Boden close in on final hurdle
Dublin kingpins win free-ridden clash ... and now first Leinster title is within reach
If Ballyboden St Enda's were ever to break their Leinster 'duck', the recent presumption was that deliverance would come via their hurlers.
Now their big ball counterparts - several of whom happen to occupy both dressing-rooms - are just an hour away from transforming tantalising dream into reality.
On Sunday week in Tullamore (2.0) they will face Portlaoise, whose record haul of seven Leinsters club SFC titles might suggest a clash of perennial contenders against occasional pretenders.
And yet the Dublin champions will doubtless start as favourites. And why not? The untroubled calm with which they overcame St Loman's yesterday - in the latter's own Mullingar patch - bespoke a team that means business.
That said, this semi-final was no November classic. Ballyboden were organised and efficient; Loman's were a morass of bad decision-making and poorer execution; while as for the referee ... well, let's just say we can neither confirm nor deny rumours that Offaly's Fergal Smyth had unwittingly swallowed his rule book for breakfast.
Losing manager Luke Dempsey was somewhat less diplomatic in his post-match critique, while stressing that Smyth's whistle-happy ways - and what he variously termed some "unfathomable" and "outrageous" decisions - were not the reason for defeat.
Truth is, Dempsey and his players weren't the only people left bemused by this display of pedantry on a grand scale, incorporating an estimated 51 frees and with a particular penchant for off-the-ball infractions and over-carries.
The winners were equally flummoxed. One press box witness had the free count at 31-20 in favour of Loman's, with 29 coming in a chronically stop-start second half. We also had nine yellow cards and a straight red card, on the hour, for Ken Casey after the Loman's corner-forward got embroiled with Conal Keaney, who ended on the turf.
If all this sounds like a bloodbath, it wasn't. "It couldn't have been a dirty game, it was like a game of basketball," surmised Ballyboden boss Andy McEntee. "You put a hand on a fella and it's a free - that's disappointing."
Somewhere in between the stops and starts, a game of football occasionally broke out. And when it came to this, 'Boden were far more in the zone. Their star names were all key cogs in a collective performance, but not in a flashy way: Stephen Hiney, Michael Darragh Macauley and Keaney all chipped in with noteworthy cameos.
By contrast, while Paul Sharry had his moments, Loman's needed more from John Heslin (typically pinpoint from frees but otherwise subdued) while fellow Westmeath forward Shane Dempsey was rightly replaced.
Ballyboden's solidity started with two-time All Star Paul Durcan, who again jetted in from Qatar to provide a calming presence.
Durcan's point-blank save to deny David Windsor, after 22 minutes, was a pivotal moment. His team were leading 0-6 to 0-5, having just landed a quickfire brace from an Andrew Kerin free and the busily incisive Colm Basquel, but Loman's were right in the contest.
Barely two minutes later, the importance of that save was bolded and underlined when Sam Molony slammed home from similar distance, having been teed up by Conal Keaney's crucial break behind the Loman's full-back line and selfless offload.
The gap was now out to four and remained so (1-7 to 0-6) at the midpoint. Then, within four minutes of the restart, three more debatable frees of the tap-over variety were converted by Keaney.
Seven up: game over.
"Some very, very poor decisions just widened that gap," Dempsey lamented. "And really, that asks an awful lot about the appointment of referees to these important Leinster club matches, when you see the crowd, both mentors on the sideline, so frustrated by decisions ... and that's not to say that the referee caused us to lose."
Warming to his theme, the Loman's boss said he didn't blame the referee "as much as who appointed" him, claiming that a match of such stature was "too big for him".
Ultimately, though, it was too big for Loman's too.