In all the heart-break inflicted on them by Glencar/Manorhamilton over the last five years, last Saturday’s Connacht Gold Senior Championship defeat must surely have been the worst for a St. Mary’s Kiltoghert side as the Champions somehow managed to pull the semi-final out of the fire.
The mark of any great team is winning when under immense pressure and Glencar/Manorhamilton certainly did that, displaying passages of awesome football yet mixed with an alarming second half that saw them hang onto their crown by their finger tips.
Adrian O’Flynn’s injury time point secured a famous and slightly fortunate win for the champions who were the first to admit themselves that the dream of a five-in-a-row looked far from solid during a quite amazing second half.
Trailing by seven points, St. Mary’s looked a beaten docket, shorn of confidence and lacking in ideas but the introduction of Jimmy Guckian transformed a contest that was becoming a cake-walk for the champions.
Guckian didn’t do anything dramatic; he chased hopeless causes and pressurised the Manor defence and it worked; the St. Mary’s veteran’s presence seemingly inspiring his team-mates to start charging straight at the heart of the Champions defence.
Twice that approach yielded points for Nicholas McWeeney that probably should have been goals with a more clinical finisher. And, with the seven point gap down to just two, Micheal McWeeney charged through the centre once more and was taken down for a penalty.
With Manor just about hanging on, Niall Comerton’s spot-kick had the potential to deliver a killer blow but the St. Mary’s forward opted for too much precision, hitting the penalty high and to the left, the ball crashing off the post/crossbar in a real escape as keeper Gary Loughlin went the wrong way.
A rattled Glencar/Manor showed their champions mettle, making a few changes and chasing everything that moved, so much so that when the impressive Ray Mulvey got on the ball on one occasion, five Manor played chased after him like a pack of hungry wolves.
It was that resolve and ability to operate under pressure that eventually proved the difference between the sides – St. Mary’s, and Mulvey in particular, had the chances to take the contest in the closing stages but the way Glencar/Manor worked the ball to create the opportunity for Adrian O’Flynn’s injury time match winning score was the starkest difference between the teams.
Yet when Darren Sweeney put over a seventh minute free, you’d have got long odds on Manor needing any sort of late point or luck to take the victory. With Paddy Maguire, Mark McGourty and Pat Gilmartin dominating Mary’s attack, the champions looked in imperious form even allowing for Maguire being very lucky to escape with a yellow card after a swing at Robbie Lowe.
A phalanx of Glencar/Manor players around the middle of the park owned the ball and Adrian Croal & James Glancy provided the sort of threat that St. Mary’s couldn’t handle.
That Glencar/Manorhamilton know they are struggling to meet their previous form is obvious but when it comes to winning tight games, the north Leitrim men have proven past masters and proved it again last Saturday.
Aaron Hickey opened the scoring but Ray Mulvey edged a fast moving St. Mary’s into a two point lead by the tenth minute with two frees and one from play. But then the champions showed their class with seven unanswered points before halftime – Adrian Croal hit two brilliant points and James Glancy made a fantastic one-handed catch to score.
The scores continued to pile up from Aaron Hickey (2), Darren Sweeney and Croal again put them in a comfortable 0-8 to 0-3 halftime lead.
Brian McDonald and Clement Cunniffe swapped two early points in the second half but Glencar/Manor seemed in a different class as they moved seven points clear with points from Croal, set up by good work from James Rooney, and a Sweeney free.
But then came an amazing transformation – Jimmy Guckian arrived on for Mary’s and his presence sparked a come-back. Ray Mulvey popped over two quick points, St. Mary’s first scores for 28 minutes.
Panic seemed to grip Manor as Nicholas McWeeney twice charged through untouched but drove both shots over the bar in the space of minute. Seconds later, Jimmy Guckian blasted over from long range and suddenly a seven point lead was down to just two points in the space of six minutes.
And it seemed as if the crown was teetering when Micheal McWeeney charged through at pace but was taken down by Pat Gilmartin for a penalty. Niall Comerton tried to put it beyond Gary Loughlin’s reach, striking the join of the crossbar and post in a real escape for the Champions.
The gap was down to one with six minutes to go when Robbie Lowe pointed from distance. Sub Shane Loughlin had a poor wide but Ray Mulvey saw two good chances go abegging before he landed a free just seconds into the two minutes of added time.
But as their crown was slipping away, St. Mary’s played a long ball rather than work it short and Glencar/Manor brilliantly worked the ball down the field for Adrian O’Flynn to fire over a monster winning point.
St. Mary’s had one chance to force what would have been a deserved draw but Mulvey was unfortunate to see his effort drift inches wide.
Gary Loughlin, Thomas McDonald, Pat Gilmartin, Paddy Maguire, Mark McGourty, Kieran O’Flynn, Adrian O’Flynn (0-1), Aaron Hickey (0-3), Darren Sweeney (0-2), Gerry Hickey, James Rooney, Colin Ryan, Adrian Croal (0-4), Brian McDonald (0-1), James Glancy (0-1). Subs: Fintan McGourty for Sweeney (47 mins), Shane Loughlin for McGourty (50 mins), Dominic Kelly & Anthony McDonald for Rooney & Ryan (52 mins).
St. Mary’s Kiltoghert
Anthony Conway, Jonathan Cassidy, James Flynn, Vincent McDermott, Dermot Reynolds, Clement Cunniffe (0-1), Nicholas McWeeney (0-2), Daniel Lowe, Robbie Lowe (0-1), Micheal McWeeney, James Glancy, Ray Mulvey (0-6),Brian O’Donnell, Niall Comerton, Joe O’Rourke. Subs: Conor Farrell for O’Donnell (HT), Jimmy Guckian (0-1) for Flynn (37 mins), Colm O’Reilly for O’Rourke (57 mins).
Referee: Finbarr Keaney.