They showed both skill and character in abundance as they outplayed plucky Park/Ratheniska from Laois in booking a showpiece final date under lights at headquarters against Tyrone’s Greencastle.
Fair play to Park/Ratheniska though, they made it real tough for Duagh in this free-flowing All-Ireland Club JFC semi-final.
But, when the Kerry and Munster champions were asked to stand tall, they had steel in the shape of outstanding midfielder Anthony Maher; enough firepower to ignite — eight different players hit the target — and, when they were asked to defend, the likes of Kieran Quirke, Aenghus Carmody and Diarmuid Nolan were not found wanting.
No wonder team boss John Dillon was pleased. “What a day for us, it’s just unbelievable a small club like ours will now see Croke Park from the inside and outside — just like so many great Kingdom teams of the past.
“This win is massive for our club. At half-time, though we were only on level terms, despite dominating possession. I told the lads that this was about getting over the line. Do you want to play in Croke Park and be winners? You bet. They dug deep to a man, I’m proud of every one of them. Hopefully, we can finish the job now.”
No question, Duagh served notice early and, with Declan Griffin and Maher making an immediate impact at midfield, they came hard at Park and were rewarded with points from Denis Lane and Aidan Kelly. Colm Brennan did nip in for a Park point, but it was all Duagh. Points from Brendan O’Brien and a Tom Dillon free pushed them three points clear inside the opening nine minutes and the Laois men were struggling.
But, with the half backline now beginning to settle, Park showed why they are Leinster champions as points from the ever menacing Kieran
Delaney and wily Tom Bowe left just the minimum between the sides after the opening quarter, 0-4 to 0-3.
Delaney was proving a real thorn in the Duagh defence and his free levelled matters in the 17th minute. Duagh were wasteful, their use of the long ball far from effective. Alan O’Brien did put them clear again, but stubborn Park/Ratheniska failed to buckle. With wing forward Brendan Fingleton showing some nice touches, Bowe again levelled the scores two minute later and that’s how it stayed until the break, 0-5 apiece. Duagh had failed to convert three 45’s in a row and Cathal Óg Greene and goalkeeper Brian Ramsbottom, in turn, had to make fine saves to deny Aidan Kelly a goal Duagh so badly wanted.
Dillon’s half-time words must have been inspirational for, no question, Duagh won this excellent game with a focused restart. Maher was magic, his textbook block and fantastic point put them on their way. And when Scanlon, Kelly and Griffin followed with points, it looked game over. But again this Laois outfit proved they were no pushover. Delaney pointed to leave it 0-9 to 0-6 to Duagh entering the final quarter and the game was back in the melting pot when Bowe pointed, after a terrific Park/Ratheniska move.
Duagh keeper John Halpin then had to make a terrific save to deny Bowe a goal that menacing Park/Ratheniska so badly needed. And it proved their parting shot. Stand up Brendan O’Brien for two of the most outstanding and vital points one could witness and Duagh were on their way to a dream Croker final date.
Duagh’s more direct style of play in the second-half had worked the oracle and no wonder long serving secretary Liam Dennehy, in his final year before he takes over the North Kerry chair, was delighted. “We’ve travelled over half-way to Dublin for this result. Rest assured, when we go the full journey Duagh will be as focused as any Kerry team at Croke Park.
“Croker here we come.”
Scorers for Duagh: B. O’Brien 0-3, A. Kelly, T. Dillon (frees) 0-2 each, D. Lane, A. O’Brien, A.
Maher, T. Scanlon, D. Griffin (free) 0-1 each.
Park/Ratheniska: T. Bowe (0-1 free) and K. Delaney (0-2 frees) 0-4 each, C. Brennan 0-1.
DUAGH: J. Halpin; A. Carmody, J. O’Brien, D. Nolan; K. Quirke, T. Dillon, P. Sheehan; D. Griffin, A. Maher; J. Kelly, A. Kelly, B. O’Brien; D. Lane, A. O’Brien, T. Scanlon.
Subs: D. O’Donoghue for Scanlon, E. Fingleton for A. O’Brien, P. McEvoy for Lane.
PARK/RATHENISKA: B. Ramsbottom; J. Cahill, D. Brennan, T. White; D. Larkin, M. Delaney, A. Morrin; C. Óg Greene, G. Ramsbottom; B. Fingleton, K. Delaney, S. Flanagan; J. Kelly, T. Bowe, C. Brennan.
Subs: S. Dennehy for S. Flanagan, N. Flanagan for Brennan, P. McEvoy for Sheehan.
Referee: M. Collins (Cork).