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Sunday 17 December 2017

Cool hand Luke's latest comeback propels Loman's into maiden final

St Loman's 0-13 Simonstown 1-8

John Heslin and his St Loman’s team-mates celebrate
John Heslin and his St Loman’s team-mates celebrate

After it was all over, and St Loman's had qualified for their first ever AIB Leinster club SFC final, Luke Dempsey let his media inquisitors in on an secret.

Falling into catastrophic deficits, the veteran manager revealed, was "not something we plan for."

That may be so but, watching the three-in-a-row Westmeath champions patiently reel in Simonstown Gaels at TEG Cusack Park yesterday afternoon, you'd almost suspect that improbable comebacks are all part of Dempsey's master plan.

Two weeks ago they had trailed Mullinalaghta by six points as that fraught quarter-final slipped into its fourth quarter, so losing by seven with just 15 minutes on the clock here may not have appeared quite like Mission Impossible.

But the Mullingar men were still in deep trouble. They were suffering around midfield, struggling to contain the livewire Nathan O'Brien, leaking an unanswered 1-4 at one end while missing two goal chances of their own (for Ronan O'Toole and Ciaran Kilmurray) at the opposite end.

Mark McCabe's 11th minute goal, finished from close range after O'Brien and Niall Kane had cut open the Loman's rearguard, pushed them five clear; Brian Conlon and skipper Pádraig McKeever soon left them seven up and in dreamland.

Slumber

But then Loman's awoke from their own slumber, outscoring their Meath opponents 0-13 to 0-4 over the last three-quarters.

Their reward for this latest escape-to-victory is a Portlaoise showdown with Moorefield on December 10.

"We won't get away with that slow start against Moorefield, who are very, very dynamic and who will be starting favourites now for this final," insisted Dempsey.

Some may dismiss this as classic 'mind games' against a familiar opponent - Dempsey has previously managed the Newbridge outfit to a brace of Kildare titles in 2013 and '14.

Yet there was nothing contrived about the perilous scenario facing Loman's here.

"It was a measure of what Simonstown brought to the table in those first few minutes. They pressed high on our kickouts. They're a huge team … they can destroy you in the blink of an eye, because they are very fast," Dempsey reflected.

"I think David Whelan's loss (to injury) probably meant that we had to compromise around the midfield area. We never got to grips until John (Heslin) came out there, and then you're compromising his forward play.

"But, true to his character, he went on to get parity at midfield for us, and I think then we took off. We got the points ticking over, so we only went in three down, and we knew then with the character in the team that we had a good chance."

Ken Casey's 17th minute point ignited the hosts, who followed up with the next three scores. They trailed by 1-6 to 0-6 at the break; then, after ten barren minutes, a Heslin free provided the adrenalin shot to transform this contest.

Six unanswered points in an 11-minute spell saw Loman's go from three down to three up.

By this stage, Simonstown hadn't scored since the 28th minute and looked bereft, but a brace from Shane O'Rourke and Conor Sheridan gave them hope. Kieran Lynam, so busy off the bench, replied with a fisted point that would prove the game's final score, as Simonstown chased an injury-time winning goal to no avail.

Merit

Ultimately there was no mistaking the merit of victory: Loman's had big performers in every line, none better than veteran centre-back Paddy Dowdall.

Keeper Jason Daly dealt well with several dangerous high missiles; Paul Sharry and Heslin put in big shifts around the middle; while Ken Casey and Lynam were the pick of their forwards.

Still, losing boss Colm O'Rourke was left to reflect on what might have been.

"We had played well and we could have been more up, because I thought we were in complete control at one time," O'Rourke suggested.

"Missed a lot at the end of the first half, poor shot selection, and Loman's got back into it. Fair play, we have no complaints. We gave it everything ... we came up a little short."

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