Hurling and camogie

Dunloy cherish late raid to deny Rossa a famous win

Gerard Walsh (Rossa) and Kevin Molloy (Dunloy) contest a high ball during yesterday's dramatic Antrim SHC clash. Picture by Mal McCann
From Cahair O'Kane at Rossa Park

Bathshack Antrim SHC Group One: O’Donovan Rossa 0-18 Dunloy Cuchullain’s 1-15

IF anything told the story of Rossa’s performance yesterday, it was the body language of Dunloy manager Gregory O’Kane on the final whistle.

Nobody would have predicted that the idea of snatching a draw would have him leaping through the air, punching his fist in delight and hugging his players.

Now, it wasn’t the result per se that he was reacting to, but the fact that from the very bottom of the well with the water trickling in, they managed to find a way out yet again, having done something mildly similar against Ballycastle

Four down in deep, deep stoppage time, Paul Shiels took advantage of the lop-sided cover on the Rossa line to fire a 21-yard free home. The finish itself was still genius, the ball put right on a postage stamp in the top corner of Donal Armstrong’s net.

The home side were baying for the whistle but referee Kevin Parke allowed one more play and when it fell to young sub Chrissy McMahon for his first touch, half of Dunloy inhaled and the other half roared “don’t!”

But from all of 90 yards, angle included, he sent the sweetest of strikes straight over the black spot and had the blue and yellow shirts dropping to their knees as the final whistle sounded seconds later.

“Maybe we’re county champions for a reason,” said a defiant O’Kane.

“To go to the death, deep in injury-time and score 1-1… That’s what you ask of your players – to go to the well when things aren’t going well for you.”

If their late salvo was the mark of champions, their general performance fell short of it.

The home side, having almost bloodied St John’s noses in their first outing, were on their game from the first whistle and were never once behind. They brought the controlled aggression to the game and it took the Cuchullain’s a while to meet the tempo.

James Connolly, whose availability this season has been a major boost for Rossa, ran the show for the first quarter, landing a few outrageous scores to begin an 11-point haul.

Stephen Beatty and Tiarnan Murphy chipped in to help build a 0-5 to 0-2 lead before Conal Cunning slipped into gear, taking on Ciaran Orchin and landing two of his side’s first five scores from play, as well as two frees.

What properly altered the game’s pattern was Dunloy switching Ronan Molloy on to Connolly.

Molloy not only shut him down, but became his team’s best player in the process.

The 20-year-old was outstanding throughout, although at times in the second half a tiring Rossa team started to play into his hands too, landing ball on top of a man who was surviving grand off his own oxygen without being handed more.

Neither full-forward line properly functioned to any great degree. Dunloy’s pacy inside trio looked that one half-step away from breaking free all day, but it never happened thanks to some manful defending.

Dunloy’s full-back line was even more dominant. Aaron Crawford tied up a “patched-up” Christopher McGuinness, with only Tiarnan and Deaglan Murphy carrying any real threat at the top end of the pitch for Rossa, and they both dipped in and out.

Their strength came from deep, led by Connolly, Beatty, Gerard Walsh, Michael Armstrong, while Dunloy had similar flashes from Keelan Molloy without him ever enjoying mastery of proceedings.

Paul Shiels operated as a pseudo-sweeper in the first half and then at centre-back in the second. His performance, and goal, summed up Dunloy yesterday.

There were moments of real, genuine quality, but also uncharacteristic errors that left the door swinging for the men that last won a senior title in 2004.

Conal Cunning was denied by a brilliant Armstrong save at 0-12 to 0-11 while sub Chrissy Brogan saw his attempted pass across goal cut off when the shot himself was maybe the better option.

The Cuchullain’s felt they were having to work harder for frees, and there was a stage of the second half that they had a case. Kevin Parke’s performance as referee enraged both sets of supporters at times, but he let it go to both ends and the game was all the better for it.

When Dunloy crept back level at 0-13 apiece at the second water break, it felt like they were about to take over. Instead, Rossa hit the next five points to take what seemed a decisive lead.

Just as it looked gone, Paul Shiels hit 1-1 from frees in stoppage time and when Chrissy McMahon let fly, Dunloy celebrated a draw in a way they couldn’t have imagined two hours previous.

It all leaves a fascinating weekend ahead, with Rossa going to Ballycastle and Dunloy at St John’s. Only the Johnnies are safe from absolute elimination, while Rossa are the only ones that can’t top the group, but they’re all playing for something.

“If we match that performance next week and we don’t get out of the group, so be it,” said Rossa boss Murphy.

“I’m so proud of where they’ve come from in the last 24 months. You couldn’t have asked for any more. They were fantastic to a man.”

While they waited an eternity for the final whistle that never came while they led, their circumspect manager took the diplomatic approach.

“If it’s the time, it’s the time. The referee’s not going to cheat you, by no means.

“You play to the final whistle. Unfortunately we didn’t.

“[It was] probably a bit of [inexperience], but I think it was tiredness. You could see they were out on their feet.

“They gave it everything for 60 minutes. The intensity we played with was fantastic.

“I thought the referee could have given a couple of red cards for high tackles, on another day the ball breaks in there and we could have got a goal.

“But here, that’s why we all enjoy sport and love it so much.”

MATCH STATS
O’Donovan Rossa: D Armstrong; C Orchin, N Crossan, A Orchin; G Walsh (0-1), M Armstrong (0-1), Stephen Shannon, Seaghán Shannon; S Beatty (0-1), J Connolly (0-11, 0-9 frees); C Shannon, D McEnhill, D Murphy (0-1); C McGuinness, T Murphy (0-2)
Sub: D Murphy (0-1) for McEnhill (45)
Blood sub: O May for D Murphy (29-30)

Dunloy: R Elliott; O Quinn, A Crawford, C Kinsella; R Molloy, E Smyth, R McGarry; P Shiels (1-1 frees), Kevin Molloy; G McTaggart, Keelan Molloy (0-2), A McGrath; S Elliott (0-1), C Cunning (0-9, 0-6 frees, 0-1 65’), E O’Neill (0-1)
Subs: C Brogan for McGrath (30), N McKeague for Smyth (HT), D Smyth for McTaggart (46), C McMahon (0-1) for Brogan (65)

Referee: K Parke (St Enda’s)

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Hurling and camogie