Connolly stays cool
Diarmuid's last-gasp free earns Vincent's a replay as holders Ballymun are held
MIDWEEK pursuits other than attending Wednesday night's (7.45pm) Dublin SFC replay between Ballymun Kickhams and St Vincent's in Parnell Park are now largely trivial by comparison.
Yesterday, on a day of unseasonable freshness, the clubs played 80 minutes of excellent football, swapping ascendancy and decline freely only for, fittingly, a last-minute free-kick from Diarmuid Connolly to send us back to Donnycarney on Wednesday.
Any other result would have fallen harshly and sorely on whoever ended up holding the thin end of the wedge.
And that the winners will have just four days to repair before taking on St Loman's of Westmeath in the Leinster Club Championship is a fact that will consume precisely none of their thought space between now and then.
There's a county title to be won and both these teams have the artillery to do it.
Ballymun, quite visibly propelled by All-Ireland Club final defeat on St Patrick's Day, are just a game away – again – from back-to-back Dublin titles, a feat of no small magnitude given the power of club football in the capital just now.
St Vincent's, the capital's natural aristocracy, spy just a second crown in 30 years, though the significance of doing so in the same year as the passing of their most influential member, Kevin Heffernan, is surely palpable within the club.
Yesterday, the two needs met precisely in the middle, yet it took Connolly's clear head and sweet execution from just in front of the 45-metre line, dead straight in front of the goals, to preserve Vincent's hope.
Ballymun might just rue their own ruthless ambition a tad, though.
Having been outscored by three points-to-one in the first period of extra-time – a necessity borne from a late splurge of 1-2 from Vincent's in normal play – Ballymun responded thoroughly with three beauties in the second, Dean Rock swinging a couple over from mighty distances and under the fiercest pressure.
A point up with a minute to play and Vincent's understandably advanced in their need to equalise, the 'Mun seized possession and Derek Byrne took off for goal, untrammelled by the opposition.
Spurning a high-percentage point chance, he elected instead to bring Ted Furman into play, but the pass and the execution were both off and the shot, smothered by Michael Savage. Almost from the next play, Vincent's impressive Sligo wing-back Brendan Egan drew a foul. Connolly, who had been sensational in Vincent's semi-final win over Ballyboden last Monday, hadn't taken a free all day.
He had, however, scorched the best point of the match with the outside of his boot and decided his trick for the day was the crossfield ball under intense pressure, a move which lead directly to at least three Vincent's points.
Tomás Quinn – Vincent's saviour in the first half – had missed a couple in the second but, whether predetermined or otherwise, Connolly stepped up and forced another evening out.
Initially, Vincent's looked like they might take persuading that they would be good enough to win.
They fell three points to zip in the red within just a minute and 15 seconds, Ballymun displaying a zealous penchant for detecting wounds and tearing them opening as quickly and violently as possible.
Yet thanks mainly to Quinn – who gave Philly McMahon an uncomfortable half hour before suffering the reverse in the second half – they stayed in touch, just, at 0-8 to 0-5 by half-time.
By the end, though, it was Gavin Burke – an All-Ireland minor medalist in 2012 – to whom the Marino men owed their greatest debt of gratitude.
He kicked six points, all from play, including a couple from tight situations and prohibitive distances.
Three came within the first four scores of the second half – all accredited to Vin's – and a run that put them ahead for the first time, but Ballymun are not just a tough, fit and determined team, they also possess a sheet of players comfortable with kicking scores.
By way of retaliation, they managed five within four minutes from five different players, as Vincent's struggled to win an acceptable percentage of their own kickouts, partly through Davy Byrne's amazing zeal in the air and broken ball, and partly through miscued restarts.
In fact, it took the introduction of Eamonn Fennell, initially at full-forward an eventually in the middle, to give Vin's some much-needed possession and oxygen for their forwards.
Seán Currie made a great save from Ruairí Trainor in the 47th minute, but as Rock got on more ball in ever-more-inviting positions, the underlying feeling was that Ballymun would pull away.
With a minute of normal time left, they were up 0-16 to 0-11, but sub Kevin Golden rattled Currie's net after smart play from both Connolly and Trainor, a goal which gave Vin's hope, feint though it still seemed.
Burke, however, landed a monster point and from the kick-out Fennell won, and Vin's moved quickly to Carthy, who forced the added time.
Therein, Ballymun looked the fitter, even if Vincent's found more wriggle room in their backs than is customary. But it should, all told, make for a hell of a replay.