O'Connor points way to title
Permanent TSB Junior 'B' Hurling Championship Final replay: Rathnure 1-19 St Anne's 2-15 (AET)
The entertainment of the drawn contest was replicated before a big attendance in sunny Bree on Saturday when extra-time was required before Rathnure pipped St. Anne's to the Permanent TSB Junior 'B' hurling championship title after another memorable contest.
It was gripping stuff once again as two well-matched teams produced an absorbing battle on a pitch that was in remarkably good condition despite the heavy rainfall of the previous 24 hours.
And in a game of such tight margins, the contribution of ace free-taker John O'Connor was the vital component in getting Rathnure over the line.
Fifteen years after captaining Wexford to a Leinster Senior title, the centre-back first stepped up to save the day at the death when he punished a reckless St. Anne's challenge with the levelling point.
He split the posts with just over 90 seconds of added time played, and the full-time whistle was blown on the puck-out with scores deadlocked at 1-15 (Rathnure) to 2-12.
The Wexford District champions had played with the wind in the second period, and they were aided by it again for the first ten minutes of extra-time.
Just three points were added, all from frees, with two from Jess Codd sandwiching another O'Connor strike and leaving St. Anne's with a 2-14 to 1-16 advantage at the last break.
However, there was one massive talking point just before half-time in extra-time, when Rathnure midfielder Anthony Westnott was penalised for a foul on Francis Simpson.
He had been booked already in the 21st minute, and referee Paddy Brady showed him another yellow before following it up with a red card.
Westnott duly left the field, and the only action he missed was the pointed free that followed from Codd, because the interval whistle sounded on the puck-out.
The referee was approached by some of the Rathnure contingent at that stage to inform him that yellow cards issued during the regulation 60 minutes don't carry over into extra-time.
And after consulting with his linesmen, Aidan O'Brien and Willie Wickham, the upshot of it all was that Westnott was allowed back on to play the last ten minutes.
Just to add to the tension, the man at the centre of the drama was responsible for the equalising Rathnure point, and St. Anne's were left to rue four very costly wides in under two minutes afterwards.
Two ex-Wexford colleagues then combined for the lead point, as Nigel Higgins caught a John O'Connor clearance and made it 1-18 to 2-14.
However, there was an immediate response from their rivals, as substitute Conor Ryan embarked on a strong solo run before lofting over the leveller.
The game had moved 20 seconds into added time when John O'Connor was body-checked as he soloed down the left flank close to his own 65-metre line.
The free that followed was by no means easy, but he had been in lethal form all day and duly planted his ninth point to the delight of the Rathnure contingent.
Fifty seconds later they were celebrating a victory that leaves them sharing top spot on the roll of honour with St. Martin's and Oylegate-Glenbrien. It was their third Junior 'B' title, having won the first staging of this competition in 1977 before adding a second eleven years later.
Both sides were without key forwards for the replay, with an injury preventing Francis Simpson from starting, while Rathnure hadn't the services of Seán O'Neill - scorer of their first goal in the drawn final that I inadvertently attributed to Kyle Martin in last week's match report.
With the vociferous crowd contributing to a fine atmosphere once again, these two well-supported clubs had plenty to shout about from the off.
Jess Codd (free) and Brian Kavanagh gave St. Anne's a bright start playing into the wind with the first two points, but they were dealt a big blow in the fourth minute when a speculative drive from his left half-back berth by Rathnure's Jamie Miller went all the way to the net.
John O'Connor followed up with his first successful free, and he missed from just one of the ten placed balls he stood over on an afternoon when the opposition had their troubles in similar situations.
Indeed, four of their eight first-half wides were from frees, and the overall count of 16-9 by game's end clearly told against them in their quest for a first title since 1986.
Eoin Murphy, the replacement for Seán O'Neill, made it 1-2 to 0-2 for Rathnure before O'Connor added another brace, while Kyle Kennedy tested John Haughney at the other end but his shot was turned away for a '65 that drifted wide.
A short free by Jess Codd picked out Brian Kavanagh for a neat Anne's point before Kyle Martin responded after collecting a delivery from Dermot Reddy (1-5 to 0-3).
