Shels hit back to earn replay

Double-chasing Gusserane squander seven-point lead

Alan Aherne

Published 22/10/2016 | 00:00

Eoghan Nolan (Shelmaliers) evades Gusserane captain Liam Dillon
Eoghan Nolan (Shelmaliers) evades Gusserane captain Liam Dillon
Denis Kelly (Shelmaliers) puts heavy pressure on Gusserane midfielder Mark Rossiter
Seán 'Mini' Ryan gives Eoghan Fitzgerald and Eoin O'Leary the slip

Gusserane got to experience what life is like on the other side of a late comeback in Sunday's Junior hurling championship final in Innovate Wexford Park, but to their immense relief at least they lived to tell the tale.

Gusserane 1-16 Shelmaliers 2-13

The sides must meet again at the same venue next Saturday as ace marksman Conor 'Bomber' Byrne almost single-handedly brought Shelmaliers back from the brink of certain defeat to force a late share of the spoils in a welter of excitement.

Gusserane had grabbed the Senior football crown from under Glynn-Barntown's noses seven days earlier with their late smash and grab raid, and they seemed well on course for a marvellous double when selector Keith O'Grady came off the bench to play a key part in two points which extended their lead to 1-16 to 1-9.

His first touch after his arrival in the 52nd minute found Mark Rossiter who in turn picked out the very impressive Graeme Cullen, with the club's football captain duly splitting the posts at the Clonard end.

Less than two minutes later, former county Minor O'Grady latched on to a sweetly-struck line ball down the right by Liam Dillon and left seven points between the sides.

There seemed to be no way back for Shelmaliers, runners-up to Taghmon-Camross last year, as they had been reeled in after getting off to a dream start and surging 1-2 to 0-1 clear inside four minutes.

Gradually Gusserane got into their stride and, with county footballer Seán 'Mini' Ryan on fire up front, they were full value for an interval lead of 1-11 to 1-6. Ryan picked off 1-4 of that tally from play, with talented teenagers Mark O'Neill and Mark Rossiter providing plenty of scoring assistance.

The first 21 minutes after the break were scrappy, but Gusserane continued to keep their rivals at arm's length despite playing into the wind as the sides shared six points in that period.

That brace followed from Cullen and O'Grady to widen the margin to seven, but Shelmaliers produced the mother and father of all comebacks to somehow earn a second chance when all seemed lost.

Conor Byrne initially offered hope when he pointed frees in the 57th and 58th minutes to reduce the margin to 1-16 to 1-11. And when he was fouled after catching Micheál Ryan's puck-out after that second score, he stepped up to another placed ball and this time decided to really test the opposing rearguard.

Substitute Ronan Kavanagh swung his hurl at Byrne's teasing head-high strike but it seemed to go all the way to the net as the Shels suddenly dared to dream.

Three added minutes were announced, with the Wexford District side's captain, Kevin O'Leary, also moving up from full-back to full-forward as they threw the kitchen sink at the ever-narrowing deficit.

Another Byrne free was converted from 65 metres in the 61st minute, before Graeme Cullen won a vital placed ball for a now-struggling Gusserane. Mark Rossiter landed it into the square but the opportunity ultimately came to nothing as substitute Shane Doyle shot his side's tenth wide.

However, it looked like the Shels might have wasted their chance too when Eoghan Nolan and Graham Staples missed the target in quick succession, the latter with 34 seconds of added time to go.

They managed to launch one final attack though, and the stopwatch had strayed twelve seconds into a fourth added minute when Shane Griffith delivered a handpass to Conor Byrne under the stand on the right wing, directly in front of the majority of the Shels supporters.

He had no time to steady himself before aiming for the posts, but his immediate reaction confirmed that the shot was good and the Fixtures committee had been handed another headache, with the full-time whistle arriving on the puck-out.

There had been a lively start to the final, with Seán Ryan snatching at an immediate goal chance for Gusserane - seeking a first title since 1997 when they also collected Intermediate football honours.

Shelmaliers - whose last outright success at this level came from their first team in 1988 - were gifted a green flag at the other end though with only 54 seconds gone. Netminder Micheál Ryan ran out to intercept Chris Gordon's through ball, but he left it behind him and full-forward Stephen Whelan practically walked it into an empty net.

County Minor Mark O'Neill steadied Gusserane with a point, only for Gordon to respond with a brace as Shelmaliers built on that unexpected early bonus.

