had been a hallmark of their club for generations, but had waned a bit in recent years. Veteran Niall Smith really stepped up this mark, belying his age with a tremendous change in midfield as Gracefield dominated this sector in the first half. Even as county player Jack McEvoy took control in the second half, Smith continued to show his vast experience as he attempted to bring Gracefield back – another former county star, Ruari Allen, was named among the substitutes but was not at home from Australia for that. and Gracefield really needed it to get over the winning line. They played Jamie Evans in a very deep role as he operated around the centre-half for most of the time and should have pushed him further forward, especially when the game started to slip away from them in the second half; They would have also benefited from getting Stephen Flanagan in a more advanced role.
Gracefield were very good in the first half and the dominance between the two 45 meter lines helped them pose serious doubts to Clonbullogue. In a very tentative opening period, a goal from Jamie Guing in the ninth minute helped Clonbullogue take a scoreless 1-1 lead, but they surprisingly did not score again in the half.
Credit to Gracefield for the way they played. They scored seven unanswered points from the 13th minute until halftime, attacked with great intensity, lost the ball and won most of the battles 50-50. Clonbullogue struggled mightily in the second quarter. They seemed bewildered by Gracefield’s physicality, but they also made mistakes and were in a very difficult position at half-time.
The wind may have been a bigger factor than it seemed and certainly seemed to pick up steam in the second half, but Clonbullogue were also much better at the basics. Jack McEvoy’s performance in the second half was crucial, but Keith O’Neill also began to move better, without reaching his best form. His brother Ruari also gave a brilliant second half and it wasn’t long before the whole aspect changed.
Four unanswered points had Clonbullogue ahead, 1-5 to 0-7 after 39 minutes. Jason Slattery stepped up a level but Clonbullogue moved into fifth gear with three excellent points in a row from Keith O’Neill, Jamie Guing and Ruari O’Neill. With twelve minutes remaining, three points was a big lead, but Gracefield showed great character to maintain it. Jack Walsh got two free but quality points from Ruari O’Neill and Jack McEvoy put Gracefield four ahead, 1-10 to 0-9 with five minutes remaining.
Walsh took another free but also missed two that were scoreable, even in the difficult swirling wind, and these proved crucial. Gracefield’s luck finally ran out when substitute Lee Dempsey scored a goal in the 58th minute after Jonathan Knight lost the ball on a Jamie Guing touch-out for a 2-10 to 0-10 lead.
A goal from Philip Hurley after Lee Dempsey lost the ball in his area gave Gracefield a lifeline in the 60th minute, but they never threatened an equalizer and Peter Bennett’s fine point in stoppage time eased nerves by Clonbullogue.
THE MAN OF THE MATCH
Ruari O’Neill (Clonbullogue): Ruari O’Neill’s ability to do the right thing, his composure on the ball and his almost understated influence are very important to Clonbullogue and he produced the best for them here. He sometimes lacked possession, but he got two impressive points and used the ball very well. Jack McEvoy’s second half heroics were instrumental in their victory and they wouldn’t have won without it, while David Dempsey had a very good game in his defence. Jack Walsh and Niall Smith were immense for Gracefield.
THE GOAL SCORES
Clonbullogue: Jamie Guing 1-1, Lee Dempsey 1-0, Jack McEvoy 0-3 (1f), Ruari O’Neill and Keith O’Neill (1f) 0-2 each, Eddie Bennett, Daryl Quinn and Peter Bennett 0 – 1 each.
Gracefield: Jack Walsh 0-5 (3f), Philip Hurley 1-0, Jamie Hanlon 0-2, Jason Slattery, Stephen Flanagan and Paddy Dempsey 0-1 each.
CLONBULLOLOGIST: Cian Corcoran; Diarmaid O’Neill, Jamie Quinn, David Dempsey; Harry Judge, Peter Curry, Ian Curry; Eddie Bennett, Jack McEvoy; Daryl Quinn, Ruari O’Neill, Sean Foran; Jamie Guing, Shane O’Brien, Keith O’Neill. Substitutes: Ryan Dempsey for Jamie Quinn (36m), Lee Dempsey for O’Brien (37m), Eoghan Kinsella for Daryl Quinn (46m), Shane Furey for Foran (55m), Peter Bennett for Byrne (55m) .
GRACEFIELD: Jonathan Caballero; Patrick Hurley, Mark Ward, Gavin Smyth; Corey McEvoy, Jason Slattery, Ciaran Conroy; Niall Smith, Philip Hurley; Tom Walsh, Stephen Flanagan, Paddy Dempsey; Jamie Evans, Jack Walsh, Jamie Hanlon. Substitutes: Dan Hanlon for Tom Walsh, inj. (17m), Cian Murphy for Slattery (56m).
Referee: Fintan Pierce (Raheen).
It was a tough physical match and Fintan Pierce had to be on his toes, but he handled it all well.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Jamie Guing’s ninth minute goal was crucial as it kept Clonbullogue going during a very poor half and they could have been in real trouble for that alone.
O’Connor Park was in excellent condition.
Clonbullogue returns to the final.
Wide: Clonbullogue – 5 (3 in the first half); Gracefield – 7 (5 in the first half).
Yellow cards: Clonbullogue – 4 (Peter Byrne, Jack McEvoy, Jamie Guing, Eoghan Kinsella); Gracefield – 3 (Gavin Smyth, Niall Smith, Paddy Dempsey).
Black cards: Clonbullogue – 0; Gracefield – 1 (Cian Murphy).
Red cards: 0.