Nire stand firm and get a shot at Crokes

WHATEVER their fate in next Sunday’s provincial decider against Dr Crokes, the Nire will long remember their epic Munster senior football championship semi-final replay victory over Tipperary champions Aherlow at windswept Fraher Field, Dungarvan, yesterday.

It was hard-earned and richly deserved, and while their seven-point winning margin may have flattered them, nothing can take from what was a momentous occasion for the Waterford men.

The football wasn’t always pretty. But it was never going to be in the conditions, with a near gale force wind blowing into the town goal.

Nevertheless, two determined sides battled it out to the final whistle and provided the fans with a hugely entertaining game.

In last week’s drawn game it took a late Aherlow rally to earn a reprieve, and one had visions of history repeating itself. They laid siege to the Nire goal as they trailed by three points with time running out. This time, however, the Nire defence stood resolute and made it safe with a priceless point by the outstanding Diarmuid Wall.

The final nail in the Aherlow coffin was the 59th-minute goal by Martin Walsh. It was a fortunate one as Walsh’s effort for a point dipped cruelly in the wind and deceived goalkeeper Shane Leonard. There was no way back for the Tipp men and the winners were in search of further scores when the final whistle confirmed their victory.

It was looking less rosy for them for much of the first half when they had the howling wind to their backs. They were winning the territorial battle, but the Aherlow defence, with full back Mark O’Brien superb, was successfully soaking up most of the pressure.

The opening score didn’t come until the 13th minute with Seamus Grogan’s fisted point giving Aherlow the lead for the only time. A minute later Connie Power got the Nire off the mark with the first of his four pointed frees but for all their possession they were still only a point to the good as half time neared.

The remaining minutes of the half, however, proved highly lucrative for the Waterford men with Shane Walsh kicking their first point from play in the 28th minute. Connie Power (free) and Diarmuid Wall added to their tally which was completed by another super Shane Walsh score to leave them 0-7 to 0-2 ahead at the interval.

Given the ferocity of the wind, it was open to question if that five-point lead would suffice. And when Barry Grogan, by far their most incisive forward, pointed two frees by the 39th minute, the outcome was even more in doubt.

Diarmuid Wall, the Nire’s most penetrative attacker, scored a corker of a point on 40 minutes, but things were even tighter when Barry Grogan had the deficit down to just two points, 0-8 to 0-6, with magnificent scores in the 42nd and 43rd minutes.

The most serious of questions were being asked of the Nire, and to their credit they came up with all the correct answers. Under mounting pressure every defender rose to the challenge, none more so than the O’Gormans, Thomas and Maurice, in the full line, but all six backs emerged as heroes on the day.

The second of those Grogan points in the 43rd minute proved to be the side’s last contribution to the scoreboard. The pressure on the winners’ defence was no less intense but the shutters were firmly in place and there was simply no way through for the Aherlow attackers.

Power scored an invaluable Nire point from another free on 47 minutes. Five minutes later in a breakaway move that involved no fewer than seven players, the irrepressible Wall scored the point of the game.

For all their continuing pressure Aherlow just couldn’t get through for the goal they needed, but it was to come for the Nire in the 59th minute from Martin Walsh, and if good fortune was written all over it, it was no less than the Nire deserved.

Aherlow certainly fought the good fight and hardly deserved to go under by so decisive a margin. But overall they didn’t quite have what it would have taken to deny the Waterford champions.

Scorers — Nire; C. Power (0-4, frees); M. Walsh (1-0); S. Walsh (0-3); D. Wall (0-3).

Aherlow: S. Grogan (0-4, 0-2 frees); S. Grogan (0-2).

NIRE: T. Flynn; J. Walsh, T. O’Gorman, M. O’Gorman; J. Moore, D. Ryan, B. Wall; A. O’Gorman, S. Walsh; M. Walsh, A. Ryan; C. Power, D. Wall, M. Moore.

Subs: G. Walsh for A. Ryan (11 mins); S. Lawlor for G. Walsh (51 mins).

AHERLOW: S. Leonard; D. O’Shea, M. O’Brien, C. McDonald; C. O’Shea, J. Hennessy, C. Dillon; D. Peters, S. Moloney; B. O’Brien, B. Grogan, L. Coskeran; D. Cleary, M. O’Shea, S. Grogan.

Subs: T. Fahey for B. O’Brien (52 mins); S. Mullins for C. O’Shea (53 mins).

Referee: Michael Meade, Limerick.

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