Stapleton the Towers hero
Páidí seals the deal for Clondalkin with stoppage-time winner over Clontarf in close-fought battle
Páidí Stapleton struck a dramatic stoppage-time point at Parnell Park last Wednesday to guide Round Tower Clondalkin towards a nail-biting success over Clontarf in the Dublin Intermediate Hurling Championship decider.
Leading 0-9 to 0-5 in the 42nd-minute, Tarf looked set to come out on top of a scrappy affair. However, Joey Murray's superb penalty save from Ronan McDyer sparked Towers into the life during the final quarter.
They subsequently suffered a fresh setback courtesy of Tom O'Flaherty's speculative goal, but a late flourish ultimately propelled Feargal McDonagh's charges over the line. Despite playing with the aid of a strong breeze in the first half, it took a while for the Tarf challenge to really kick into gear.
Following an initial impasse, McDyer broke the deadlock with an expertly-struck pointed free on the halfway line. Liam O'Connor quickly restored parity for Towers, but both sides proved to be wasteful in front of goal during the early exchanges.
Nevertheless, McDyer's dead-ball accuracy ensured Tarf created some daylight between the teams. Their first score from play eventually arrived on 18 minutes - Brian Forde splitting the posts at the end of a prolonged move.
Much to the relief of Towers, their northside counterparts registered 10 wides throughout the course of the opening period. Though it was largely intermittent, they also developed some encouraging passages of play.
Courtesy of John Mullins and Steven Russell efforts, they stretchered their lead to five points. Mullins later released Niall Enright on goal, but Murray was off his line to avert danger.
McDyer's fourth of the half was in direct response to Eric Finn's maiden score of the night. Although they struggled to catch fire, a long-distance O'Connor free kept Towers within touching distance at the break. While a 0-7 to 0-3 cushion was a welcome one for Tarf, a significant backlash was anticipated after the resumption.
Named on the edge of the far square, Dublin senior panellist Paddy Smyth switched to full-back for Tarf upon throw-in. He was a commanding presence for the St Anne's Park men, but fouled opposite number Stapleton for a free that O'Connor converted.
Unperturbed by the concession of this score, McDyer pointed either side of an O'Connor 65 to keep Tarf in the driving seat. Another Finn single kept the Towers' dream alive, though their chances of success appeared to diminish when referee Mark Ryan awarded Tarf a 47th-minute penalty.
As the go-to man for the majority of his side's set plays, McDyer was the ideal choice for this 21-metre effort. Yet, Murray was more than equal to his strike - offering Towers the perfect tonic for the remainder of the action.
An O'Connor brace edged them a step closer in the dying moments, when the pressure on the Tarf rearguard ramped up a considerable degree. Quick thinking from Murray saw Jack Whelan receiving the ball in space on the left wing for an equalising point.
With momentum behind them, a resurgent Towers edged in front for the first time on 56 minutes. O'Connor's only point from open play looked set to be a crucial one, until Tarf regained the initiative in fortuitous circumstances.
Deputising for the absent McDyer, O'Flaherty stepped forward to negotiate a tricky free into the wind. The inside forward fell short in his search for a white flag, but it slipped through Murray's fingers at the final second and into the back of the net.
Rather than being left deflated by this hammer blow, Towers fired back in clinical style. After the reliable duo of O'Connor and Finn levelled matters, Stapleton brilliantly dissected the posts four minutes into time added on.
O'Flaherty had a late opportunity to rescue the game for Tarf, but he couldn't find the distance off his free and Kevin Byrne pulled a shot wide at an acute angle. There was pure elation on the final whistle and Towers will now face Senior 'B' champions Scoil Uí Chonaill next Sunday for the right to represent Dublin in the Leinster IHC.
Scorers - Round Tower Clondalkin: L O'Connor 0-8 (6f, 1 65), E Finn 0-3, J Whelan, P Stapleton 0-1 each. Clontarf: R McDyer 0-6 (5f), T O'Flaherty 1-0 (f), J Mullins, B Forde, S Russell 0-1 each.
ROUND TOWER CLONDALKIN: J Murray; E Fitzgerald, G Quinlivan, E Young; A Darby, A Doyle, P McGeever; L O'Connor, A O'Neill; E Finn, E Walsh, J Whelan; P Stapleton, E Moran, B Finn.
Subs: C O'Brien for Walsh (39), L Currivan for Fitzgerald (43), B Keogh for B Finn (50).
CLONTARF: D Patton; K Mangan, P Smyth, A Casey; C McGinn, J Walls, K Byrne; J Mullins, F Maher; B Forde, S Russell, F Maher; R McDyer, N Enright, T O'Flaherty.
Subs: M Higgins for Forde (55), J Higgins for McDyer (56).
MENTORS - Round Tower Clondalkin: Feargal McDonagh, Donal Franks, Sam Walsh, Paul Curran, Ger Kesie.
Clontarf: Dave Kane, Mick Kelly, Denis McDaid, Gay Byrne, John Russell.
Referee: Mark Ryan (St Patrick's, Palmerstown).
WIDES - Round Tower Clondalkin: 9 (3+6).
Clontarf: 11 (10+1).
CONDITIONS: Dry overall but also quite breezy.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH: Eric Finn (Round Tower Clondalkin).