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Friday 15 December 2017

Gusserane crown golden year

Gusserane 2-9 Rapparees 1-7

Alan Aherne

Jack O'Connor (Gusserane) challenges Neil McCrea (Rapparees)
Jack O'Connor (Gusserane) challenges Neil McCrea (Rapparees)
Gusserane captain Kenneth Cahill with his team-mates and mentors after the club bridged a 20-year gap in Clongeen on Saturday
The Rapparees squad prior to Saturday’s Permanent TSB Junior hurling championship final in Clongeen

Gusserane crowned arguably the best twelve months in the club's proud history in Fr. Wheeler Memorial Park, Clongeen, on Saturday when they restricted rivals Rapparees to just one point when backed by the strong wind in the second-half and captured the Permanent TSB Junior hurling championship title in the process.

They faced an interval deficit of 1-6 to 0-4 after playing into the elements first, but there was no sense of panic as they gradually reduced that gap on a difficult afternoon weather-wise for both teams.

And ultimately two goals in the 45th and 52nd minutes ensured that long-serving full-back and captain Kenneth Cahill would follow in the footsteps of club legend Mick Caulfield by collecting the silverware, 20 years after their sole previous success in this grade.

And late substitute Keith O'Grady provided a direct link between the winning teams, as he scored three points from frees in that 2-10 to 3-5 win against St. Martin's in New Ross in 1997.

Four of the 19 players used had already claimed Junior 'A' football honours just three weeks earlier, while the remainder were all active last October when the Senior crown returned to the parish for the first time since 1975.

With an Under-21 football title also thrown into the mix last December, this is indeed a special time for the O'Rahilly's who were making up in rich measure for their sole disappointment of last year when they lost this corresponding hurling decider to Shelmaliers after a replay.

Saturday's teams had met in the group stages in Bree in August, but that game only lasted 43 minutes since the floodlights failed at a stage when Gusserane were leading by 1-12 to 2-5.

The result stood since both sides were already through and placings weren't affected, but the staging of their second meeting wasn't quite so straightforward either.

This time Storm Brian was the spoilsport, with the original venue of New Ross, and then Oylegate, falling foul of the weather before the Clongeen club came to the rescue by hosting a final featuring their one-time under-age partners and the Enniscorthy men who had lost at this stage in 2012 to Crossabeg-Ballymurn.

Rapparees had first use of the strong wind, and it was clearly a case of trying to build up as big a lead as possible. And their start was promising, with rangy attacker John Ryan finishing off a long Declan Ruth free with a point before 90 seconds had elapsed.

Close-range free-taker Neil McCrea followed with the first of their six wides before the break, and then it was the turn of Gusserane's talented teenage attacker, Sam Wall, to show he was really up for this challenge.

The county Minor equalised in the eighth minute after gathering possession close to goal when a Liam Dillon delivery hung in the air.

And his second point was even better as midfielder Graeme Cullen delivered a neat head-high ball for Wall to catch and drive between the posts.

Rapparees regained the lead though in the twelfth minute after Aaron Sinnott's long puck-out wasn't cleared, with Alan Tobin striking low to the net off his favoured left side shortly after moving to full-forward in a swap with Tom Ryan.

Veteran centre-back Declan Ruth stretched the lead to 1-2 to 0-2 at the start of the second quarter with a long-range free that netminder Micheál Ryan batted over the bar.

A quick response came from Gusserane's other lively corner-forward on a day when their entire tally of 2-9 was amassed in open play. Once again Graeme Cullen sent in an inviting ball, and this time Seán 'Mini' Ryan picked off a point to narrow the gap to two.

Rapparees free-taker Neil McCrea mustered two pointed frees in reply, but they were his only scores and Gusserane defender Jack O'Connor deserves credit for his excellent policing job on the Bellefield crew's dangerman.

Gary O'Grady was unfortunate to strike his side's second, and final, first-half wide via a post before Sam Wall stepped up again with his third point in the 26th minute, this time after latching on to a close-range pass from Adrian Redmond (1-4 to 0-4).

That margin clearly wasn't going to be sufficient for Rapparees, but they enhanced it somewhat before the break when Declan Ruth landed his second free from distance before half-back colleague Kevin Walsh raced on to the subsequent puck-out and returned it over the bar with interest.

