Semi-final spot secured with fine win
The second chance afforded to beaten provincial finalists in the Masita Post-Primary Schools Senior hurling 'A' championship was grasped with both hands by St. Peter's (Wexford) in Ashbourne on Saturday when they advanced to the All-Ireland semi-final with a comprehensive and commanding win over Connacht runners-up St. Brigid's (Loughrea).
St. Peter's 0-17 - St. Brigid's 0-12
The acid test awaits in the shape of Dr. Harty Cup champions Thurles C.B.S. this coming weekend, but the Summerhill side will be very glad of the opportunity to get a crack at the Munster kingpins after this most welcome victory.
It was the school's first game in the All-Ireland series since contesting the final of 1982 which was lost after a replay to St. Flannan's (Ennis). The back door was firmly shut in most competitions at that stage and was only opened in the relatively recent past, giving Peter's the perfect opportunity to bounce back after their Leinster final loss to St. Kieran's of Kilkenny.
The first 20 minutes were evenly-contested on a sticky and heavily pock-marked pitch which bore all the hallmarks of excessive use in recent weeks. Indeed, the sides were level no fewer than five times, with the Peter's points registered by Rory O'Connor (two), who started at full-forward, Billy Dunne (play and free), and team captain Joe O'Connor who was deployed at left half-forward where his ball-winning ability from puck-outs was utilised to the full.
Dunne's first point came after Loughrea netminder Darragh Gilligan made a super save from a Rowan White piledriver after good work by Conor Hearne and Rory O'Connor in the seventh minute, and they came close to rattling the net once more near the end of the first quarter.
Loughrea weren't alert to the danger when Dunne fired a crossfield free to Joe O'Connor instead of taking a handy point, with the captain side-stepping an onrushing defender and bringing the best out of Gilligan yet again with his shot. Matthew Joyce pulled on the rebound but his effort was blocked and the chance was lost.
Still, Peter's had given a couple of glimpses of their superior attacking ability, and it really came to the fore in the ten minutes leading up to half-time when they picked off five points without reply to lead by 0-10 to 0-5 at the break. Midfielder Rowan White set this fruitful spell in motion with a lovely score set up by the O'Connor cousins, Rory and Joe, with a neat Conor Hearne pass then picking out Jake Firman who made it 0-7 to 0-5.
Joe O'Connor, from a Matthew Joyce handpass, Rowan White, with Conor Hearne providing the assist, and Jack Pettit's solo effort after Joe O'Connor caught a Peter's puck-out, left the green and whites with a double scores interval lead but also a good deal of hard work left to get through.
Just three first-half wides were struck, including two in the opening three minutes when they were settling down, but the wasted chances midway through the second period in particular will no doubt leave mentors Rory Jacob, Seán Foley, Brian Coughlan and Joe Kearns with shooting practice high on the agenda this week.
On the plus side, the winners were very strong in the air, with Conor Firman and Jack Pettit to the fore in this regard down the right flank as their prowess under the dropping ball repeatedly frustrated Loughrea. The Galway side pushed strong defender Thomas Gordon up to centre-forward in a bid to add bite to their attack, but they conceded two quick points on the re-start to Joe O'Connor - now in the left corner - and Jack Pettit.
O'Connor fired a goal chance wide in between for the first of his side's eleven misses after the interval, but they still played well enough around the field to ensure that the gap between the teams was never less than six points.
A pointed Jack Kenny free for Loughrea was cancelled out by Conor Hearne from a Rory O'Connor handpass, and it was 0-15 to 0-7 at the three-quarters stage as Joe O'Connor - moved to the '40 - and Billy Dunne (free) also split the posts.
The only slightly nervy period for Peter's was from the 46th to the 52nd minutes when Loughrea pulled back points from substitute free-taker Conor Molloy and Michael Lynch while the Wexford lads chalked up another four wides. A goal for the westerners at that stage would have seriously tested their rivals, but in fairness a strong defence led by central duo Darren Byrne and Aaron Maddock ensured that was never going to happen as Oisín Foley didn't have even one save of any note to make.
Two of the last three points went to Peter's, from Rory O'Connor and free-taker Billy Dunne, leaving them just one step away from bridging a 33-year gap. However, nobody is under any illusions regarding the size of the task as it will take something really special for the underdogs to topple Thurles on Saturday at a venue to be announced.
St. Peter's: Oisín Foley; David Clarke, Darren Byrne, Jody Donohoe; Conor Firman, Aaron Maddock, Glen Malone; Jake Firman (0-1), Rowan White (0-2); Jack Pettit (0-2), Conor Hearne (0-1), Joe O'Connor (capt., 0-4); Matthew Joyce, Rory O'Connor (0-3), Billy Dunne (0-4, 3 frees). Subs. - John Lee Meyler for Joyce (47), Quinn Saunders for Malone (47), Nicholas Greene for Dunne (58).
St. Brigid's: Darragh Gilligan; Stephen Molloy, Ciarán O'Connor, Seán O'Brien; Kelan Jennings, Thomas Gordon, Damien Finnerty; Paul Boreham (0-1), Fintan Burke; Michael Lynch (0-1), Shane O'Brien, Jack Kenny (0-4 frees); Ronan Murphy (0-2), Niall Horan, Eanna Murphy. Subs. - Dylan Towolowi for E. Murphy (HT), Conor Molloy (0-2 frees) for Kenny (41), Ben Moran for Gordon (46).
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly).