Gaels squeak past brave Ballyboden

KILKENNY champions, O’Loughlin-Gaels saved themselves from the grave with only seconds remaining in normal time and then made Ballyboden St Enda’s (Dublin) pay the ultimate price when they scored a daring win in this thrilling Leinster Club SFC semi-final in Nowlan Park yesterday.

With a minute of normal time remaining, a place in the Leinster final against Oulart-the-Ballagh (Wexford) looked to be Ballyboden’s after free taker, Paul Ryan shot his second goal of the half. It left the Cats facing a championship demise when 1-14 to 3-9 down.

The Noresiders won the puck-out through Niall McEvoy, who popped over the equaliser. O’Loughlin’s then had a chance to snatch a dramatic victory when awarded a 20-metre free, but the effort from a tough angle was missed by the usually reliable Mark Bergin, who finished with 11 points to his credit.

In the end four points without reply during the closing 10 minutes of extra-time earned O’Loughlin’s victory and finished the dream of brave Ballyboden.

The issue was wide open at the rest in extra-time when the sides were level for the sixth time, 1-17 to 3-11. The Noresiders blasted into action from restart and three points on the bounce by Brian Dowling, Kilkenny star Martin Comerford and Mark Bergin, within as many minutes of the restart, all but broke the Dubs.

The losers gave everything but couldn’t come up with another score and the last point was shot by Bergin with only seconds remaining.

“We really had to dig that one out,” was the summary of O’Loughlin’s manager, Michael Nolan afterwards. “Ballyboden were good. We knew they were and they pushed us all the way. A win like that can do great things for a team.”

Ballyboden boss, Liam Hogan, was, naturally, very disappointed but he was gracious in defeat. “We came here with the intention of winning, nothing else,” he insisted. “We trained all year for this one day, but it just wasn’t to be. It was a good game of hurling. The game was hard fought from beginning to end. We went to sleep during the closing 10 minutes of the first-half and that was what undid us.”

The losers were the better team during the opening half, but somehow ended up trailing 1-7 to 1-6 at the break having out-hurled and out-muscled the opposition. With the aid of a Conal Keaney goal in the fifth minute, the Dubs went between four and five points in front for most of the half. O’Loughlin’s hit their best spell of the half between the 24th and 26th minutes when they picked off points through Danny Loughnane (2) and Peter Dowling to drag themselves right back into contention.

Things got even better for them seconds into lost time at the end of the half when a long range free by Mark Bergin ended with Brian Dowling turning the ball into the net from close range. Against the run of play, O’Loughlin’s went into the rest 1-7 to 1-6 in front.

Early in the new half the Dubs regained parity through Ryan. O’Loughlin’s regained the lead through Danny Loughnane in the 36th minute and at one stage they sneaked three ahead. But then Ryan pulled them back when blasting a 20-metre free to the net after Conal Keaney had been fouled (1-11 to 2-8).

O’Loughlin’s sneaked in front again and five minutes from the end looked to be going well when 1-14 to 2-9 in front. Up popped Ryan again, this time in the 58th minute to blast another goal from a free to put the losers in front (3-9 to 1-14).

Niall McEvoy charged to O’Loughlin’s rescue when he pointed after winning the puck-out. This forced the contest into extra-time. Nothing was decided after the first period of 10 minutes, when the scores were still level, 1-17 to 3-11. O’Loughlin’s found more in the legs after that and they undid the Dubs despite the powerful hurling of Stephen Nolan, Conal Keaney, Shane Durkin and keeper, Gary Maguire, who brought off three important saves.

Scorers for O’Loughlin-Gaels: M. Bergin (0-11, 0-8 frees); B. Dowling (1-2); N. McEvoy, A. Geoghegan, D. Loughnane (0-2 each); P. Dowling, M. Comerford (0-1 each). Ballyboden St Enda’s: - P. Ryan (2-5, 2-4 frees); C. Keaney (1-1); D. Curtin, S. Durking (0-2 each); J. Doody (0-1).

O’LOUGHLIN-GAELS: S. Murphy; B. Kelly, A. Kearns, E. Kearns; A. O’Brien, B. Hogan, N. Bergin; P. Dowling, S. Cummins; N. McEvoy, M. Bergin, A. Geoghegan; B. Dowling, M. Comerford, D. Loughnane.

Subs: C. Bergin for Cummins 50th min; Cummins for C. Bergin 70th min.

BALLYBODEN ST ENDA’S: G. Maguire; B. Treacy, D. Spain, M. O’Sullivan; S. Hiney, S. Nolan, M. Travers; D. Curtin, S. Durkin; C. McCormack, S. Lambert, D. Sweeney, P. Ryan, C. Keaney, J. Doody.

Subs: P. Buckeridge for D. Sweeney 41st min; N. McMorrow for Doody 41st min; D. O’Connor for Lambert 59th min; D. Curran for B. Treacy 78th min.

Referee: D. Murphy (Wexford).

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