GOALS win matches, that’s what they say,” said Loughgiel’s magnificent centre-back Johnny Campbell after this hard-fought All-Ireland club SHC semi-final in Parnell Park on Saturday afternoon.
“We conceded three bad goals, all were bad breaks. We were well in the game I thought, but we missed too many scoring opportunities.”
And that was it. The Antrim champions came to Dublin in strength with massive support thronging the stands well before throw-in, and they came with one purpose – to win. “Of course we did,” said Campbell, “There were a few comments in papers about us being down here to make up numbers but f*** that, we don’t do that. We came here with total belief in ourselves, and that’s been the way with us all through this campaign.”
They had every reason for that belief and right from the throw-in the Kilkenny champions knew they were in for a tough afternoon. O’Loughlin’s did edge into an 0-3 to 0-1 lead after less than five minutes, centre-forward Mark Bergin catching Campbell for two of those points, but after that the Ulster champions settled to the task and by the 25th minute they had it back to a one-point game (0-4 to 0-3).
Crucially, however, the Gaels managed to pilfer another two points in the minutes just before the break, and in such a low-scoring game, those were two big scores.
“We knew it was going to be a serious test,” said O’Loughlin Gaels’ outstanding defender and man-of-the-match, Brian Hogan, “but it took us all of the first half before we fully realised the size of the task we were facing and what was going to be required. Fair play to Loughgiel, they got stuck in, but goals win matches, and we got them.”
Ah yes, those goals again. O’Loughlin’s did manage to score the first three points of the second half, wing-forward Niall McEvoy with two of those while Loughgiel had four wides before Eddie McCloskey finally got them on the board in the second-half. Now, 40th minute, it was back to five points (0-9 to 0-5), anybody’s game. Cue the Gael’s first goal with corner-forward Brian Dowling capitalising on the rebound of a saved shot from his brother Peter (after a great run from halfway). It was a real body-blow for the Shamrocks, but they recovered and shot three fine points (Brendan McCarry, Joey Scullion and Barry McAuley), to again bring it back to five. Again, however, with perfect timing, the second Gaels goal arrived. Danny Loughnane acrobatically getting on the end of a huge Stephen Murphy free to flick home. Roared on by their loyal support, Loughgiel weren’t for giving up the ghost just yet, and another Barry McAuley point gave them hope. It was shortlived however, and in the 55th minute, wing-forward Alan Geoghegan finished off a fine move involving Mark Bergin and Niall McEvoy, and in the process finished off the Shamrocks and set the Gaels up for a St. Patrick’s Day date with Clarinbridge.
“You can’t win a final unless you first win the semi-final,” said manager Mick Nolan, “and it’s nice to get there. It was more workmanlike than classic, but the ground conditions had a lot to do with that. It was a slog for a while, surely was, but the goals came at the right time, and thank God we got them.”
As was the case in the Leinster final win over Oulart-The Ballagh a few weeks ago, Mick and his sidekicks on the sideline made the right moves at the right time, and changing Martin Comerford from full to centre-forward around the 20th minute worked wonders. Even more critical was the switch of another Kilkenny county star, Brian Hogan, from full-back to the centre, where he dominated the second half.
“That was the decision by the lads,” Hogan explained, “They decided to try it for a while at the start of the second half, see how it worked, and a lot of ball did come my way. Sometimes at full-back you can be overworked, see a lot of ball, but it wasn’t happening today and that was frustrating – I was happy to move out.”
He added: “We’ve now got to a final, but that’s not going to be enough either. It’s bloody hard to get out of Kilkenny any year and when you do, you want to drive on and win as much as you can.”
Scorers for O’Loughlin Gaels: B Dowling; D Loughnane (1-1) each; A Geoghegan 1-0; M Bergin 0-3 (0-1f); M Nolan 0-2; N McEvoy 0-2 (0-1 s/l); M Comerford 0-1.
Scorers for Loughgiel Shamrocks: L Watson 0-3 (0-2f); E McCloskey 0-2; B McAuley 0-2 (0-1f); J Scullion, B McCarry, A Watt, 0-1 each.
O’LOUGHLIN GAELS: S Murphy; E Kearns, B Hogan, B Kelly; A O’Brien, B Murphy, N Bergin; P Dowling, M Nolan; N McEvoy, M Bergin, A Geoghegan; B Dowling, M Comerford, D Loughnane.
Subs: S Cummins for B Dowling (48); C Bergin for Geoghegan (59); E Grant for Murphy (60).
LOUGHGIEL SHAMROCKS: D Quinn; P Gillen, N McGarry, B McAuley; M McFadden, Johnny Campbell, M Scullion; D Laverty, L McKillop; James Campbell, E McCloskey, J Scullion; L Watson, A McCloskey, B McCarry.
Subs: A Watt for A McCloskey (30); C McGinley for James Campbell (30); O McFadden for McKillop (55); D Laverty for McCarry (56). Blood sub: C McGinley for McFadden (14/17).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).
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