McMahon saves Cuchullains deep, deep in injury time

Bathshack Senior Hurling Championship

Group One

Sunday August 16

Rossa 0-18 Dunloy 1-15

Brendan McTaggart reports from Rossa Park, Belfast

I pity those that don’t have hurling in their lives.  The greatest game on earth and this was a fine advertisement for our beautiful game.

Where do you start to dissect this one?  Breath-taking intensity, incredible desire and a hunger to do whatever it takes for your club.  Both Rossa and Dunloy gave everything they had and the Jeremiah’s looked like they had recorded a massive two points.

They didn’t.

The clock ticked into the 14th minute of injury time when Paul Shiels riffled the sliotar into the roof of the net from over 30 yards out and with the next poc, the Cuchullains recycled and deep into his own half, Chrissy McMahon showed composure and belief.  A trust in his ability and boom.  The sliotar never looked like wavering.  The young Cuchullain celebrated, Rossa players sank to their knees and referee Kevin Parke blew the final whistle.

To say Dunloy pulled a ‘Dick Turpin’ would be an injustice to the ending of this incredible game.  Rossa had created the perfect storm and were riding the turbulence superbly.  Colly Murphy’s men were five, yes five, points clear going into the final minute of the hour.  Thanks largely to a masterclass in free taking from James Connolly but this was more than just a free taking contest.  The Jeremiah’s were brilliant for 74 minutes.  It’s that 75th minute that cost them.

The Cuchullains made changes from seven days ago.  Two in defence and three in attack and from memory the first time there wasn’t a McKeague in the championship starting 15 for close to 20 years.  A reshuffled pack allowed for Ronan Molloy to move into wing half back.  Ronan was imperious.  If he didn’t claim primary possession from the clouds, he was winning it among a group of bodies.  Head and shoulders the best performer in a Dunloy shirt although a 20 year old Aaron Crawford wasn’t far behind him after an immense display on the edge of the square.

Connolly’s contribution was more than just frees for Rossa.  An enigma on the field making him near impossible to mark and a player capable of producing pieces of brilliance when he’s on his game.  This was his game. 

Rossa had got their tactics pitch perfect on the day.  Cricky McGuinness made a nuisance of himself on the edge of the Dunloy square while Mickey Armstrong covered every blade of grass on Rossa Park.

It was a display full of intensity where they put their bodies on the line time and again.  They made sure Dunloy couldn’t ever settle and while the Cuchullains matched that same intensity and desire, nothing was going to hand.  The slickness we’ve become accustomed to witnessing was missing yet they still found a way.  A mark of champions.

Rossa had the wind at their backs in the first half and had a three point lead by the short whistle.  Connolly’s accuracy, but their graft and cuteness were winning the day.  Mickey Armstrong dropping deeper and Walsh pulling the strings.

Dunloy had Coby Cunning to thank for keeping in touch.  Brilliant from frees, outstanding from open play.  When given the ball in the right areas, Coby was causing mayhem.

Three points wasn’t a massive lead and at the turnaround, they would have been confident in turning the deficit and while they did, it was thanks to Ryan Elliott that lead wasn’t doubled soon after the restart.  A long Walsh free dropping into the parallelogram, McGuinness caught the ball in the clouds and his shot was instinctive.  Elliott’s save was superb.

The Cuchullains had their own goal chance when the deficit was down to the minimum, seven minutes into the second half.  Kevin Molloy’s side line was sent across the pitch where Coby caught the sliotar and turned two men in a quite brilliant piece of skill.  His rasping drive was saved by Donal Armstrong between the sticks for the Jeremiah’s.

Dunloy changed their own tactics, keeping an extra man deeper to take a foothold where they could.  They fought fire with fire in the second half and by the water-break, they had restored parity to the scoreboard and looked in pole position.  Incredibly though, they were kept scoreless from the 51st minute until the 71st.

Rossa upped their intensity, Connolly fired over frees, taking his tally to 11 points for the match and Rossa had opened up what felt like an unassailable lead.

But the match continued to go.  The clock ticked on and Dunloy, somehow, managed to revive their championship campaign with ‘Shorty’ taking centre stage.  First a drilled free, no doubt he was going for goal but the sliotar went over before he scored a quite incredible goal just two minutes later.  Rossa only had one player in the Dunloy half when Shiels lined up the free and he still managed to find the corner of the net. 

Yet there was still time for one more play.  Fittingly, Ronan Molloy was involved in reclaiming possession before substitutes Nicky McKeague and Chrissy McMahon combined.  He had options in front of him, players screaming, the crowd roaring but McMahon remained coolness personified.  On the pitch for less than five minutes, McMahon struck.  It never looked in doubt.  A gargantuan score both physically and metaphorically speaking for the Cuchullains as referee Kevin Parke blew the final whistle upon the restart.

A heart breaking end for the Jeremiah’s and they’re bound to feel like this was a defeat such was the position they were in.  There was frustrations all round from both camps but as it is, we’re nowhere near knowing who’s going through to the next phase of the championship in this group.

For the second week in a row, they have hurled the shirt off their back and have been in winning positions.  Yet they stand with one point from two games.  On another time or in a parallel universe, they could be sitting top of the group.  They now travel to Ballycastle with rejuvenated confidence, a spring in their step and everything on the line.

Dunloy travel to Corrigan Park chasing their first win in this year’s championship.  Anyone who saw that coming is telling you porkies. 

The championship and hurling has been worth the wait.  Next weekend promises to be a cracker.

TEAMS

Rossa: Donal Armstrong; Ciaran Orchin, Niall Crossan, Aidan Orchin; Gerard Walsh, Chris McGuinness, Stephen Shannon; Stephen Beatty, James Connolly; Seaghan Shannon, Dominic McEnhill, Deaglan Murphy; Cónall Shannon, Michael Armstrong, Tiarnan Murphy

Subs: Dara Murphy for D McEnhill (47); Michael McGreavey for C Shannon (51); Oisin McVicker for C McGuinness (inj); Owen May for T Murphy (inj)

Scorers: James Connolly 0-11 (9f); Tiarnan Murphy 0-2; Gerard Walsh 0-1; Stephen Beatty 0-1; Deaglan Murphy 0-1; Michael Armstrong 0-1

Dunloy: Ryan Elliott; Oran Quinn, Aaron Crawford, Conor Kinsella; Ronan Molloy, Eamon Smyth, Ryan McGarry; Paul Shiels, Kevin Molloy; Anton McGrath, Keelan Molloy, Gabriel McTaggart; Eoin O’Neill, Conal Cunning, Seaan Elliott

Subs: Chrissy Brogan for A McGrath (30); Nicky McKeague for E Smyth (HT); Deaglan Smith for G McTaggart (52); Chrissy McMahon for D Smith (inj)

Scorers: Conal Cunning 0-9 (6f, 1 ’65); Paul Shiels 1-2 (1-1f); Keelan Molloy 0-2; Seaan Elliott 0-1

Referee: Kevin Parke (Naomh Éanna)

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