THE RGU Seniors salvaged a draw against Castlewellan with two Ian Kearney injury-time points, in what was a pulsating encounter at Pairc Tomas Ruiséil on Friday night writes Michael Starkey.
Castlewellan started off with a well-worked point in the first thirty seconds of the game, and the Hoops notched up two easy misses from free kicks before Sean Bell levelled the scores with a good point from play after 5 minutes. He followed this up with a wide before Castlewellan put the ball in the net to lead by 1-1 to 0-1 after only 7 minutes.
The Hoops struggled to keep possession, and a lot of slack passing led to two further points from the opposition. John Connolly pulled a point back with a free kick before the introduction of Michael Fitzpatrick for Paddy Turley, who had picked up an injury. The Hoops’ free kicking continued to let them down, but there was plenty of good play also with Peter Turley putting up a rock-solid display in defence, and some great fielding and distribution by Joe Starkey and Peter Telford.
A bit of high drama occurred when Ryan Slavin found himself in front of the Castlewellan goal on the 20th minute mark. He fired a rocket which produced a fantastic save from the Castlewellan keeper, unfortunately for him the rebound found the feet of John Connolly who rattled it into the net.
With 25 munites gone, the Hoops could count themselves lucky to be back in contention, trailing by a single point. Two more Castlewellan points followed by a Ryan Slavin converted free stretched the opposition’s lead to 2 points on the stroke of half time. But the half had more to offer. A heated exchange led to a straight red card being issued to a Castlewellan midfielder. Not only was this the last action of the half, but it was also the most significant, and it was expected by the local supporters that this would give the Hoops an advantage playing in to the breeze in the second half.
The second half began with the same high tempo as the first, with both teams refusing to give an inch of space to each other. Points were traded in the first 5 minutes but, again, the Hoops were guilty of not converting their chances in front of the sticks. Kevin Gracey missed a free from 30 yards, and Sean Bell blasted wide from just outside the box. Things then looked like they were going from bad to worse when Castlewellan were awarded a penalty after 8 minutes. A well struck bullet to the right of James Deeny produced a fantastic save, and the Hoops were able to breath easy again. A goal would have been a disaster, and would have led to a five point deficit, but the Hoops played the ball up the field from the rebound and Peter Telford stroked the ball over the bar to leave the score 1-6 to 1-5 in favour of Castlewellan.
Ian Kearney was introduced at this point, taking the place of PJ McAlinden. At the time no-one could have been expected to know just what an impact this would have on the game. He immediately slotted over a free to level the scores. They went on to miss two further point chances, one from a free. Castlewellan had opportunities to take the lead again, but they also notched up two wides and a point before the Hoops had another wide.
In the 20th minute of the second half Castlewellan scored their 2nd free in as many minutes to extend their lead to 3 points, and things were starting to look ominous. Failure to take advantage of the extra man was compounded by the inability to take scores, and the frustrated home crowd were starting to fear the worst. However, the players at no time were lacking in effort or determination, and they continued to produce a very high work rate. Isaac McAuley scored a great point which was matched by Castlewellan, leaving the score 1-7 to 1-10 with only 5 minutes remaining.
Then Joe Starkey, who had had a brilliant performance in the middle of the field, fell clumsily on his ankle and had to be stretchered off. The Hoops seemed to be inspired by this and when played resumed after a lengthy break, a missed Hoops 45 was followed by an Ian Kearney converted free. A goal mouth scramble moments later led to high tension and excitement before Castlewellan successfully came away with the ball. It was now deep into injury time when Ian Kearney came into his own to score two great points and draw level with Castlewellan now visibly under pressure. In the last seconds of the match, the Hoops were pushing for a winning score when the whistle blew. The final score was 1-10 to 1-10.
Both teams could have won or lost and a draw was probably a fair result. However, a lack of accuracy in front of the posts(10 Hoops’ wides to 3 Castlewellan wides) was the only negative from what was otherwise a very strong performance against a very strong Castlewellan team.
RGU team: James Deeny, Liam Kearney, Declan Turley, Paddy Turley, John Polly, Peter Telford, Damian Branniff, Kevin Gracey, Joe Starkey, Isaac McAuley, Peter Telford, Sean Bell, Ryan Slavin, PJ McAlinden, John Connolly.
Castlewellan team: Michael Cunningham, Barry Travers, Rory McArdle, William Og McAuley, Aidan Brogan, Paddy Boyle, Damian McGrady, Fintan McGreevy, Luke Toner, Colm Flanaghan, Cahill Crilly, Sean Russell, Donal McKibben, Aidan Burns, Liam McKibben. Subs: Colm Crilly, David Gelston, Matt Stratton, Rory Brogan, Caolan Brogan and Brendan