The old adage of ‘goals win games’ was to the fore in O’Connor Park last Sunday as St Rynaghs edged out Walsh Island by the only goal among twenty three scores in a hard fought encounter between two clubs from opposite ends of the county.
Paudie Mulhare’s goal in the fifth minute of the second half was the only clear goalscoring chance for the West Offaly men, while Walsh Island had several opportunities to raise a green flag but spurned each and every one. Ultimately that, more than any other single factor, was the difference between these two sides.
Wins on Saturday night for Clara and Gracefield over Ballycumber and Shamrocks respectively meant that these two clubs were only playing for placings in group two, with both clubs guaranteed to advance to the last eight regardless of the result here. Despite the lack of tangible reward for the winners or indeed punishment for the losers, both sides competed aggressively and consistently throughout this game, making mistakes but always working to secure a positive result.
Alan Mulhall opened the scoring with a well taken left foot point and this was cancelled out by a Gary Mahon free after good work from Joey O’Connor to draw the foul. The minor dual star never recovered from this tackle and he was withdrawn minutes later, but not before Rynaghs centre forward Ciarán Flannery kicked his team in front after taking a layoff from Paudie Mulhare.
Flannery was the dominant influence on play in the first half and Rory Connor’s decision to drop back and hold the middle allowed the Rynaghs player to pick up a lot of loose ball and to dictate the play from around the middle. A Flannery pass into substitute Niall Wynne gave the minor player a half chance for goal on ten minutes, but Ian Duffy was quickly out to smother the danger.
Two more points for Flannery and a close range effort from Joe Carroll pushed Rynaghs 0-5 to 0-2 in front after twenty minutes of play, but Walsh Island enjoyed a dominant spell for the rest of the first half, Willie Mulhall kicking two scores and Colm Gavin levelling matters after a wonderfully inventive overhead punch across goals from Alan Mulhall. Niall Wynne and Clive Murphy each took scores to leave the game finely poised at 0-6 to 0-6 at half time, with most people in attendance expecting Walsh Island to continue their supremacy into the second half.
Yet again it was St Rynaghs who made the brighter start however, with wing forward Gary O’Connor playing in a more advanced role and setting up two key scores. First he ran through on goals and almost played in Paudie Mulhare for a goal, however the ball was partially blocked and fell to Gary Mahon, who took the point. Then in the 35th minute he fielded a high ball into the square from Flannery and laid it off to Mulhare, whose low shot was partially blocked by Ian Duffy but still crept across the line.
Walsh Island came more and more into this game after the goal and they begen to enjoy a greater share of possession with Ross Connor becoming more influential. However they kicked a string of wides and still trailed by a goal with eight minutes remaining, 1-10 to 0-10. Alan Mulhall was very much on form throughout this fixture but all around him his fellow forwards were missing chances, with Gary Comerford particularly off his game, missing several point scoring chances and a gilt edged goal opportunity.
With time running out, centre back Rory Connor charged forward and collected a quick free some 30 metres out from goal. Connor made another ten metres before hitting a fierce drive only a couple of feet over the crossbar. It was to be the last chance for the Island to salvage a result as St Rynaghs defended well in the closing stages and wrapped up the win with a late Niall Wynne free, taken after Odhrán McIntyre covered acres of ground and drew a tired tackle from the Walsh Island defence.
This result is likely to be of little consequence in the long run, however both of these teams have a lot of improvement to find before hoping to go much further than the quarter final stages, even allowing for the return of Brian Connor from America. The workrate and endeavour from both sides couldn’t hide the lack of invention and the steady flow of errors, while both sides had players who visibly wilted in the later stages, something which would take a heavier toll against some of the stronger sides still remaining in the competition.
ST RYNAGH’S: Gary Kelly; Tomás Flaherty, James Rafferty, Stephen Clancy; Joe Carroll (0-1), Ger Rafferty, Paul Quirke; Pat McIntyre, Pat Camon (0-1); Sean Kenny, Ciarán Flannery (0-3, 0-1f), Gary O’Connor; Joseph O’Connor, Paudie Mulhare (1-0), Gary Mahon (0-3, 0-1f). Subs: Niall Wynne (0-3, frees) for Joseph O’Connor, Conor Daly for Joe Carroll, Odhrán McIntyre for Sean Kenny, Aidan Hanrahan for Paul Quirke,
WALSH ISLAND: Ian Duffy; James Gallagher, Thomas O’Connor, Rory Connolly; Matthew O’Connor, Rory Connor (0-1), Rory Galvin; Mark O’Connor, Ross Connor (0-1f); Adrian Curley, Alan Mulhall (0-5, 0-3f), Colm Gavin (0-1); Michael Brereton, William Mulhall (0-2), Clive Murphy (0-1). Subs: Gary Comerford for Colm Gavin, Anthony Kavanagh for Michael Brereton, Colm Mulhall for Clive Murphy,
REFEREE: Martin Walsh (Birr)