Anne’s spring a big surprise
St Anne's 2-11 Shelmaliers 0-15
St Anne's will take on Rapparees in the Pettitt's Senior hurling championship semi-final for the first time since 2001, after causing a big surprise with a fully-merited two-point win over Shelmaliers in their twice postponed clash in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.
The last four line-up was completed with a determined showing by the boys in blue, bouncing back from their football relegation with a performance to lift the spirits.
Much of the hard work was done in the first-half when St. Anne's, playing against the breeze, established an interval lead of 2-5 to 0-9, even though they missed a penalty in the twelfth minute.
And while they didn't manage to shake off the Shels at any stage on the re-start, they were more than happy to share the dozen points scored in a scrappy second period.
That was all they needed to set up next Saturday's meeting with the Enniscorthy men, holding a three- or four-point lead for the most part, and never panicking when it was reduced to two on three separate occasions.
Many observers felt that the Shels had been performing quite well under the radar and were a good outside bet for a final appearance at least, but this was a game they will be keen to forget.
While the loss of free-taker Ross Banville through injury as early as the ninth minute was undoubtedly a big blow, there was ample time to re-group but they just weren't able to counter those first-half St. Anne's goals.
The two points Banville posted from placed balls before his departure were on the board after 80 seconds, but a nice lay-off by Redmond Barry created a response from Liam Óg McGovern before Eoghan Nolan made it 0-3 to 0-1.
The first St. Anne's goal arrived in the fifth minute, with the influential Jonathan Fogarty making a fine catch and picking out Aidan Rochford who soloed in from the left before unleashing a shot.
It was stopped by Brian Murphy, but corner-forward Darragh Furlong was on hand to sweep the rebound to the net and give the Rathangan side a timely boost in this first knockout clash between the clubs since their two county final meetings in 2014.
Brian Malone punished a short St. Anne's puck-out that went awry with the leveller, and a sweet line ball from the right flank by Benny Barron then made it 0-5 to 1-1 in the ninth minute.
Kevin Whelan responded from long range after intercepting an attempted Eoin Doyle pass, and St. Anne's were presented with another goalscoring chance from Brian Murphy's short re-start.
A fumble by a defender forced the number one into making a stop from Darragh Furlong, but the netminder pushed Redmond Barry in the follow-up to concede a penalty.
Diarmuid O'Keeffe's strike was very poor, though, with the easy save followed by a quick transfer downfield and a point for Benny Barron (0-6 to 1-2).
The best opportunity for a Shels goal followed, with substitute Conor Hearne set up by Eoghan Nolan but seeing his strike well saved by Paul Brennan.
Barron, who had taken over the free-taking duties, widened the gap to two, but Shelmaliers lost that lead and never regained it when they conceded a second goal in the 18th minute.
And it was a real old-style effort, a reminder of bygone days, as Jonathan Fogarty let fly first-time on a dropping Kevin Whelan free, with an umpire spotting that the ball had crossed the line before it was scooped away (2-2 to 0-7).
A rising shot by Eoghan Nolan drew a response from Mark Furlong, and Shelmaliers equalised for the final time through Conor Hearne before a Diarmuid O'Keeffe brace, the first from play, left St. Anne's in the ascendancy at the break on a 2-5 to 0-9 scoreline.
The leaders set out their stall when the action resumed, with Liam Rochford dispossessing Aaron Murphy and splitting the posts before a driving O'Keeffe solo run set up county colleague McGovern for a neat point via the left wing.
Barron and O'Keeffe went on to swap scores from frees, and there was a big moment in the 41st minute when referee Brian O'Leary appeared to signal for a Shelmaliers penalty after a goalmouth scramble.
However, he opted instead for a free out to St. Anne's after consulting with both umpires plus a linesman, and it was a key incident because the Shels never once looked like getting the goal they needed from open play.
Their hopes did rise somewhat entering the last quarter after two Barron placed balls narrowed the deficit to 2-8 to 0-12, but they didn't score again in an eight-minute spell when O'Keeffe and Jonathan Fogarty fired over for the leaders, the latter after a sweet crossfield pass from Aaron Craig.
Barron and substitute Joe Kelly (free) made it 2-10 to 0-14 with three minutes left, but the Shels lacked the cutting edge to ever threaten a repeat of Rapparees' smash-and-grab job at the same venue eight days earlier.
O'Keeffe had dropped deep and, when his clearance led to a push on veteran substitute David O'Connor, the busy county man trotted downfield to guide the ball between the posts some 47 seconds into the two added minutes.
There was one last chance when Redmond Barry was nudged over his own endline and a '65 was awarded, but Joe Kelly's strike carried over the bar when it needed to land around the square.
St. Anne's will be outsiders for Saturday after losing to the Rapps by 5-14 to 2-16 in their last group game in September, but that won't worry them in the slightest.
St. Anne's: Paul Brennan; Kenny Cloney, Tomás Cullen, Páraic O'Keeffe; Kevin Whelan (0-1), Aaron Craig, Mikey Fogarty; Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-5, 3 frees), Aidan Rochford; Liam Rochford (capt., 0-1), Liam Óg McGovern (0-2), Mark Furlong (0-1); Darragh Furlong (1-0), Redmond Barry, Jonathan Fogarty (1-1). Subs. - David O'Connor for M. Furlong (52), Kevin Breen for D. Furlong (60+1).
Shelmaliers: Brian Murphy; Andre O'Brien, Simon Donohoe (capt.), Ciarán Walsh; Conor Walsh, Glen Malone, Eoin Doyle; Ciarán O'Shaughnessy, Aaron Murphy; Brian Malone (0-1), Benny Barron (0-7, 3 frees, 1 line ball, 1 '65), Seán Keane-Carroll; Jody Donohoe, Eoghan Nolan (0-2), Ross Banville (0-2 frees). Subs. - Conor Hearne (0-1) for Banville, inj. (9), Aidan Cash for O'Shaughnessy (36), Joe Kelly (0-2, 1 free, 1 '65) for Nolan (51), Kyle Roche for Keane-Carroll (60).
Referee: Brian O'Leary (Crossabeg-Ballymurn).