Strong Second Half Secures Victory for O’Donnell’s

Graham Tarmac Junior Football Championship – Group 1

Friday 29th July

Report by Niall Kelly 

Éire Óg 1-08  Cardinal O’Donnells 2-09

With the scores deadlocked at half time, O’Donnell’s boss Joe Herald must’ve imparted some words of wisdom to his side as they took the impetus in the second period securing the all-important two points in this opening group game. It was a war of attrition at times with both teams struggling to penetrate and link up effectively in the greasy conditions but a greater composure in front of the posts would pay dividends for the visitors.

With ODs coming into proceedings as the favourites, Éire Óg opted to deploy a sweeper system and their low block ensured a frustrating first half for the Whiterock men. Indeed, chances were few and far between in the opening exchanges but on the fifth minute Fergal McNerney got the scoreboard going after demonstrating his superb aerial ability to fist over a high ball in from centre forward Cailean Walsh.

A matter of minutes later and O’Donnells corner forward Mark Close came agonisingly ‘Close’ himself to getting the first green flag of the evening which again stemmed from another high ball in. Close’s snapshot was expertly saved by Éire Óg shot stopper Brendan Shannon.

This seemed to stir the home side into life as their counter attacks using their wide players gave them some joy. James Toal caressed a beautiful effort over from range before tenacious work from Conor Ellis presented the opportunity for Niall Ward to split the sticks to take the lead on the twelfth minute.

The lead was short lived however as the Éire Óg defence continued to struggled with O’Donnell’s high ball delivery. Cailean Walsh was once again the provider of this. His lofted ball into the mixer caused panic and yet again McNerney was most alert to prod the ball into the back of the net much to the delight of the loyal travelling support.

Scores from placed balls were then exchanged by the trusted boots of James Toal and Cailean Walsh before it was Éire Óg’s turn to attain the ascendancy. As the first half clock ticked down to completion, the home side’s danger-man Conor McKenna came to the fore hitting two superb efforts from play. Éire Óg had the smell of blood in their nostrils and with two minutes to spare before the break, they were denied a goal of their own thanks to two cracking saves from OD’s shot stopping supremo Conor Murphy. Yet again though, McKenna was alert to the loose ball from Murphy’s heroics and pointed from close range.

There was just enough time for Cailean Walsh to send over his second free of the evening as the teams went into the break with nothing to separate them with the scores 0-06 to 1-03 at the short whistle.

O’Donnell’s emerged a different side in the second half. Improved ball retention, composure and a much more patient approach in their attacks would provide the platform for victory. Carrying the ball and driving at the Éire Óg defence paid off as the Whiterock men won a spate of frees in the scoring zone which were ably despatched by Ciaran McKissock (2) and Walsh yet again.

James Toal responded with a free of his own on the 42nd minute to cut the gap to two points before tenacious and persistent work from O’Donnell’s skipper Conor Walsh reinstated the three point gap. Tackles were now flying in as the intensity and passion of Championship was on display. Points were exchanged once more in the heat of battle from Kevin Clarke and a long range effort from substitute Padraig McKissock.

Éire Óg continued to battle and searched tirelessly for avenues to penetrate the OD’s defence but to no avail and five minutes from time, the death knell sounded for them. Fergal McNerney was brought down in the box and full forward Richard McAvoy made no mistake in finishing coolly as his effort rippled the bottom left of the net. Substitute John Ferran then increased the gap to seven with the game approaching added time and the deficit proved to be unassailable for the hosts.

To their credit, as they had done all game, Éire Óg continued to battle and threw men into the attack in the hope of getting a goal to make things nervy. With the last kick of the game, their gung-ho approach came to fruition as Niall Ward slotted home from the penalty spot but it was to prove too little too late.

Credit to both teams for a good, honest Championship duel. It wasn’t pretty at times but for O’Donnells, it didn’t need to be. Championship matches are there for winning and they will no doubt be buoyed by this result in advance for the welcoming of Wolfetones to McCrory Park. Éire Óg will also gain more confidence going into their next outing against Pearses. They put in a spirited and determined performance, frustrating O’Donnells for much of the sixty minutes. A similar performance next time may well reap better rewards.

Éire Óg: B Shannon; P Loughran, K Ryan, J Devine; C Rice, R Donnelly, C Ellis; S McNamee, S Mullan; C McKenna (0-03,) J Toal (0-03,) S Erskine; K Clarke (0-01,) D Edgar, N Ward (1-01)

O’Donnell’s: C Murphy; C Doherty, J O’Donnell, J McKenna; G McKernan, S Thompson, K Kennedy; S Seawright, C Walsh (0-01;) C McKissock (0-02,) C Walsh (0-03,) F McNerney (1-01;) D Walsh, R McAvoy (1-00,) M Close

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