Jason Murphy and Brendan Flynn (free) then widened the gap to a game-high seven points, but the opposition steadied the ship somewhat before the break with scores from Paddy Miskella and Brian Kavanagh (1-7 to 0-5).
And the boys in blue were back in business inside 35 seconds of the re-start, with David Kavanagh and Dylan O'Brien pouncing on a dangerous delivery before the latter kicked the sliothar to the net.
Midfielder Andy Kennedy followed up with a peach of a point from a line ball, and a Jess Codd free then produced the equaliser as Rathnure came under heavy pressure.
However, they refused to wilt, with Eoin Murphy bringing a good save out of Shane Mythen before John O'Connor restored their lead from the '65 that followed (1-8 to 1-7).
Murphy left two between the sides, but St. Anne's had a purple patch towards the end of the third quarter and surged clear by 1-11 to 1-9 with unanswered points from Kyle Kennedy and a Jess Codd trio, the first two from play.
Rathnure's wily duo of O'Connor and Higgins came up with the goods once again, with the former's long line ball grabbed and sent over the bar by the latter.
O'Connor then nailed a free and a '65 to edge his side 1-12 to 1-11 clear, but that advantage was shortlived.
Andy Kennedy took off on a driving solo run in the 48th minute and, while his shot was stopped by a Rathnure hurl in the goalmouth, it wasn't enough to prevent the ball from crossing the line.
It was frantic stuff thereafter, with captain Higgins picking off a point before winning a free that Eoin Murphy tapped over for the leveller in the 54th minute (1-14 to 2-11).
The recently-introduced Francis Simpson then set up Kyle Kennedy to restore the Anne's lead, with the scorer having a ground stroke blocked and cleared before a Higgins line ball flew across the face of goal at the other end.
Simpson shot a wide, and a rash challenge from the puck-out that followed led to John O'Connor bringing the game to extra-time.
I don't think anyone would have quibbled with a third contest , but ultimately that ninth successful strike from O'Connor ensured that Rathnure will try to follow in Oylegate-Glenbrien's footsteps by winning the All-Ireland title in this grade in Limerick early next year.
Rathnure: John Haughney; Dave Guiney, Ciarán Donnellan, Patrick O'Connor; Dermot Reddy, John O'Connor (0-9, 6 frees, 3 '65s), Jamie Miller (1-0); Anthony Westnott (0-1), Shane Murphy; Brendan Flynn (0-1 free), Brendan O'Leary, Nigel Higgins (capt., 0-3); Eoin Murphy (0-3, 1 free), Kyle Martin (0-1), Jason Murphy (0-1). Subs. - Patrick Flynn for J. Murphy (42), Lorcan Ryan for B. Flynn (53), Domhnall McGahan for O'Leary (80+2), Colm Byrne for E. Murphy, inj. (80+2), also Ted O'Connor, Brendan Foley, Kevin O'Leary, Neil Morrissey, Darren Kirwan, Brian Lawlor, Martin O'Connor, Chris O'Connor, Adam Carty, Michael O'Connor, Seán O'Neill.
St. Anne's: Shane Mythen; Jim Ryan, Niall Doyle (capt.), Vincent Carroll; Barry Roche, Seamus Mythen, Paul McDonnell; Michael O'Brien, Andy Kennedy (1-1, 0-1 line ball); Dylan O'Brien (1-0), Paddy Miskella (0-1), Brian Kavanagh (0-2); David Kavanagh (0-1), Jess Codd (0-7, 5 frees), Kyle Kennedy (0-2). Subs. - Gavin O'Brien for Ryan (39), Francis Simpson for D. Kavanagh (51), Fergus Whelan for M. O'Brien (60+1), Michael O'Brien for Whelan (ET), Conor Ryan (0-1) for Doyle (72), also Pádraig Parle, Andrew Walsh, Philip Rawson, Roy Nunn, Patrick O'Brien, Fran Whelan, Michael Carroll, Gavin Howlett, Neil Roche, Ray Kelly, Karim Byrne, Kevin Redmond.
Referee: Paddy Brady (Ballygarrett).