Two goals inside the opening 11 minutes of this sink-or-swim tie provided his Rathmore side with a cushion that kept the division at arm’s length for well over two-thirds of the proceedings. Then came the events of the 38th minute.
First, though, some context: St Brendan’s attackers were punching holes in the Rathmore rearguard but not converting. Of four goal chances engineered, only one was put away. Eight minutes after the break Na Gaeil’s Jack Barry again carved open the Rathmore defence but his momentum was halted with a Brendan O’Keeffe leg block.
The concession of a penalty was an inevitable price to pay, but what Rathmore didn’t bargain for was a second yellow card for O’Keeffe. Rathmore were now without their captain and reduced to 14 men. Worse still, there was that penalty to contend with, which, if converted, would eat into Rathmore’s 2-11 to 1-7 advantage.
Kieran Hurley stepped up to the penalty, his piledriver cannoning back off the crossbar. Relief for Rathmore.
Unfazed by the miss, the divisional outfit kicked six of the next seven scores as the favourites from East Kerry slumped onto the back foot – 2-12 to 1-13 now read the scoreline. Full-forward Hurley raised five of the six white flags involved – three of which arrived via the dead ball as indiscipline crept into Rathmore’s less than assured defensive efforts.
On 54 minutes, and having kicked only one point in the previous 17 minutes of action, Rathmore got back their cushion. Sub Dean Fitzgerald, with a rampaging run through the St Brendan’s rearguard, teed up Daniel O’Sullivan and the midfielder made no mistake from close range.
St Brendan’s, again, gave chase, but a second goal was required and the closest they came was a David Griffin half chance which was put paid to by a vital Mark Reen interception.
“The fact that we were in the semi-final last year and knowing that there was a trap door underneath us today had we lost, a defeat would have put this team back a few years. In that sense, we are absolutely delighted, and relieved,” said Rathmore boss Moynihan afterwards.
“The penalty was a huge turning point. Had that gone in, we would have been in right trouble. They would have been a man up and playing into a strong breeze. Club over divisional just helped us in the finish. We held onto the ball and did enough.
“Most games this year where we do middling well in the first-half, we just seem to switch off a small bit in the second-half. Saying that, Paul Murphy picked up a dead leg after 30 seconds. It was amazing that he stayed on. It was his own choice to stay on.”
The two early goals were ultimately key for the victors - John Moynihan banged home the first in the 2nd minute and while centre-forward Alan O’Donoghue, who enjoyed the upper hand in his duel with Aidan O’Mahony, replied with a goal for St Brendan’s, Rathmore went 2-4 to 1-2 clear thanks to a fine individual effort from George O’Keefe 11 minutes in.
Mark Reen, Eoin Lawlor and Mark Ryan added scores as the favourites returned down the tunnel 2-9 to 1-6 in front. It was a lead, despite much stumbling and sweating upon the change of ends, they would actually improve on come the finish.
J Moynihan, G O’Keeffe (1-1 each); M Reen (0-4, 0-2 frees), B O’Keeffe (0-4, 0-2 frees, 0-1 ’45); E Lawlor (0-3); M Ryan (0-1).
K Hurley (0-12, 0-7 frees); A O’Donoghue (1-1); I Parker (0-2); L Bastible (0-1 each).
P McCarthy; C Jenkins; C Murphy, J O’Sullivan; TJ Friel, A O’Mahony, M Kelliher; M Ryan, D O’Sullivan; B O’Keeffe, P Murphy, G O’Keeffe; M Reen, E Lawlor, J Moynihan.
C Kelly for TJ Friel (2 mins, inj), D Fitzgerald for Ryan (HT), D O’Sullivan for Kelly (48).
E O’Brien (Churchill); P McMahon (St Pats), T Wallace (Ardfert), K Dwyer (St Pats); E Courtney (Ardfert), M Brennan (Churchill), L Bastible (John Mitchels); J Barry (Na Gaeil), K Shanahan (Ardfert); M Griffin (Na Gaeil), A O’Donoghue (John Mitchels), D Griffin (Ardfert); D Carmody (Na Gaeil), K Hurley (St Pats), I Parker (Churchill).
D Wallace (Ardfert) for Carmody (35 mins), I Courtney (Ardfert) for Shanahan (55), D Bazil (Na Gaeil) for McMahon (65).