Soccer skills see Enniskillen through after epic Ulster battle with Gowna at Brewster Park
Ulster Club SFC quarter-final: Enniskillen Gaels 1-17 Gowna 2-14 (AET) (Enniskillen Gaels win 5-3 on penalties)
ENNISKILLEN Gaels have long had to balance their people's love of soccer, but on Saturday night it all paid off in Brewster Park.
Conor Love, Conor Watson, Eoin Beacom, John Reihill and Ciaran Smith were the Gaels' penalty takers as they saw off Gowna. Not only did all five score, but they did so emphatically.
Watson, Beacom and goalkeeper Cian Newman, who crucially saved from Cian Madden, all play soccer for Enniskillen Town United, as do Callum Jones, Ethan Beresford and Conall Quinn.
Love, outstanding on the soggy Brewster turf, was described earlier this year by his Enniskillen Athletic manager as “the best forward” in the local Division One league. John Reihill is his team-mate there. Ciaran Smith plays for Enniskillen Rangers.
Gowna's penalties weren't bad at all but the Gaels' were brilliant. The one that Ronan Bannon did well to get a hand from Eoin Beacom was still well enough hit to squeeze into the top corner.
Unlike most GAA players, four of the five Enniskillen men didn't kick to their strong side. They opened up and went across themselves, the mark of a confident penalty taker.
“That's one of the reasons they're hitting penalties, because they've hit penalties in big soccer games,” said Gaels' boss Simon Bradley after the game.
“We did it in training, that exact thing. It was good craic at the time but it was very useful too because it really made our minds up about bringing Conor Watson back on with 30 seconds to go, he was there to tuck that one away.”
Their abilities from the spot enabled them to win a game that they'd always deserved to win.
Gowna were very fortunate to be within two points at half-time in normal time. They left oceans of space in their defence with absolutely no cover. Gaels were winning their own kickouts when they went long and all three of Callum Jones, Conor Love and John Reihill were on form.
They played as a rotating trio, two in and one a bit deeper, and finished up with 1-13 between them, 1-9 of it from play, despite the manful efforts of Fionan and Cormac Brady in particular.
Love and Jones combined for the latter to net after 12 minutes but with his last touch before going off injured, TJ Fitzpatrick struck back for the Cavan champions with a blistering finish across Cian Newman.
It was 1-5 to 1-2 after 20 minutes when veteran Mark McKeever forced the door open again and squared for Robbie Fitzpatrick to palm home a second Gowna goal.
The game was open and hugely entertaining from start to finish. The second period and extra-time was played in a raucous atmosphere, the sizeable home support led by their young ultras behind the goal hammering on the hoardings.
Fermanagh's best led by 1-7 to 2-3 at the break having been more than two points the better side.
Gowna got their match-ups tidied up a bit and moving Fionan Brady on to John Reihill, the primary ball-winner, helped them get a better grip of things.
But on a pitch that was just about playable, saturated and muddy, they never quite came good. Conor Brady was kept quiet by a diligent tracking job by Ryan McDonnell, while Richard O'Callaghan's disciplined positioning cut off the kick and made Fintan Reilly's men try to carry ball instead.
They definitely deserve more credit for their performance from half-time onwards. The game did even out and the fact they'd somehow managed to stay tight in the first half looked like it might become a defining factor.
Gowna drew level on 45 minutes but never led until two minutes into stoppage time. Patrick Reihill had just flashed a goal chance wide when Tiarnan Madden kicked a free to tie things up and the tide felt like the tide was coming in for Enniskillen Gaels.
But they held strong. Callum Jones was sent off for a high tackle, and probably fairly so. Conor Madden charged into the aftermath but didn't appear to do anything that merited his red card.
As it happened the Gaels needed a superb 47-yard Eoin Beacom free, reminiscent of Conall Jones' equaliser for Derrygonnelly against Dromore last year, to take it to extra-time in the end. Robbie Fitzpatrick and Ryan Donohoe both missed chances to steal the game for Gowna.
Yet it was the Cavan men who kicked the first three scores of extra-time inside four minutes and seemed destined for the last four. Probably the most impressive aspects of it all for the Enniskillen men was how they recovered and clawed it back, with Conor Love's 77th minute equaliser from play possibly even surpassing Beacom's.
Cian Madden was the only one of the nine takers to miss a penalty, and that came after referee Niall McKenna picked a bad time to dispatch everyone else to the sidelines, forcing Madden to stand for ages before Cian Newman got low to stop his spot-kick.
Fintan Reilly sought no excuses. He questioned the pitch, rightly so, but said it was the same pitch for Enniskillen. He questioned a free given in the goalmouth for a pick off the ground when his side were two up, but added that's just the way football is.
Gowna didn't really earn the right to complain and didn't really earn the right to reach a semi-final.
Enniskillen Gaels were the better team on the night, even before all the soccer came in handy.
Enniskillen Gaels: C Newman; J Ferguson, A Nolan, J Horan; C Watson (0-1), J Cassidy, P Reihill; B Horan, R O'Callaghan (0-1); N McDermott, R McDonnell, C McShea; C Jones (1-2); C Love (0-7, 0-2 frees), J Reihill (0-4, 0-2 frees)
Subs: C Smith for Watson (43), C Quinn for McDermott (43), E Beacom (0-1 free) for P Reihill (50), E Beresford (0-1) for J Reihill (60), C Murphy (start of ET), P Cassidy for McDonnell (ET), J Tierney for Ferguson (70), J Reihill for Horan (70), C Watson for P Cassidy (80)
Penalties: C Love, C Watson, E Beacom, J Reihill, C Smith
Gowna: R Bannon; F Brady, R McGahern; Cormac Brady; M McKeever (0-1), Conor Brady, R Brady; R Fitzpatrick (1-2), R Donohoe; A Brady, Cian Madden (0-3 frees), TJ Fitzpatrick (1-0), T Madden (0-3 frees); C Casey (0-2), Conor Madden (0-2, 0-1 mark)
Subs: D Madden (0-1) for TJ Fitzpatrick (17), O Pierson for A Brady (52), R Keogh for R Fitzpatrick (64), S Hartin (start of ET), R Fitzpatrick for D Madden (79)
Penalties: C Casey, O Pierson, R Fitzpatrick
Referee: N McKenna (Monaghan)