Naomh Eanna knuckle down and march on
Naomh Eanna and Oulart-The Ballagh have a tendency to serve up tasty treats in The Courtyard Ferns Intermediate hurling championship, and that pattern continued in Monamolin on Saturday when the Gorey side pounced for a crucial goal midway through the last quarter which ultimately propelled them into the semi-finals.
Naomh Eanna 1-19 Oulart-The Ballagh 1-17
Two years ago there was a similar outcome, in the penultimate round, when the men in green edged a classic by 0-26 to 3-16 before losing the final to Buffers Alley. And while this re-match took a while to get going, the second-half was full of urgency from both sides as the action flew from end to end in a fine contest.
It's nearly taken as a given at this stage that Conor McDonald will be a stand-out performer for the winners, and he delivered seven superb points from play alternating between full- and centre-forward, plus a trademark line ball 53 seconds after the interval.
However, the shrewd switch of Eoin Conroy to midfield for the second-half worked a treat too as he had a storming 30 minutes, while Peter Travers and Seán Doyle defended superbly.
The winners' mentors also deserve credit for taking decisive action at half-time when they made no fewer than three substitutions. And it was one of those replacements, Aodhán Doyle, who got that precious goal when he flicked Gearóid Cullen's cross from the right to the net in the 53rd minute.
The goal pushed Naomh Eanna ahead by 1-17 to 1-15, and it set up a frantic finish. Oulart-The Ballagh twice reduced the gap to one thanks to Peadar Mythen, with his second effort a beauty from tight to the touchline, but the prolific Conor McDonald had grabbed his ninth point in all in between.
Gearóid Cullen latched on to an Eoin Conroy free for the last point, but Naomh Eanna still had to defend one late attack as team captain Brendan Travers blocked a shot from Martin Og Storey.
Oulart-The Ballagh - who improved beyond recognition from last year's relegation final scare - deservedly led by 1-9 to 0-7 at half-time, with Storey getting the goal in the 18th minute.
Naomh Eanna netminder Barry Kinsella was let down by his backs as he saved well from Aaron Kenny, but Storey was completely unmarked to fire home the rebound.
Kinsella later denied Murtha Doyle and the impressive Thomas Dunne in quick succession, and then for the first ten minutes of the second-half Oulart-The Ballagh appeared capable of responding in kind to every Naomh Eanna point.
The tide turned though between the 41st and 44th minutes when that pattern was broken as Gorey grabbed four points on the trot - three from Conor McDonald (one free which he earned himself) and Gearóid Cullen - to draw level (0-15 to 1-12).
It still could have gone either way from that point on, but hanging on in such an intense battle should stand to this young winning squad on their second semi-final engagement in three years, against Askamore.
Naomh Eanna: Barry Kinsella; Peter Travers, Brendan Travers (capt.), Tom Stafford; Seán Doyle, Lee Kinsella, Eoin Conroy; John O'Brien, Conor Hughes; Gearóid Cullen (0-2), Pádraig Doyle (0-5 frees), Joseph O'Connor; William Cullen (0-1), Conor McDonald (0-9, 1 line ball, 1 free), Dara McDonald. Subs. - David O'Brien (0-1) for W. Cullen (HT), Aodhán Doyle (1-1) for O'Connor (HT), Gary Molloy for O'Brien (HT), Fionn Doyle for Hughes (58).
Oulart-The Ballagh: Ben O'Connor (capt.); Ian Storey, Anthony Roche, Dennis Morton; Nicholas Cullen (0-1), Laurence Prendergast, John Murphy; Eamonn Murphy (0-1 free), Colin Sunderland; Billy Dunne (0-1), Thomas Dunne (0-3), Peadar Mythen (0-7, 3 frees); Murtha Doyle (0-2), Martin Og Storey (1-1), Aaron Kenny. Subs. - Stephen Doyle (0-1) for Kenny, inj. (HT), Richard Doyle for Sunderland (47).
Referee: James Flood (St. Mary's, Maudlintown).