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Friday 20 October 2017

Dobbs strike seals the deal

Starlights 2-12 Castletown 1-12

Alan Aherne

Starlights attacker Darragh Pepper taking on Castletown's Joe Aherne
Starlights attacker Darragh Pepper taking on Castletown's Joe Aherne
Conor Carty of Castletown is surrounded by Starlights quartet Rory O'Connor, Tom Wall, Jack Kelly and Kevin Foley
Ryan Mahon of Starlights on the move as Frank Roche (Castletown) gives chase

A goal of stunning quality bridged a ten-year gap in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday as Starlights qualified for a first Tom Doyle Supplies Senior football championship final since 2007 with a come-from-behind victory over early pace-setters Castletown.

Aaron Dobbs has been severely restricted in his G.A.A. commitments in recent years, having played in the Premier Division of the SSE Airtricity League of Ireland in 2016 with Shamrock Rovers before being loaned to Wexford F.C. for the current First Division campaign which will end next Saturday.

However, the teenager's name was on everyone's lips after this encounter as he broke Castletown's hearts with an absolutely sublime finish in the 58th minute.

The teams were deadlocked (1-11 each) when Alan Tobin fed Dobbs slightly to the right of the posts, and he drove forward before blasting an absolute piledriver past no less a goalkeeper than Anthony Masterson and into the roof of the net.

It was a goal good enough to grace any stage, and it was the final piece in the jigsaw for a group of Starlights players who underwent an amazing transformation from the first-half to the second.

Their finishing was absolutely putrid in a low-quality first-half, going for nearly 29 minutes without a point after Dillon Redmond got them off the mark from an early free.

And while a brace in added time gave them hope as they narrowed the interval deficit to 0-5 to 0-3, the nine wides they had kicked in between left people wondering if the tag of favourites bestowed on the Enniscorthy men had been completely off the mark.

In fairness, they provided the answer in emphatic fashion after the break, scoring 2-9 with the addition of just one more wide.

Their match-ups had been very interesting at the start, most notably the placing of Kevin Foley at corner-back to pick up Conor Carty whom they probably expected to spend a lot of time drifting outfield.

The switch after about 20 minutes to bring Foley to wing-back certainly helped Starlights significantly.

They started to play the game on their own terms instead of worrying about the opposition, as the county hurler's attacking instincts had been completely nullified so close to his own goal.

While it was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from the winners, the bottom line is that any semi-final win is a good one when the team hasn't been in that elevated position since 2007.

In contrast, this was Castletown's seventh penultimate round appearance in eight seasons but, after three victories on the trot from 2010 to 2012, they have now bowed out at this stage for a gut-wrenching four campaigns in a row.

They should have conceded more than one point in the first ten minutes as Starlights hit five poor wides, and a run of five scores midway through the half then handed the initiative to the north county outfit.

Donnacha Holmes kicked the leveller in the 13th minute from a Colin Kennedy off-load, while Jody O'Shaughnessy and Danny Gardiner were involved in the build-up to the Stephen Maloney point that pushed them ahead.

Three successful Ben Brosnan frees followed in just under six minutes, with the Starlights struggles continuing with constant wayward shooting.

Darragh Pepper and Richard Farrell (Castletown) were yellow-carded in separate incidents before a little light appeared at the end of the tunnel for the Bellefield crew at the conclusion of the half.

Eamonn Furlong had the ball in the net from an Aaron Dobbs delivery, but the whistle had already sounded for a push on Danny Gardiner in the seconds beforehand.

Frustrated netminder Pa Doyle ventured almost as far as midfield on a solo when the ground opened up in front of him in the first added minute, with his long kick finding Furlong who handpassed to Richie Farrell to end a barren period lasting nearly half an hour.

Mel Doyle and Nick Doyle then set up Kevin Foley to make it 5-3 at the break after a good rob by the strong-tackling Dobbs on Donegal native Peter Devine, but the best was undoubtedly to come from the town team who only survived the relegation final against Adamstown this time twelve months ago.

They almost goaled in the 35th minute, with one of several powerful runs by the long-striding Liam Ryan setting up Richie Farrell who shot at the outstretched body of Masterson.

