Darby delight as Rhode roar back to earn second chance

Kilmacud Crokes 1-9 Rhode 2-6

Back in 1982, it was Seamus who scored ‘that’ goal against Kerry in the All-Ireland final; yesterday in Portlaoise it was his brother, Stephen, who, as manager of Rhode, supervised a stunning comeback from the Offaly champions in this Leinster Club SFC semi-final.

His influence might not have been as dramatic as that of his sibling 23 years ago, but Darby’s tinkering on the line played a crucial role in his side clawing back a seemingly unassailable nine-point gap at half-time.

With just over 20 minutes to play, Rhode were still six points adrift but the introduction of Pauric Sullivan, the switching of Roy Malone and Mark Cole into the full-forward line and the decision to have Pascal Kellaghan lie deeper out the field was the catalyst for a storming last quarter.

The turnaround was as sudden as it was unexpected; few in the sizeable attendance expected such a seismic second half with Crokes enjoying a 1-7 to 0-1 interval lead.

Rhode had stormed from the traps and, though their pace initially unsettled Crokes, their excessive use the high, dropping ball down the middle of the Crokes defence wasn’t paying any dividend.

After the initial barrage Crokes gradually clawed their way into the game and by half-time were nine points to the good, Mark Vaughan - back from his one-match suspension - raising the green flag after showing some very silky soccer skills along the end line.

“We had as much possession in the first half as we did in the second but things just didn’t go well for us,” said Darby. “Our finishing let us down but we certainly enjoyed parity all over the field in the first half without ever translating it into scores.”

In truth, Rhode were loppy at both ends of the field, as 1-1 of Kilmacud’s haul could be traced directly to poor defending, although a Darren Magee point should have been cancelled out after Vaughan double hopped the ball in the build-up.

“Just having a point on the scoreboard at half-time wasn’t a true reflection of the amount of play or possession we enjoyed,” said Darby. “In the second-half we pushed forward and threw caution to the wind.”

That they did but it appeared in vain with 50 minutes gone. Though Darby juggled his personnel, his team persisted with the tactic of launching missiles on top of Colm Flanagan and Liam Óg O hEinneachain. One difference though - now it was working. Both goals came from an uncomplicated approach, with Sullivan and Niall McNamee in the right place to feed off the ever increasing scraps.

When McNamee’s effort sailed past Dan Nelligan in the 55th minute the sides were level for the first time in nearly three-quarters of an hour and, though Vaughan’s last point on the stroke of injury-time seemed to steal it from Rhode, there was still time for Roy Malone to write one more dramatic line with the equaliser.

“We’re still alive aren’t we?” insisted a brave-faced Kilmacud manager Nicky McGrath. “It was nothing less than you would expect from Rhode. They’re a fantastic outfit. We played them in the summer and knew the quality of opposition we were up against. They had the advantage in the second half in that they have been accustomed to a couple of these sort of battles.

“That will bring us on but I have to give extreme credit to Stephen Darby’s men. They rose to the occasion and scored two tremendous second-half goals. It was a deserved draw and we don’t begrudge it to them.”

McGrath’s one bone of contention was the statistic that showed 34 frees for Rhode compared to just 15 for Crokes. “The dominant thing about this Kilmacud team this year has been the lack of frees conceded.

“I don’t want to be critical of anybody and I’m not going to get into a slagging match but if you looks at some of the frees awarded against us they will see that they were dubious to say the least.”

KILMACUD CROKES: D Nelligan; C Kelleher, C Flanagan, N McGrath; B McGrath, L Og O hEinneachain, P Griffin; D Magee (0-1), L McBarron (0-1); P Burke, N Corkery, R Cosgrove (0-2); K O’Carroll, M Davoren, M Vaughan (1-5, 2f).

Subs: B Phelan for O’Carroll 46, M O’Keeffe for Corkery 61.

RHODE: C Masterson; M Cassidy, S Sullivan, B Darby; J Kilmurray, D Bannon, E Byrne; F Dunne, A McNamee; M Cole (0-1), R Malone ()-2), D Kellaghan (0-1); D Hope, P Kellaghan (0-1), N McNamee (1-1, 1f).

Subs: P Sullivan (1-0) for D Kellaghan 37, D Hope for Hickey 49.

Referee: E Whelan (Laois).

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