Cushinstown claim Leinster Final place
AIB Leinster Club Junior Football Championship Semi-final: Rathgarogue-C'town 1-8 Shannonbridge (Offaly) 0-7
It was a dour struggle in many ways as befitting the time of year, but Rathgarogue-Cushinstown still managed to serve up passages of sparkling football to emerge with a thoroughly deserved four-point victory over Offaly Intermediate champions, Shannonbridge, in this hugely entertaining AIB Leinster Club Junior championship semi-final in O'Kennedy Park, New Ross, on Sunday.
This was a game in which so many of the Wexford players shone, particularly when the visitors laid down their challenge.
The combination of Eoin Porter and Brian O'Neill in defence, coupled with the outstanding Matthew Cody in midfield, gave them a strong platform.
In addition, Daire Bolger and Tadhg Cody shone through in attack, aided by excellent passages from Robert Murphy and Eric Cummins, that eventually saw them drove on to a first-ever provincial final.
While those individual displays lifted the Rathgarogue-Cushinstown challenge, ultimately when it came to the crunch it was a supreme team effort that helped them see off Shannonbridge.
This was particularly the case in the final quarter after the visitors had fought back to draw level at the end of the third quarter, setting the scene for a tense closing 15 minutes.
It was through this closing period that many others managed to raise their game, with Peadar Cody and Pádraig McGrath getting in some sterling defensive work, while Daniel Martin Carroll won a lot of crucial ball in midfield. The ability of Bernard Furlong to carry the ball forward from distance also did so much to lift the siege.
Rathgarogue-Cushinstown had been much the better team through the opening 30 minutes but found scoring difficult, with many of their long-range point attempts sailing just the wrong side of the posts.
However, they never allowed it to hamper their game as they continued to pressurise the visitors, never allowing them to settle into any real pattern of play.
Both sides were slow to settle. Although producing some promising attacking movements, one still had to wait until the ninth minute for the game's opening score - a Daire Bolger pointed '45 - which arrived after the visitors' 'keeper, Barry Rohan, had managed to turn a low Matthew Cody shot around the post.
However, given their early dominance, that lead of 0-1 to nil was a meagre return.
That initial bombardment continued as Rathgarogue-Cushinstown continued to stretch the visitors' defence, with midfielder Daniel Martin Carroll powering over a huge point that was followed by a Daire Bolger 35-metre converted free, leaving them ahead by 0-3 to nil after 20 minutes.
While they had a three-point advantage, this should have been greater given the fine attacking play of Daire Bolger and Tadhg Cody, both shining lights through these opening passages.
Shannobridge had their opening score after 21 minutes through dangerous corner-forward Jack Darcy, with Eric Cummins and Darcy (free) going on to exchange points, leaving the home side with a 0-4 to 0-2 interval lead.
After Tadhg Cody had extended his side's lead with a fine point within two minutes of the re-start, momentum began to swing the way of the visitors, as Jack Darcy's pointed 35-metre free helped them lift their challenge.
Ronan McEvoy and Daire Bolger (free) exchanged points, but Shannonbridge began to gain a foothold for the first time, producing points from Ronan Devery and Kieran Flannery to bring the sides level (0-6 apiece) at the end of the third quarter.
When it looked as if the momentum had swung away from them, Rathgarogue-Cushinstown sprang right back into the game, and a sparkling move produced the defining score of the game.
Matthew Cody won possession inside his own half and managed to pick out Tadhg Cody who drove through the centre of defence on a sparkling run before laying off to Daire Bolger who had got himself into the ideal position just inside the 13-metre line.
And he applied a sublime finish with a thunderous shot to the roof of the net, restoring his side's lead (1-6 to 0-6) at a critical time.
Not content to reflect on this moment of magic, they returned for a Daire Bolger pointed free within seconds of the kick-out.
And when Robert Murphy kicked over an excellent point, they had turned the game back in their favour, leading by 1-8 to 0-6 with nine minutes remaining.
It gave them the cushion they needed to take into the closing minutes as they soaked up the Shannonbridge pressure, only conceding a late Jack Darcy pointed free to hold out for a marvellous, well-deserved victory.
Their final opponents, at an away venue on the weekend of December 7-8, will be Clann na Gael from Meath.
Rathgarogue-Cushinstown: Nicky Sinnott; Pádraig McGrath, Peadar Cody, Patrick Murphy; Brian O'Neill, Eoin Porter, Bryan Cody; Daniel Martin Carroll (0-1), Matthew Cody; Bernard Furlong, Daire Bolger (1-4, 0-3 frees, 0-1 '45), Tadhg Cody (0-1); Eric Cummins (0-1), Robert Murphy (0-1), Jason Dunne. Subs. - Ollie Bolger for B. Cody, inj. (27), Aaron Ryan for Dunne (41);, Mark Power for Porter, black card (57), Luke O'Connor for Cummins (62).
Shannonbridge: Barry Rohan; Cathal O'Shea, Paul Maloney, Shane Flannery; Ronan Devery (0-1), Bill Egan, Aaron Brazil; Ronan Hynes, Philip Egan; Ronan McEvoy (0-1), Darragh Corbett, Christian Brazil; Jack Darcy (0-4, 3 frees), Gavin Kelly, Kieran Flannery (0-1). Subs. - John Egan for Egan (38), Karol Kelly for S. Flannery (44), Ciarán Mannion for G. Kelly (51), Peadar Kelly for Mannion, black card (60).
Referee: Stephen Fagan (Wicklow).