Sunday 20 October 2019

Glory for Gusserane after 41-year gap

Incredible finish as Glynn-Barntown collapse with the winning post in sight

Gusserane veteran Philip Wallace proudly holds the Wexford Creamery Cup as the celebrations kick in after Sunday's historic Senior title success
Gusserane veteran Philip Wallace proudly holds the Wexford Creamery Cup as the celebrations kick in after Sunday's historic Senior title success
The moment the good folk of Gusserane have been waiting for since 1975 as Graeme Cullen raises the Wexford Creamery Cup aloft in triumph
John Roche with Cillian Kehoe (right), scorer of Gusserane's winning point
The outstanding Mark Fanning is tackled by Gusserane's Liam Dillon

Alan Aherne

Glorious Gusserane chose the most remarkable way to end 41 years of frustration and disappointment when they landed six points without reply in the last quarter to snatch a famous victory from the jaws of defeat in a thoroughly absorbing Tom Doyle Supplies Senior football championship final in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.

Gusserane 0-11 Glynn-Barntown 0-10

Long-time pace-setters Glynn-Barntown were well on course to follow in the footsteps of St. James' by taking the title at the first attempt after Intermediate success when they led by 0-10 to 0-5 after 48 minutes.

However, they will spend many a long winter's night haunted by the memory of what went wrong thereafter as their previously fluent movement came to a grinding halt and Gusserane launched their memorable burst for victory.

Four points on the trot between the 49th and 53rd minutes reduced the gap to the minimum, and suddenly all of the momentum was with the 2014 runners-up. The drama was only beginning though as the time ticked away with neither side managing to trouble the scoreboard operator.

Indeed, it was a tension-filled barren seven minutes as both teams manufactured one good opportunity. A high miscued kick from Shane Cullen almost broke inside to Kenneth Cahill before Adrian Flynn hooked a shot narrowly wide from the left corner.

Less than a minute later, after Glynn-Barntown's Craig Doyle caught Luke Rafter's kick-out, Robert Dempsey cut in along the left endline but there was nobody on the end of his handpass across the square.

Gusserane picked up the pieces and launched another attack, and this time they were richly rewarded. One of their trump cards was the presence of three very capable substitutes on the bench, and two of them emerged as scoring heroes in an incredible finish while the other provided a priceless assist.

The hugely influential Shane Cullen fired a low pass to wily replacement Philip Wallace, now at full-forward, and he quickly found county Minor Mark Rossiter who trusted himself to kick high and handsome between the posts for the levelling score with 57 seconds of normal time left (0-10 each).

It was gripping stuff, with so much riding on which team would be able to capitalise on Luke Rafter's kick-out. Gusserane had the bit between their teeth, and when the ball was transferred to Cillian Kehoe on the 45-metre line, he took one look at the posts and directed it over the bar for a point that will never be forgotten in the proud annals of the O'Rahilly's club.

Two added minutes were announced, and Glynn-Barntown simply couldn't get the ball downfield to try for an equaliser. Instead Kehoe posted the tenth Gusserane wide (their rivals had seven) before Páraic Conway caught the kick-out and directed a high shot into Luke Rafter's arms.

Referee Anthony Tobin, who had an excellent game, was true to his word as he sounded the full-time whistle when the stopwatch hit the 32-minute mark, and this was the cue for the type of emotional celebrations that us neutrals love to witness on county final day.

Winning back the title in the first place, after such a long gap since 1975 and so many near misses in the interim, is a golden achievement in itself. However, to do it in the manner fashioned by Gusserane ensures this will be remembered as one of the more eventful finals, as they really seemed to be dead and buried with 15 minutes left.

On the other hand, Glynn-Barntown will wonder how on earth they ended up on the losing side. They played with such poise and purpose for so long, with team captain Michael Doyle majestic at midfield, county hurling goalkeeper Mark Fanning on fire up front, and centre-back John Leacy holding everything together so well given the extent of the shoulder injury he sustained in the semi-final.

