Moycullen 2-08 Strokestown 0-07 (after extra time)
Moycullen made short work of one first-time club championship winning team in the first round of this year's AIB Connacht club campaign when they overwhelmed Westport, and they were expected to do the same this afternoon to a Strokestown side that last month, recorded their first Fahey Cup win in Roscommon for 20 years.
Yet this turned out to be a completely different affair this afternoon in Tuam, as the east Roscommon side pushed the hotly fancied Galway men to the pin of their collar, and when they reflect on this contest in the coming days and weeks, they will wonder how things might have gone if a couple of debated calls from referee John Gilmartin had gone a different way.
Certainly, any notion that Strokestown spent the last month doing little other than celebrating their famous victory was blown out of the water in the early stages of the tie, when they burst out of the blocks with a string of early scores.
That all four of their points came from dead balls was slightly deceptive, as they moved the ball very well and forced those chances with quick movement of ball and man. Diarmuid McGann knocked over two while 18-year-old Shane McGinley made light of the heavy ground and cold air to pop over his two scores from the 45-metre line. Moreover, McGinley was incredibly lively as the lone full-time occupant of the full forward line while at midfield and half-back, Strokestown’s tackling and physicality really discommoded Don Connellan’s Galway title holders.
However, the game changed completely when Gilmartin decreed that David Butler’s late arrival to a loose ball breaking in the midfield area met the criteria of a trip worthy of a black card. By the time Butler returned to the field, Moycullen were back on level terms, with momentum on their side, after scores from Dessie Conneely and Owen Gallagher tied up the contest. During this phase of play Moycullen crisply and efficiently moved the ball from side to side, wearing down their depleted opponents and opening up good scoring chances – while the effect on Strokestown’s reserves of stamina would tell later.
Moycullen led by 0-06 to 0-05 at half-time following another point each from Conneely and Gallagher, the Antrim native's booming strike from the right wing a real highlight, but no-one could have imagined that with 26 minutes gone in the second half, no further flags would have been raised.
In terms of possession, Moycullen took control, aided by the introduction of Peter Cooke off the bench. However, while the former Galway county man got his hands on a lot of primary possession, his finishing was not what he would have wanted, and so it wasn't until the 27th minute that he made what appeared to be a decisive contribution, winning a free which Dessie Conneely pointed.
However, in the closing minutes, Strokestown midfielder Cathal Compton came up trumps with two huge plays to force extra-time – first making a wonderful high catch to set up a score for Diarmuid McGann, then firing the ball over from the right wing in the fourth minute of stoppage time to leave it 0-07 to 0-07 at the end.
Paul Kelly punched a point to move Moycullen into the lead early in extra-time, but another huge call was to prove fatal to Strokestown’s chances, as a short kickout from Niall Curley to Timmy Gibbons forced the young corner-back to try and pick up the ball off the deck. While Strokestown argued that Gibbons was pushed over by Cooke, the referee said no, and once Gibbons fell onto the ball, the teenage corner back was deemed to have handled the ball on the ground.
A quick free from Cooke to Seán Kelly left the Galway county star clean through on goal, and while Niall Curley did brilliantly to save the first effort, the rebound fell back to Kelly, who picked out the bottom corner at the second attempt.
A red card for Keith Murphy at half-time in extra time left Strokestown with a mountain to climb and while they tried to test the Moycullen full back line with a few long, high deliveries into Cathal Compton, the defence held firm and Moycullen were able to break clear and clinch their win through a late Ger Davoren tap in goal, setting up a novel provincial final against Tourlestrane in a fortnight.
Moycullen: Seamus Friel; Cian Deane, Neil Mulcahy, Conor Corcoran; Aidan Claffey, Eoin Kelly, Michael Moughan; Tom Clarke, Ger Davoren (1-00); Paul Kelly (0-01), Micheál Reilly, Seán Kelly (1-00); Daniel Cox, Owen Gallagher (0-03), Dessie Conneely (0-04, 0-03 frees).
Subs: Peter Cooke for Cox (37 mins), Fionn McDonagh for Davoren (60+1 mins), Davoren for McDonagh (full-time), Conor Bohan for Deane (76 mins), McDonagh for Gallagher (78 mins), Mark Lydon for S Kelly (80 mins).
Strokestown: Niall Curley; Timmy Gibbons, Seán Mullooly, David Neary; Ciarán Regan, Colm Neary, Cathal Brogan; David Butler, Cathal Compton (0-01); Keith Murphy, Paddy Brogan, Cathal Lavin; Diarmuid McGann (0-04, 0-03 frees), Colin Compton, Shane McGinley (0-02, 0-01 free, 0-01 45).
Subs: Kevin Finn for Lavin (43 mins), Mikey Kavanagh for Butler (52 mins), Lavin for Kavanagh (full-time), Kavanagh for Regan (76 mins).
Referee: John Gilmartin (Sligo)