Paul Mannion and Shane Walsh shine as Kilmacud reach Leinster final

Paul Mannion fired five first-half points as Kilmacud reached another Leinster final
Paul Mannion fired five first-half points as Kilmacud reached another Leinster final Paul Mannion fired five first-half points as Kilmacud reached another Leinster final

AIB Leinster Club SFC semi-final

St Mary's, Ardee (Louth) 1-11 Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin) 1-16

EVEN with his seven All-Ireland medals, missing out on an Allstar last Friday night must have irked Paul Mannion, the ferocious competitor that he is.

The All-Ireland final man-of-the-match certainly looked like a man keen to make a point in the opening half of this Leinster semi-final two days on from his snub, blasting five early points to help open up a 10-point half-time lead that Crokes, surprisingly, would later rely on.

Mannion and 2022 Allstar Shane Walsh were virtually unstoppable in that first half.

It was a good thing they posted all those scores too because Ardee, the back-to-back Louth champions, gave the 3,000 strong crowd plenty to shout about with a spirited second-half comeback.

Inspired by their own talisman, Ciaran Keenan, the St Mary's men reeled off 1-5 without response throughout the third quarter to reduce their deficit to just two points at one stage.

That was as close as they came to an upset of Mullinalaghta proportions, though, as All-Ireland holders Crokes, chasing a historic three-in-a-row of provincial titles, dug deep into their reservoir of big-game experience to see out the victory.

A combination of Walsh's sorcery and the impact of substitutes Shane Horan and Luke Ward ultimately got Crokes over the line, securing them a final clash with old rivals Naas on December 2 or 9 at Croke Park. That'll be another opportunity for the jilted Mannion to stick it to the Allstars selectors.

"I am biased of course but he should have got an Allstar, without a shadow of a doubt," said Crokes manager Robbie Brennan.

"I won't say it was a joke but it was a bit of a strange one that he didn't get it. But I don't think it will bother him too much. I think he is happy enough to come down and do his business today."

Mannion, according to Brennan, missed Dublin's team holiday to answer his club's call and they needed him as it turned out.

He and Walsh cooked up a storm in the opening half and with Darragh Dempsey netting in the 18th minute, they soared 1-10 to 0-3 clear at half-time.

Ardee didn't score a point from open play in the first half but returned a different team for the second-half.

The strong wind at their backs clearly helped but it was mainly the urgency and ability that Keenan brought to proceedings that changed the game.

He converted three points from marks, while Ryan Rooney sniped an opportunistic 40th-minute Ardee goal when they turned the ball over deep in Crokes' own half.

Liam Jackson's 46th-minute point for Ardee left just two points in it but a couple of wasted point attempts after that cost them and Crokes, typically, turned the screw in the closing minutes.

Naas, meanwhile, needed extra-time to see off St Loman's, Mullingar by 1-15 to 1-10.

St Mary's J McGillick; D McKenny, E Keenan, T Corrigan; K Moran, P McKenny, C Gillespie (0-2, 2f); S Callaghan, R Leavy; L Jackson (0-1), C Keenan (0-3, 3m), J Commins (0-3, 3f); R Rooney (1-0), D McConnon (0-1), T Jackson (0-1, 1f).

Subs S Matthews for Commins 55, T McDonnelly for Corrigan 55, R Carroll for Rooney 58.

Kilmacud D Higgins; A Quinn, R O'Carroll, D O'Brien; M O'Leary, C O'Connor (0-1), A McGowan (0-1); B Sheehy, C Dias; D Dempsey (1-0), P Mannion (0-5), D Mullin (0-1); H Kenny, S Cunningham (0-1), S Walsh (0-5, 3f).

Subs S Horan (0-1) for Dempsey 44, C Pearson for Kenny 49, L Ward (0-1) for Cunningham 51, L Flatman for Sheehy 61.

Ref B Cawley (Kildare).