Middletown the masters as Effin’s final dream shattered

THE end of the dream for gallant Effin in Birr yesterday in this entertaining All-Ireland club intermediate hurling-final.

It wasn’t the expected result, as the high-flying Limerick and Munster champions were hotly favoured to join neighbours Charleville in an All-Ireland finals double-header in Croke Park on February 11.

Charleville duly kept their part of the bargain, overcoming Fullen Gaels in the junior semi-final yesterday, but Effin had neither excuse nor complaint after this one. On a perfect afternoon for hurling, a reasonable sod, they were outworked and outplayed by a well-drilled Middletown outfit.

Hurling in the Orchard county is getting stronger and stronger and Armagh are now more than capable of putting it up to Antrim in Ulster, at underage especially. Middletown Na Fianna are an integral part of that revolution. They are ten-times senior county champions and 13 of their starting 15 yesterday are on the Armagh senior panel that competes these days at Christy Ring level.

That strength became increasingly more obvious as this game progressed, with the Ulster side looking by far the more balanced team.

Middletown had the advantage of the strong breeze and they immediately took the fight to Effin, going two points up after two minutes. Effin then got on the scoreboard with a Tommy Quaid free, but Middletown again took over after a point apiece from Barney McCann, captain Ryan Gaffney (causing real problems at full-forward) and free-taker David Carvill. Then came the first goal of the game, the tricky Cathal Carvill finishing a Ryan Gaffney cross from close range.

Effin were in real trouble. Seven points behind after just 11 minutes, they spent the rest of the half playing catch-up. Six points was the deficit at the break (1-9 to 0-6) but had Middletown taken full advantage of all their opportunities that could well have been several points more.

On the resumption, the teams exchanged points (David Carvill a Middletown free, Hugh O’Neill replying with a fine Effin effort from wide right), but two goals within a minute then effectively ended the game as a contest.

The first (Middletown’s second of the game) was fairly fortuitous, corner-forward David Moan getting a second chance after his initial effort was blocked down but then hitting a perfect ground shot into the top corner of the net. That was in the 37th minute and just 30 seconds later Middletown were back for more, Conor McCann playing a superb one/two with the ever-present Ryan Gaffney to blast past the unfortunate James O’Leary once more. At 3-10 to 0-7 Effin were now in deep trouble, but with 22 minutes still to play, they did at least have time on their side.

Digging deep, they took the fight to Middletown and two goals of their own (Darren Sheehy and Nicky Quaid, shifted from centre-back to centre-forward) had the deficit back to six points again in the 49th minute. Middletown were not going to be denied, however, and a few superb points from Moan (2) and sub Shea Gaffney closed out a well-deserved win.

Scorers for Middletown Na Fianna: D Moan 1-2; D Carvill 0-5 (0-5f); C Carvill 1-0; C McCann 1-0; B McCann 0-2 (0-1f); R Gaffney 0-2 (0-1f); F Woods, S Gaffney, M Maguire, 0-1 each.

Scorers for Effin: T Quaid 0-7 (0-7f); N Quaid 1-0; D Sheehy 1-0; H O’Neill 0-2; D Moloney 0-1.

MIDDLETOWN NA FIANNA: P Moan; B Mallon, P Hughes, F Woods; K McKernan, N Curry, P Gaffney; B McCann, P McBride; M Maguire, C McCann, D Carvill; C Carvill, R Gaffney (c), M Moan.

Subs: N McCann (D Carvill 41); S McCann (Hughes 44); S Gaffney (C McCann 49); P Curry (Maguire 60); JJ Hughes (Mallon 60).

EFFIN: J O’Leary; JP O’Donnell (c), J Dillon, A Dillon; M O’Donnell, N Quaid, M Rea; J O’Donnell P Carroll; P O’Kelly, D Moloney, C Kearney; H O’Neill, T Quaid, T Rea.

Subs: D Sheehy (O’Kelly 29); JM Manning (M Rea 33).

Referee: S Cleere (Kilkenny).

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