Wednesday 20 March 2019

Crokes and St Enda's battle to last bell

Seconds away, round two after titanic Dub stalemate

BATTLE: Ballyboden St Enda’s Conal Keaney levers off Crokes defender Niall Corcoran as he attempts to field the sliotar
BATTLE: Ballyboden St Enda’s Conal Keaney levers off Crokes defender Niall Corcoran as he attempts to field the sliotar

Not for the first or last time, the bookies were almost right.

Kilmacud Crokes were the most marginal of pre-match favourites - 10/11 according to Boylesports, who clearly weren't totally swayed by their semi-final dethronement of the all-conquering Cuala.

And so it transpired at a captivated Parnell Park yesterday, as an estimated 5,000 spectators saw Kilmacud and Ballyboden St Enda's take it in turns to almost win and almost lose this year's Dublin SHC decider.

In the end, after 80 minutes plus a cumulative eight more of stoppage-time, neither side could land the decisive blow.

By then, as approaching semi-dusk battled with the last vestiges of a blinding afternoon sun, some of the rival combatants were struggling to walk. Shane Durkin hobbled up to corner-forward for 'Boden, their full allocation of subs already used. Marc Howard, Kilmacud's putative deadball winner, had limped off just before that. Both teams were out on their feet. Did either deserve to win it? A more valid question is did either deserve to lose? Definitely not.


So all roads lead back to Donnycarney for Sunday's replay (3.30). County board chiefs met afterwards and were happy to fix the sequel to this marathon slugfest in competition with the Dublin Marathon. A case of last man standing.

"It reminds me of 20 years ago," said Anthony Daly, the Kilmacud boss harking back to his own playing days with Clarecastle, "playing an All-Ireland semi-final against Birr, extra-time ... and for a finish you were like a punch-drunk boxer. And I think both sides were out there."

Over in the Ballyboden corner, Joe Fortune could only hail the herculean efforts of both sides. "I just can't commend the lads enough," he said, while admitting he'd have taken a draw with five minutes remaining.

We're not sure if he was referencing normal-time (they trailed by 1-12 to 1-10 after 59 minutes) or extra-time (they were again two adrift midway through the second ten-minute period).

And yet, perhaps best summing up this wildly oscillating contest, Boden could just as easily have won it twice over.

First up to normal time: Paul Ryan's 60th minute free gave them hope and Aidan Mellett's goal, a minute later, had them in dreamland. Simon Lambert initiated the move; another former Dub, Conor McCormack, gave the assist and Mellett did the rest. They led by two, clock ticking.

Yet it still wasn't enough; the entire press box was scribbling down the details when a quick puckout was worked to Cian Mac Gabhann for an instant point. A foul from the next puckout led to a monster Marc Howard free from inside his own '65'. Level again.


Then Howard had a chance to steal it at the death, but the Corkman's deadball strike from distance trailed wide.

Onto extra-time, where a wind-backed 'Boden moved two clear thanks to a hat-trick of Paul Ryan points (including one sideline cut beauty) only for Crokes to draw level again at the midpoint.

Then it was Kilmacud's turn to edge two clear after a rapid-fire brace from Ross O'Carroll and Oisín O'Rorke, only for Niall McMorrow and another Paul Ryan free to make it all square at the finish.

Ryan even had a late opportunity to win it, but had to settle for a final haul of 0-11 - the same as Howard.


Much earlier, Seán McGrath had buried a third minute goal for Crokes only for a wind-backed 'Boden to hit the jackpot via a prodigious 18th minute free from Gary Maguire. His own dressing-room gave their veteran 'keeper the credit, even though Conor Dooley and Paul Doherty had been hovering with intent as it dropped in the square.

Thus they led 1-8 to 1-5 at the break; it should have been more. "We'd a lot of wides," said Fortune of their nine first half misses. "We weren't probably as structured as we normally are in the forwards. But, Jesus, what a battle!"

Last word to Daly. "I was worried all week. We were a bit blown up after the Cuala match - there wasn't a word about us up to that," he said.

"And you do always worry that that gets inside fellas' heads … I knew that they (Ballyboden) were very focused and I was wondering was our focus quite as good as it was for Cuala, and I don't think it was. But there's nothing like a match like that to refocus everybody and try and get the bodies right for next weekend - it's all we can do."

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