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Saturday 3 December 2016

'Boden will just not lie down

'We talked a lot all year about character and never giving up, and they didn't' - McEntee

Ballyboden St Enda’s Conal Keaney celebrates after Saturday’s AIB Football Club Championship semifinal win over Clonmel Commercials at O’Moore Park Photo: Sportsfile
Ballyboden St Enda’s Conal Keaney celebrates after Saturday’s AIB Football Club Championship semifinal win over Clonmel Commercials at O’Moore Park Photo: Sportsfile

The agony and the ecstasy. The exhilaration of being a Ballyboden St Enda's player, mentor, even supporter, in Portlaoise on Saturday evening.

The torture of being from Clonmel Commercials and knowing that you'll never - ever - have a better chance of qualifying for the All-Ireland final of the AIB club senior football championship.

It wasn't a classic semi-final, by any means, but the climax of normal time was beyond incredible.

With the clocking reading 55 minutes, Ballyboden are a man down following Declan O'Mahoney's red card, three points adrift and seemingly beyond redemption.

Fast-forward eight minutes: the three signalled minutes of stoppage time are just up as Darragh Nelson bursts far from his centre-back sentry and kicks the equalising point.

In that moment, you not only know that extra-time is coming ... you sense, instinctively, that Commercials are now a beaten docket. They won't - can't possibly - recover from this hammer blow. They don't.

Thus, restored to 15 men, the Dublin champions kicked five unanswered points in the 20 extra minutes to advance to their first All-Ireland final on St Patrick's Day. There will be first-time winners that day and, on the evidence of Saturday's two semi-finals, the sheer stickability of Ballyboden and Castlebar Mitchels cannot be questioned.

Boden have shown such defiance throughout this marathon campaign, yet even Andy McEntee felt they had reached their Waterloo in O'Moore Park.

Their manager admitted: "Four or five minutes to go, a man down, three points down, having missed as many chances as we did ... you'd say, 'Okay, it's not going to be our day.'

"But we talked a lot all year about character and never giving up - and they didn't give up. They kept just getting a lease of energy and running at them - and the last score was a fantastic score, in the circumstances, with the pressure that was on."

His elation was in stark contrast to Clonmel's profound sense of regret.

"We're gutted," sighed their manager, Charlie McGeever. "It's definitely one we left behind. We had the game won, three points up. That little bit of inexperience about killing games which we talked about.

"We were probably two fouls away from an All-Ireland. Had we killed two or three balls in the last three (minutes), we probably would have been there."

Scattergun

Reflecting on normal time, McGeever reckoned no one could claim Commercials weren't the better team, even if the Tipp men were aided by the scattergun shooting of opponents who tallied ten wides in the hour.

Clonmel weren't much better in the first half, but they led 0-5 to 0-4 at the interval and then made what appeared their decisive move during the third quarter.

A necklace of three unanswered points - two beauties from Ian Barnes and Jack Kennedy, sandwiching a Michael Quinlivan free - made it a three-point game. Jason Lonergan later restored that cushion with the first of his two sumptuous scores.

All the while, Michael Darragh Macauley was a leg-pumping cameo of defiance, trying to drag Boden out of this crisis. "That's what Michael does. He's got that explosive power and he runs at guys and he's very hard to stop," McEntee explained.

And then it all went a bit crazy. In hindsight, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that O'Mahoney's dismissal was an unwitting catalyst for the comeback.

Lonergan had got to the ball ahead of the long-serving midfielder, who poleaxed the half-forward with a tackle that was high, dangerous and looked a cast-iron red. Referee Barry Cassidy agreed.

"It's occurring to me now that Declan O'Mahoney will miss it (the final), ah Jaysus ... that's tough on him. Was it a bit harsh?" his manager wondered.

Yet, not for the first time, 14 men redoubled their efforts. Andrew Kerin pointed from play. Then Conal Keaney, his head bandaged from an earlier war wound, dropped a tap-over free into the 'keeper's arms. Inexplicable - but then pressure does strange things: ask Paul Cahillane.

And still Boden kept coming. Four points were squeezed into stoppage-time - Colm Basquel cut the margin to one, Lonergan replied after a deft chip-up, Kerin nailed a free and, straight from the kick-out, Boden regained possession and it ended with Nelson's run and inspirational equaliser.

But did the captain over-carry? Again, the replay confirmed so but, in the bedlam, his extra steps were missed.

Afterwards, McGeever voiced a different gripe - a suggestion that 'Boden keeper Paul Durcan may have carried the ball over his goal-line under a 39th minute challenge from Quinlivan, after gathering a bouncing delivery from Kevin Fahey.

"There was a huge question about the one at the other end, a serious question about a serious decision. The story is that it was over the line and it'll be interesting to see if umpires come along and can't decide on something like that. But in saying that, we had the game won," McGeever lamented.

Not quite, and extra-time was less than a minute old when they lost Fahey to injury and their talisman, Quinlivan, to a harsh black card.

Keaney, initially subdued, was gargantuan in those 20 minutes. "I think our fitness and our strength probably set us apart in extra-time," the veteran forward suggested.

"They were starting to make mistakes and they were running out of steam a bit.

"But fair play to them, they really threw everything at us and we were very lucky to get out of here."

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