Yet, when the finishing line was in sight they struggled to get their hands on the ball, but this was due in large measure to the rabid hunger of their Gusserane rivals who simply couldn't stomach the prospect of a seventh final defeat since 1982.

Glynn-Barntown will be particularly sicken ied by two missed goal chances when they were in the ascendancy. They were 0-9 to 0-5 clear in the 42nd minute when the impressive James Stafford delivered a pass down the left wing at the town end to Robert Dempsey who jinked inside and was one-on-one with Micheál Ryan, but the teenage netminder in his first year between the posts made an absolutely priceless save.

Michael O'Regan did manage to convert the '45 which arose, and just over 40 seconds later Glynn-Barntown created another gilt-edged opening. Swift movement between substitute Rioghan Crosbie, Dempsey and Craig Doyle put Stafford in the clear, but he sliced his shot across the face of goal and wide.

Brendan Doyle, who worked his socks off at midfield with his brother, missed a point-scoring chance on Glynn-Barntown's next attack, and Gusserane must have sensed that somehow all was not lost.

Adrian Flynn had been hampered by an injury to his right knee sustained as early as the sixth minute, but he battled on manfully. And he was positioned near the opposing goal along with the lion-hearted Philip Wallace when he earned a free that Shane Cullen converted in the 49th minute (0-10 to 0-6).

Another club hero with years of experience, Cathal Somers, quietened the influence of the previously rampant Mark Fanning, and good positioning on his part led to the next Gusserane point.

It came from a raking crossfield pass from the right corner of their defence by Graeme Cullen to his brother, Shane, who soloed forward into open space before splitting the posts.

Fate can play such a huge part in the outcome of sport, and there was one prime example in this tie. It's reasonable to assume that Gusserane wing-back Jack Burford wouldn't have been handed the task of kicking placed balls from distance but for that early injury to Flynn.

He got the job whether it was pre-planned or not though, and went on to nail three beauties including the '45 which reduced arrears to 10-8 with eight minutes to go. Exactly 60 seconds later a foul on another key figure, Kenneth Cahill, gave Shane Cullen the opportunity to turn this into a one-point game, and he duly obliged.

Eight years ago Cullen went toe-to-toe with Matty Forde in an epic individual scoring battle, only to finish on the losing side.

This time around though he was a man mountain for his team when they needed him most, and his perfect day was crowned after that late, late success when he was selected for the man of the match award.

The tactics deployed by both teams were always going to be interesting, and the game began with county Minor Mark O'Neill policing Michael O'Regan with Kenneth Cahill also standing directly in front of the towering Glynn-Barntown dangerman.

This left John Leacy to sweep at the other end, a task he performed most effectively, and he probably welcomed the absence of a direct opponent for long periods as it saved his shoulder from the physical stakes.

It was notable too that when Glynn-Barntown saw what Gusserane had in store for O'Regan, they withdrew him to a deeper role and instead made hay from firing long balls into space for the ever-dangerous Mark Fanning and Robert Dempsey.

The cagey, nervous opening was understandable, with Glynn-Barntown kicking two wides to one from Gusserane who also dropped their first scoring attempt short. That injury to Adrian Flynn certainly didn't help the Ross District side's cause, but he earned a ninth-minute free for Jack Burford to convert from just outside the 45-metre line for the opening score.

Glynn-Barntown levelled when James Stafford worked some space and hit the target in the 14th minute, and a booming free from Michael O'Regan after a foul on Michael Doyle pushed them in front.

The wides were mounting for Gusserane who had seven in all before the break (five for Glynn-Barntown), and they went 3-1 down when O'Regan did the needful again after James Stafford was tripped following a run from left to right to gain possession.

Shane Cullen then picked out Adrian Flynn for a point in the 22nd minute, but the former came up short from a free within kicking range before Mark Fanning registered the first of his four exquisite points after a long pass from Robert Tierney (0-4 to 0-2).