The questions were simple enough at the interval: would the Rapps be able to hold out against the elements and, conversely, had Gusserane the attacking capabilities to take over?

And with the New Ross District side going on to outscore their rivals by 2-5 to 0-1, the answer was pretty clearcut in the end, although the losers were still battling away until the concession of that second goal left them with no realistic way back.

Their netminder, Aaron Sinnott, made a good early save from a Seán Ryan pull after a crossfield Gary O'Grady line ball, but Mark Rossiter kick-started the comeback with a point after a poorly-directed Rapps attempt to clear.

Two of Gusserane's six second-half wides followed before Mark O'Neill picked out the unmarked Shane Cullen with a neat pass from the left flank into the middle, and the centre-back had all the time in the world to split the posts (1-6 to 0-6).

It looked like Gusserane would equalise in the 39th minute when Sam Wall's stick was held after he caught a Gary O'Grady delivery, but the team's scoring ace of the first-half was frustrated when his penalty came back into play off the right post.

Seán Ryan couldn't get power or accuracy into a follow-up pull, but at least the attack wasn't completely in vain as Mark Rossiter knocked over his second point to leave two between them.

And the green flag was raised at the same end less than five minutes later, even though the net didn't actually rattle!

That was only because Seán Ryan's piledriver after catching Rossiter's probing ball went through a hole, but the umpire didn't hesitate and Gusserane were ahead for the first time since that Rapps goal in the opening half (1-7 to 1-6).

As happens so often after the arrival of a big score, they let their guard down ever so slightly, and that was enough for rival midfielder Conor Farrell to pick off a well-taken point from the right of the posts in the 46th minute.

It proved to be the only Rapps score of the half though, and Gusserane marched on to a deserved victory by striking 1-2 without reply in the last ten minutes.

The only blemish on Sam Wall's super display came in the form of a missed scoreable free, but it was quickly forgotten as captain Kenneth Cahill found himself around the midfield area and directed an inspiring lead point between the posts.

Three of the winners' most talented young guns combined for the title-clinching goal in the 52nd minute. Mark O'Neill made a typically forceful and direct run on the left side before handpassing to Seán Ryan whose ball across goal was lifted and driven to the net by top scorer Sam Wall in one swift movement (2-8 to 1-7).

There was no way back for the Rapps at that stage, and their frustration came to the fore shortly afterwards when stalwart defender Declan Ruth was dismissed on a straight red card after striking Kenneth Cahill.

Just one more point was added, and it put the icing on the cake seconds into added time when midfielder Graeme Cullen availed of the extra space to solo downfield at his leisure and widen Gusserane's winning margin to five.

Gusserane: Micheál Ryan; Jack O'Connor, Kenneth Cahill (capt., 0-1), Robert Browne; Gavin Sheehan, Shane Cullen (0-1), Paul Wall; Graeme Cullen (0-1), Adrian Redmond; Gary O'Grady, Liam Dillon, Mark O'Neill; Sam Wall (1-3), Mark Rossiter (0-2), Seán Ryan (1-1). Subs. - Fintan Ryan for Browne (35), Páraic Conway for O'Grady (41), Keith O'Grady for Redmond (56), John Roche for O'Neill (60), also Cathal Somers, Cillian Kehoe, Jack Burford, Tom Foran, Eoghan Foran, Shane Doyle, James Redmond, Donal Kiely, Jack Culleton.

Rapparees: Aaron Sinnott; Mark Redmond, John Barron, Joe Carley; Kevin Walsh (0-1), Declan Ruth (0-2 frees), Ronan Kirwan; Peter O'Sullivan, Conor Farrell (0-1); Alan Tobin (1-0), John Ryan (0-1), Seánie O'Gorman (capt.); Gary Murphy, Tom Ryan, Neil McCrea (0-2 frees). Subs. - Tommy Foley for O'Gorman (37), Caolan Carty for Murphy (37), Lee Treacy for T. Ryan (53), Lee Murphy for Farrell (58), also William Doyle, Aaron Dobbs, Brendan Kearney, Aaron Ronan, Brian Ronan, Pa O'Shea, Ryan Hadley.

Referee: Pat Kehoe (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown).

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