Strong Shels hit rivals for six
Amazing turnaround in six days as Gusserane blitzed
A superb Shelmaliers team continued where they had left off in the closing stages of the drawn game when they subjected shell-shocked Gusserane to an unmerciful hammering in this Junior hurling championship final replay in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday.
Shelmaliers 6-13 Gusserane 0-10
Seven points down with just over five minutes left a mere six days earlier, the Over The Water men dug incredibly deep to earn a second chance. And they certainly were intent on making the most of it, cruising to a commanding 21-point victory which was the joint third highest in the history of this competition.
Their winning margin was only bettered twice, by Buffers Alley in 1905 when they beat Tomanine by 5-10 to nil, and by Camross in 1949 when they saw off Caim-Kiltealy by 10-3 to 1-8. Camross had also matched the gap of 21 seven years earlier in a 9-3 to 2-3 victory against Oylegate.
It was hard to credit how these same sides had played a draw at the first time of asking, because Shelmaliers were vastly superior this time around. Gusserane won the toss but opted to play into the breeze blowing towards the Clonard end, and they were in serious bother by half-time when they trailed by 1-9 to 0-2.
They went on to concede the first two points after the break, but matters improved marginally for them when they picked off four scores on the trot in their only sustained decent spell to reduce arrears to 1-11 to 0-6 after 42 minutes.
Shelmaliers still looked the more accomplished side overall though, and they made certain that the silverware was coming their way in a devastating period midway through the second-half.
Three goals in the space of four minutes put this issue beyond all reasonable doubt, with the first coming about in fortuitous circumstances. Shane Griffith's last act before being substituted was to attempt a point which was fumbled to the net by unfortunate Gusserane netminder Micheál Ryan.
And just two minutes later a ball sent across goal from right to left by Chris Gordon was retrieved by Eoghan Nolan who took on Gusserane captain Liam Dillon and utilised his pace to the full before planting his shot in the net (3-11 to 0-6).
The Shels were unstoppable, and they were entitled to start thinking about the celebrations to come when Gordon directed a pull into the path of James Cash who rattled home goal number four in the 47th minute.
Gusserane hadn't an earthly hope of catching their opponents at that stage and, with two-thirds of the players left on the field likely to feature against Rhode in the AIB Leinster Club football championship on Sunday, it was understandable if their priorities shifted to getting through the last quarter unscathed.
Shelmaliers, in contrast, were out to enjoy themselves, and they still found time to add another two goals. Ordinarily Eoghan Nolan wouldn't have been eligible for this grade, but a summer spent in the States was definitely a case of the Seniors' loss being the Juniors' gain.
His second goal arrived in the 52nd minute, courtesy of a sumptuous overhead flick off the hurl by Conor Byrne whose late heroics six days earlier were the main reason this game was taking place at all.
And the winners ended on the perfect note in added time when substitute Michael Feeney cut in from the left on a solo run before batting home goal number six, using his speed to torment the Gusserane defenders who were out on their feet at that stage.
Shelmaliers had made three changes in personnel from the drawn game, and they certainly paid off as new starters Shane Griffith, Eoghan Nolan and Ronan Kavanagh contributed 4-3 from play between them. Nolan's presence was particularly important, as it was simply unthinkable that a player of his calibre might have been left on the sideline from the off this time around.
However, several more of the winners' selection also stepped up considerably on their displays in the drawn game. Their defence had looked shaky at various stages in that tie, especially in the first-half when Seán Ryan ran riot, but it was a much more solid unit with Graham Staples manning the number six berth, while the O'Leary cousins, team captain Kevin and Eoin, shone behind him.
Veteran midfielder Denis Kelly was in the thick of things throughout and offered a constant outlet for clearances, while Conor Byrne made a number of scores with his clever stickwork.
As for Gusserane, they simply never got going, although they weren't allowed to either by grimly-determined opponents. Full-back Kenneth Cahill was probably their most consistent performer, but overall it was a game they'll want to forget in a hurry.
Free-takers Conor Byrne and Mark Rossiter swapped early points, the latter effort signalled wide by an umpire but awarded by referee Eddie O'Sullivan on the correct advice of linesman James Flood.
The Shels regained a lead they would never relinquish in the seventh minute when Shane Griffith fed Ronan Kavanagh who should have goaled rather than pointed, but it made no difference in the overall scheme of things.
Indeed, they never looked back after rattling the net for the first time in the eleventh minute. A long delivery by James Cash broke off Kavanagh into the path of Griffith who pulled to the net for a 1-2 to 0-1 lead. Six points were added without reply before Seán Ryan managed to get Gusserane's first from play in the 25th minute, with Kavanagh, Byrne (three frees and a '65) and Graham Staples doing the damage.
Denis Kelly picked out Griffith to make it 1-9 to 0-2 in first-half added time, and Gusserane clearly had a serious recovery job on their hands. They had fashioned one goal chance in the 21st minute when Mark O'Neill crossed for Graeme Cullen whose pull was saved by Feargal Hynes, but their cause wasn't helped just before the break when Mark Rossiter (free) and O'Neill missed chances that they would normally take.
Shelmaliers showed they had a lot more left to offer when James Cash and Chris Gordon extended their lead to 1-11 to 0-2 on the re-start, but Gusserane offered some signs of life as Graeme Cullen, Rossiter (two frees) and O'Neill responded.
Those three Shelmaliers goals followed one after the other though, leaving no doubt that a fourth Junior title would be returning to the parish after previous successes in 1954, 1966 and 1988. Of course, the key difference this time around is that the victory was annexed by the club's second string rather than the first team which was the case for the three previous triumphs.
One remarkable aspect of the draw and replay was the fact that not even one yellow card was issued over the 120-plus minutes, a tribute to the admirable approach from both sets of players along with the unfussy refereeing of Ballyfad duo Pádraig Byrne and Eddie O'Sullivan.
Shelmaliers: Feargal Hynes; Eoghan Fitzgerald, Kevin O'Leary (capt.), Eoin O'Leary; Cian Manley, Graham Staples (0-1), Aaron O'Neill; Denis Kelly, Emmet O'Leary; Eoghan Nolan (2-0), James Cash (1-2), Conor Byrne (0-6, 4 frees, 1 '65); Chris Gordon (0-1), Ronan Kavanagh (0-2), Shane Griffith (2-1). Subs. - Michael Feeney (1-0) for Griffith (43), Stephen Whelan for Gordon (47), Barry O'Connor for O'Neill (52), Cathal Gaule for Manley (52), Niall Murphy for Kavanagh (54), also Paul McCleane, Aodhán Foley, Craig Parker, Joe Redmond, Shane Birney, Michael Kelly, Seamie Harding.
Gusserane: Micheál Ryan; Jack O'Connor, Kenneth Cahill, Paul Wall; James Redmond, Shane Cullen, Liam Dillon (capt.); Mark Rossiter (0-4 frees), Adrian Redmond; Mark O'Neill (0-1), Graeme Cullen (0-1), John Roche; Páraic Conway, Fintan Ryan (0-1 free), Seán Ryan (0-2). Subs. - Keith O'Grady for J. Redmond (22), Darragh Doyle (0-1) for Roche (35), Jack Culleton for Conway (42), Eoghan Foran for G. Cullen (59), also Shane Doyle, Adrian Flynn, Seamus Ryan, Robert Browne, Ciarán Conway, Seán Kinsella, Martin Fitzharris, Jack Burford, Gary O'Grady, James Kinsella.
Referee: Eddie O'Sullivan (Ballyfad).