Ricky Fox made it a one-point game from a free after Darragh Pepper was fouled, and when Farrell got a second opportunity he knew exactly what to do on this occasion.

Aaron Dobbs found Eamonn Furlong who popped a pass to the centre-forward to the left of the Clonard end posts, and he got as close as he could to the target before kicking low through Masterson's legs and into the net (1-4 to 0-5).

The general standard rose considerably from that point onwards, with a dreary opening half replaced by real do-or-die championship fare.

Castletown's initial response was strong as Colin Kennedy pointed following a strong run by Danny Gardiner, while Ben Brosnan levelled from a brilliant kick out close to the left sideline.

Dobbs hit back from a free after a silly off-the-ball trip on Kevin Foley, and Pepper added a very good solo score after turning Joe Aherne inside out from a Liam Ryan pass (1-6 to 0-7).

Starlights' tails were up as Alan Tobin converted a free after he was taken down by Colm Morris, although Jody O'Shaughnessy kicked a fine point from long range to leave it all to play for entering the last quarter.

Tobin (free) and Brosnan exchanged points, the latter from a Donnacha Holmes pass, but big Nick Doyle won the kick-out and fed Darragh Pepper who made it 1-9 to 0-9 with twelve minutes left.

The eventual winners' mettle faced the ultimate test when O'Shaughnessy, Morris and Donnacha Holmes all had a hand in a move that ended with Conor Carty crashing the ball to the net from the edge of the square.

It might have been felt that Castletown's greater experience would stand to them in the last ten minutes, but the Starlights side so well prepared by Joe Hagan had other ideas.

Liam Ryan drove through the centre, only to see his intended pass to Eamonn Furlong go astray, but he was undeterred and pointed less than 60 seconds later after Ricky Fox did very well to win a 50-50 ball close to the right sideline.

The only second-half Starlights wide was kicked by Alan Tobin before a yellow card for Tom Wall was followed by the leveller from a Ben Brosnan free from just outside the 45-metre mark.

Tobin was more measured with his next attempt, making it 1-11 to 1-10 in the 54th minute after Kevin Foley and Darragh Pepper originally combined.

A fine solo point straight down the centre from Donnacha Holmes heightened the prospects of a draw, but the crowd was then left in awe with the quality of that finish from Dobbs which was a stand-out contender for goal of the season (2-11 to 1-11).

Tobin added a crucial point from a free for a foul on Pepper, with Eamonn Furlong booked for trying to delay the kick-out.

Starlights netminder Pa Doyle had to take a step backwards to grab a Colin Kennedy delivery before substitute Andy Merrigan did pull back a point.

The victors managed the remaining time effectively though, with the wily Tomás Mahon winning a vital free on the left.

Colm Morris came forward one last time for Castletown as the game moved into its fifth added minute, but when Jack Kelly intercepted his handpass the celebrations could begin as another exciting chapter was added to what is proving to be a great year for the Bellefield club in both codes.

Starlights: Pa Doyle; Mel Doyle, Jack Kelly, Kevin Foley (0-1); Rory O'Connor, Ricky Fox (0-1 free), Tom Wall; Nick Doyle, Liam Ryan (0-1); Alan Tobin (0-4, 3 frees), Richie Farrell (1-1), Dillon Redmond (0-1 free); Ryan Mahon, Eamonn Furlong, Darragh Pepper (0-2). Subs. - Aaron Dobbs (1-1, 0-1 free) for Redmond (28), Jason Russell (capt.) for Farrell (58), Tomás Mahon for Furlong (60).

Castletown: Anthony Masterson; Joe Aherne, Danny Gardiner (capt.), Frank Roche; Peter Devine, Colm Morris, Joe Gardiner; Colin Kennedy (0-1), Richard Farrell; Stephen Maloney (0-1), James Holmes, Jody O'Shaughnessy (0-1); Conor Carty (1-0), Donnacha Holmes (0-2), Ben Brosnan (0-6, 4 frees). Subs. - Robbie Brooks for J. Holmes (43), Andy Merrigan (0-1) for Farrell (46), Conor Cleary for Aherne (50), Pierce Maxwell for Devine (58).

Referee: Anthony Tobin (Geraldine O'Hanrahans).

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