And although the New Ross District side were clipping at their heels for a long period, they didn't manage to edge ahead for the first time until the 23rd minute.

Mark Rossiter converted a free but missed another scoreable one shortly after O'Neill soloed through for a lovely point directly off the hurl.

Conor Byrne knocked over a free to make it 1-3 to 0-3 before a clearance from the dominant Shane Cullen broke favourably to his younger brother, Graeme. The centre-forward handpassed inside to Fintan Ryan but the full-forward's pull went wide.

A raking long line ball from team captain Liam Dillon set up Seán Ryan for his first point in the tenth minute, and 'Mini' was on fire from then until half-time.

He added two more in quick succession, with the second turned over the bar by goalkeeper Feargal Hynes as the O'Rahilly's drew level for the first time just shy of the 15-minute mark (0-6 to 1-3).

A good long-range point from Conor Byrne restored the Shels lead though, with Gusserane clearing the danger after a scramble in the square when Michael Feeney had a half-chance for a goal.

Graeme Cullen and Seán Ryan were involved in setting up Mark O'Neill for the equaliser before the double-seekers finally hit the front courtesy of a Mark Rossiter free.

And even better was to follow in the 24th minute when Shels captain Kevin O'Leary struggled to clear close to his own posts and Ryan pounced for a kicked goal and a 1-8 to 1-4 lead.

And that advantage was widened to five by half-time after further points from the rampant Ryan, Rossiter and Graeme Cullen yielded two responses from Conor Byrne (play and free).

Shelmaliers had wind advantage on the re-start and opened promisingly when Byrne converted a '65 inside two minutes, but they didn't add to their tally for the next quarter of an hour.

Luckily for them though, Gusserane only scored once in a poor period of hurling from both sides when Fintan Ryan latched on to a stray clearance. The Shels were struggling to keep the ball away from Gusserane centre-back Shane Cullen who was master of all he surveyed, but equally the black and amber defenders were performing a good deal better too, with bright young prospect Aaron O'Neill catching the eye.

Shelmaliers eventually ended their scoring drought with a solo point from veteran Denis Kelly, only for Mark O'Neill to reply immediately with his fourth for Gusserane (1-13 to 1-8).

Michael Feeney was off target with a shot on goal but the absence of any advantage saw the play brought back for a free which Byrne tapped over.

Three points in as many minutes then from Mark Rossiter (free), Graeme Cullen and Keith O'Grady left Gusserane in the type of position Glynn-Barntown were in with the end in sight one week earlier.

Shelmaliers had done nothing up to that point to suggest they were capable of scoring 1-4 without reply and earning a replay, but that man 'Bomber' had the tools for the job as he brought his personal tally to an impressive 1-10 and earned his side a second chance.

Gusserane: Micheál Ryan; Jack O'Connor, Kenneth Cahill, Paul Wall; Liam Dillon (capt.), Shane Cullen, James Redmond; Mark Rossiter (0-4, 3 frees), Adrian Redmond; Mark O'Neill (0-4), Graeme Cullen (0-2), Darragh Doyle; Páraic Conway, Fintan Ryan (0-1), Seán Ryan (1-4). Subs. - Shane Doyle for J. Redmond (HT), John Roche for D. Doyle (37), Keith O'Grady (0-1) for Conway (52), also Adrian Flynn, Seamus Ryan, Robert Browne, Jack Culleton, Gary O'Grady, Seán Kinsella, Ciarán Conway, Martin Fitzharris, Jack Burford, Eoghan Foran, James Kinsella.

Shelmaliers: Feargal Hynes; Eoghan Fitzgerald, Kevin O'Leary (capt.), Eoin O'Leary; Cian Manley, Barry O'Connor, Aaron O'Neill; Denis Kelly (0-1), Graham Staples; James Cash, Conor Byrne (1-10, 1-6 frees, 0-1 '65), Emmet O'Leary; Chris Gordon (0-2), Stephen Whelan (1-0), Michael Feeney. Subs. -Eoghan Nolan for Emmet O'Leary (35), Shane Griffith for Feeney (50), Ronan Kavanagh for Whelan (52), also Paul McCleane, Aodhán Foley, Cathal Gaule, Craig Parker, Joe Redmond, Niall Murphy, Shane Birney, Michael Kelly, Seamie Harding.

Referee: Pádraig Byrne (Ballyfad).

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