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Saturday 16 November 2019

First-half goals set up derby decider

Pettitt's Senior Hurling Semi-final: St Anne's 2-14 Rapparees 0-14

Aidan Rochford of St. Anne’s is challenged by Rapparees defender Jack Kelly
Aidan Rochford of St. Anne’s is challenged by Rapparees defender Jack Kelly

Alan Aherne in Innovate Wexford Park

St Anne's made a mockery of the form lines for the second weekend running in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday when they turned in a dominant display to comfortably see off Rapparees by six points and book an unexpected spot in the Pettitt's Senior hurling championship final.

Nobody could have seen this coming before the knockout stages commenced, but the Intermediate winners of 2017 were the far superior side throughout and fully deserved this famous victory.

Similar to the Shelmaliers game six days earlier, they prospered from two first-half goals and then brought their customary doggedness and spirit to bear when sharing the 14 points scored after the break.

With a 2-7 to 0-7 lead in the bank at the interval, that was more than sufficient for the boys in blue to advance to a first Senior final since 2014, when Shelmaliers saw them off after a replay.

This was the third year running for Rapparees to fall short at this stage, with players and mentors alike surely haunted by the realisation that this represented their very best chance of making the breakthrough and advancing to a first decider since 2001.

They had seen off St. Anne's comfortably at this same stage 18 years ago, but roles were reversed here and it was clear from long before the finish that a first all-Wexford District derby final in five years was about to transpire.

The Rapps had won by seven points when they met in the last round of group games at the same venue as recently as September 8, but they never looked like rising to the occasion this time.

And in fairness, they simply weren't allowed to, because St. Anne's took the bones of ten minutes to find their feet but proceeded to lay down markers all over the field and deliver another highly-impressive result.

Diarmuid O'Keeffe covered an immense amount of ground, mopping up in front of his full-back line when the Rapps threw caution to the wind near the end, while the wily Redmond Barry gave Liam Ryan plenty to think about on the edge of the square.

Aidan Rochford's scoring contribution of 1-2 was also priceless on an afternoon when the collective work ethic of the Anne's crew meant they simply weren't going to be beaten in the numerous scraps for possession on the ground.

Time after time one of their number emerged from a tussle with ball in hand, and the Rapparees were unable to match them.

The favoured Enniscorthy men did start on a reasonably positive note, posting the first three points in eight minutes with the wind in their favour.

Alan Tobin's score was sandwiched in between two from their best attacker, Kevin Ryan, and the ball-winning ability of Eamonn Furlong from Anthony Larkin's puck-outs did pose some early problems.

An O'Keeffe '65 got St. Anne's off the mark in the tenth minute, and he also converted two frees, with veteran Tomás Mahon sending one over at the other end.

The outcome hinged on two goals in the space of 50 seconds at the start of the second quarter, although there was also a vital intervention by a St. Anne's defender in between.

The Rathangan men hit the front for the first time in the 18th minute, with a penalty awarded when corner-forward Darragh Furlong caught a Mikey Fogarty delivery and was hauled down.

Mark Furlong directed his shot into the right corner, and Rapparees never got their noses back in front thereafter.

They did threaten an immediate reply from the re-start, but Kenny Cloney made a fine block on Alan Tobin as he pulled the trigger.

Twenty seconds later the ball was back at the Clonard end of the field, with an astute cross from the left wing by Redmond Barry picking out Aidan Rochford who raced through to make it 2-3 to 0-4.

Rapparees never showed the form that was needed to recover from that double body-blow, and they looked in trouble when retiring for the break with a 2-7 to 0-7 deficit.

Barry, O'Keeffe (two frees) and Rochford had added to the Anne's tally, with the replies coming from Kevin Ryan, Tomás Mahon (free) and Ryan Mahon (free).

All the leaders needed to do was to keep that distance between the sides on the re-start by patiently picking off points, and that was comfortably achieved as the margin only dipped below five on one occasion.

Wing-back Ben Edwards was picked out by a crossfield Tomás Mahon pass for the opening second-half point, but Mark Furlong latched on to the break from the puck-out to cancel that score.

O'Keeffe and Mahon then swapped frees, and when the latter added another to make it 2-9 to 0-10, the former hit back with his sole point from play after a Liam Rochford off-load.

O'Keeffe returned the compliment, after good play initially by Aaron Craig, to give team captain Rochford the space to make it 2-11 to 0-10 in the 44th minute.

The all-action O'Keeffe increased the margin to eight from a free, with Kevin Ryan hitting back with his fourth point for the Rapps before Mahon knocked over a '65.

Desperate measures were called for at that stage, with Kevin Foley already at full-forward, and Liam Ryan then posted to the '40.

Redmond Barry had a goal chance well saved by Anthony Larkin, and the Rapps were handed a glimmer of hope after Mahon had made it 2-12 to 0-13 from another free.

Foley was dragged to the ground to earn a penalty in the 56th minute, but it summed up the losers' day when Mahon's poor connection saw the ball sail harmlessly over the bar.

Who knows what might have happened if a goal had been recorded at that stage, and the margin had been narrowed to just two points with the finishing line in sight?

In fairness, anything other than an Anne's win would have been a travesty, and they shut up shop after that let-off to ensure the Rapps didn't score again, with O'Keeffe reading any deliveries intended for his county colleague Foley to perfection.

Some icing was added to the cake in the three added minutes, with Mikey Fogarty picking out Liam Óg McGovern for his sole point, before Aidan Rochford availed of a David O'Connor pass to make it 2-14 to 0-14.

A first-ever county final clash with neighbours St. Martin's awaits on October 27, so the banter should be particularly lively around the border areas between Murrintown and Cleariestown in the next twelve days.

St. Anne's: Paul Brennan; Páraic O'Keeffe, Tomás Cullen, Kenny Cloney; Kevin Whelan, Aaron Craig, Mikey Fogarty; Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-8, 6 frees, 1 '65), Aidan Rochford (1-2); Liam Rochford (capt., 0-1), Liam Óg McGovern (0-1), Mark Furlong (1-1, 1-0 pen.); Darragh Furlong, Redmond Barry (0-1), Jonathan Fogarty. Subs. - Kevin Breen for Whelan, temp. (39-43), David O'Connor for J. Fogarty (54), Breen for D. Furlong (60), Seán Gaul for L. Rochford (60+3).

Rapparees: Anthony Larkin; Nathan O'Connor, Liam Ryan, Mel Doyle; Ben Edwards (0-1), Ricky Fox, Jack Kelly; Kevin Foley (capt.), Lenny Connolly; Kevin Ryan (0-4), Tomás Mahon (0-7, 5 frees, 1 '65, 1 pen.), Eamonn Furlong; Alan Tobin (0-1), Ryan Mahon (0-1 free), Darragh Pepper. Subs. - James Peare for Connolly (35), Oran Carty for Tobin (39), Nick Doyle for R. Mahon (42), Dillon Redmond for Pepper (50).

Referee: James Owens (Askamore).

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