Tullamore 2-9 Gracefield 0-11

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Tullamore 2-9 Gracefield 0-11

Postby Lone Shark » Mon Aug 20, 2007 5:28 am

Not many people will have walked out of O’Connor Park last Sunday thinking of Tullamore as potential county champions, but after losing their final group game to Shamrocks, most town supporters will have been quietly happy with merely getting their championship campaign back on the rails. Clara will possibly enter the semi final as marginal favourites based on the mediocre football we saw in this quarter final, but the way recent injury victim Paul McConway played his way back into form will have added an extra string to Tullamore’s defensive bow, while Stephen Egan will get an opportunity to confirm his status as one of the rising stars of Offaly football if he lines out opposite Thomas Deehan in that match. All in all, while the winner of that semi will still have a long way to go before lifting the Dowling Cup, it’s still a semi final that will be eagerly anticipated - for the novelty of the pairing if nothing else.

Gracefield were many people’s tip to be Rhode’s closest challengers this year based on their good form in the group games, and they will be wondering how they managed to turn a four point lead after only six minutes of playing with a strong breeze into a mere one point advantage at half time. They started the game playing some wonderful football with John O’Neill and Tommy Fitzpatrick getting out in front of their men and feeding off some excellent diagonal balls from the midfield area. These two players scored the first four points of the game and at this stage it looked like Gracefield were set to build a substantial half time lead.

A substantial lead was needed, because at the other end of the field Tullamore were finding out just how difficult it was to register scores into the wind. In a five-minute spell three successive shots dropped on top of the Gracefield square, all dealt with very capably by Declan Hennessy. When Tullamore finally did get off the mark it was by way of their only scored free of the match, converted by Shane Dooley.

Dooley has been a crucial performer for Tullamore hurlers in recent weeks and on fourteen minutes he demonstrated exactly how important he is to the footballing men in blue as well. Another ball in on top of the square fell between Dooley and two Gracefield defenders, but despite their numerical advantage neither Gracefield back put any conviction into their attempts to secure possession of the ball and it was Dooley who scooped it up, turned and with one burst found himself ten yards out and free to shoot, which he did, hard and past the keeper.

Gracefield once again set about building a lead, but they never regained the swagger they displayed during the early exchanges. Tommy Fitzpatrick once again set them in front, but a great run out of defence from Stephen Egan allowed him time to deliver a great ball for Gearóid O’Grady to equalise. Gracefield did get back to one in front by half time at 0-7 to 1-3, but it never looked like being enough to hold off Tullamore.

Despite John O’Neill getting the first score of the half, barely five minutes of the second period had expired before Tullamore were in front – O’Grady, Dooley and Brian Fagan all scoring in quick succession. They completely dominated the third quarter, and by rights should have had Gracefield out of sight. Hennessy made an excellent stop denying Kieran Hogan a goal, and Tullamore, after being very economical in the first half with only one wide, shot six from this point until the end of the game. They did conjure up two more scores without reply however, and thus were 1-8 to 0-8 in front entering the last fifteen minutes.

Up to this point two of Offaly’s younger midfield prospects, Kieran Hogan and Niall Smith had gone toe to toe in midfield with neither man really dominating his counterpart. For the last fifteen Smith really stepped it up and caught a few great balls, beginning with one very well won possession which led to a Padraig Duffy score.

Just like Tullamore got their goal against the run of play in the first half, Gracefield had a chance to reply in kind with 13 minutes left. John O’Neill unbalanced his marker and got possession some 25 metres out and bore down on goal from the right hand side. Despite Conor Bryan standing unmarked on the edge of the square, he elected to shoot himself only for his shot to be smothered by Gary Heffernan.

Gracefield weren’t scoring, but Tullamore were still shooting poor wides and entering the last five minutes the gap was still two. Padraig Duffy again and John O’Donoghue traded scores before a Duffy free reduced it to a single point going into injury time. In these situations the trailing side usually gets at least one chance, and so it transpired. Ciarán Kiely blocked down a handpass out of defence and played in Bobby Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick however skied his shot and the Tullamore backs secured the possession and cleared.

Four minutes had expired by now and Damien Brazil was all set to blow the final whistle, but Tullamore still found just enough time for one last flourish. Having collected and cleared Fitzpatrick’s high kick, the ball was moved down the field and with Gracefield having all pushed up looking for the equaliser, there was acres of space in their own full back line. Barry Slattery, in an effort to win back the ball for his team quickly was forced to attack a ball that he stood little chance of reaching, and having just failed to cut it out Shane Dooley was left with just the keeper to beat, which he duly did.

The final four point margin was harsh on Gracefield who battled well throughout the game, but equally had they found the equalising score in that topsy-turvy last sixty seconds it would have been rough justice on Tullamore who did just about enough to win, and enough to guarantee their outsider status for the remainder of the competition into the bargain.

Tullamore – Ken Furlong; Stephen Egan, Gary Heffernan, Mark Conlon; James Keane, Cathal Daly, Paul McConway; John O’Donoghue (0-1), Kieran Hogan; Kevin Duffy (0-1), Brian Fagan (0-1), Seán Martin; Shane Dooley (2-2, 0-1 free), Gearóid O’Grady (0-4), John Kenny.
Subs: John Rouse for Seán Martin

Gracefield – Declan Hennessy; Niall Slattery, Martin Gorman, Barry Slattery; Brian Brereton, Ciarán Kiely, Peter Smart; Niall Smith, Adrian Dunne; John Knight, Conor Bryan, Bobby Fitzpatrick (0-1); John O’Neill (0-5, 0-3 frees), Tommy Fitzpatrick (0-2), Pádraig Duffy (0-3, 0-2 frees)
Subs: Michael Lawlor for Conor Bryan

Referee: Damien Brazil
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