Gusserane came close to a goal in the 28th minute when Mark O'Neill and Kenneth Cahill neglected their defensive duties for a jaunt upfield. O'Neill placed a pass into the path of Cahill who had to hit the ball first-time as Luke Rafter darted out, but it veered to the right and wide.

Glynn-Barntown availed of this let-off to finish on a real high. A superb long pass by Michael O'Regan found Robert Dempsey who picked off a point, with Gusserane bringing on Cillian Kehoe for Jack O'Connor and moving Adrian Redmond back to pick up the lively James Stafford.

The three added minutes were adorned by two absolute beauties from Mark Fanning, the first off his left from a Michael Doyle long ball, and the second off his right after Stafford supplied the ammunition.

Gusserane were probably glad of the chance to re-group at the break, trailing by 0-7 to 0-2. They brought on Mark Rossiter for Jamie Cooney who was on a yellow card and resumed with a vengeance, pulling back three points inside seven minutes after restoring Kenneth Cahill to full-forward.

Cahill was fouled and Shane Cullen duly obliged before a Rossiter handpass set up Seán Ryan to make it 7-4. Jack Burford then pointed a '45 but it looked like Glynn-Barntown had weathered the storm when they replied with three points between the 38th and 43rd minutes.

Michael Doyle was cleaning up on kick-outs at this stage, and Mark Fanning had ample time to kick his fourth point off his right before Michael O'Regan converted a free and a '45.

Cillian Kehoe was moved on to Doyle, with Philip Wallace brought on initially to go toe-to-toe with John Leacy and later moving to the inside line.

With the best will in the world, it's unlikely that Gusserane would have recovered if their rivals had finished off even one of those two glaring goal chances near the end of the third quarter.

The game was utterly transformed as a result, and the cheers could be heard back in Ballycullane when captain Graeme Cullen, a superb defensive anchor, collected the Wexford Creamery Cup.

His speech was excellent too given it was unprepared as he didn't want to tempt fate, striking a chord that resonated with everyone when he mentioned the part played by the late, great Seamus Keevans in turning each and every one of the Gusserane team into footballers.

'Peileadóir' would surely have approved of the never-say-die spirit shown by the boys he shaped into men, and now parish heroes, from his sideline seat in heaven.

Gusserane: Micheál Ryan; Cathal Somers, Mark O'Neill, Liam Dillon; Jack O'Connor, Graeme Cullen (capt.), Jack Burford (0-3, 2 '45s, 1 free); John Roche, Adrian Flynn (0-1); Adrian Redmond, Kenneth Cahill, Páraic Conway; Jamie Cooney, Shane Cullen (0-4, 3 frees), Seán Ryan (0-1). Subs. - Cillian Kehoe (0-1) for O'Connor (30), Mark Rossiter (0-1) for Cooney (HT), Philip Wallace for Roche (39), also David Kehoe, Matty Flynn, Darragh Doyle, Robbie Corcoran, Fintan Ryan, Seán Kinsella, Shane Doyle, James Redmond, Ciarán Conway, Paul Wall, Seán O'Connor, Martin Fitzharris.

Glynn-Barntown: Luke Rafter; Stephen Lyne, Robert Tierney, Pádraig Donnelly; Nigel Usher, John Leacy, Alan Cowman; Michael Doyle (capt.), Brendan Doyle; Barry Doyle, Craig Doyle, James Stafford (0-1); Mark Fanning (0-4), Michael O'Regan (0-4, 3 frees, 1 '45), Robert Dempsey (0-1). Subs. - Rioghan Crosbie for Barry Doyle (39), also Matt Doyle, Jack Fenlon, Aaron Kehoe, Matthew Joyce, Kevin Mahoney, Rowan White, Eoin Raftery, Cian Neville, Daniel Carroll, Fionn Cooney, Ciarán Joyce, Ian Moran.

Referee: Anthony Tobin (Geraldine O'Hanrahans).

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