THE Tullamore Court Hotel Senior Football Championship semi-final between champions Rhode and underdogs Durrow on Sunday afternoon was interesting rather than truly entertaining. The result was a predictable one with Rhode returning to the very familiar territory of a final, overturning their shock first round group defeat by surprise packets Durrow earlier in the season.
Tullamore Court Hotel Senior Football Championship semi-final
However, it was a somewhat subdued, a quite unconvincing performance by Rhode and while they will be favourites for the final against Tullamore in a fortnight's time, it raises some questions about their current form.
There was little in this game to set the pulse racing and it was downright mediocre at times but it still made for compelling viewing. Rhode played quite defensively, pulling a lot of men behind the ball and then attacking at pace but without their usual efficiency. Durrow worked very hard at containing their opponents and won some key match-ups but their forwards were never clinical enough to make another upset win anything other than a long shot possibility.
To win, Durrow needed everything to go right for them but that didn't happen here and a couple of absolutely crucial first half calls went against them, in particular the concession of a penalty goal. That penalty proved to be a major talking point among spectators at half time and afterwards and it had a profound influence on this game. It came in the 16th minute, five minutes after Gerry Spollen had been shown a somewhat questionable black card, when Mark Hughes was adjudged to have fouled Aaron Kellaghan. It certainly looked innocuous, a thing of nothing really with both players trying to win the best position for a dropping ball but referee Fintan Pierce judged that Hughes had fouled and Anton Sullivan expertly drove the penalty to the net.
That goal gave Rhode a 1-4 to 0-2 lead and for a long time, it was the only thing separating the sides. Without it, Durrow would have asked more serious questions of Rhode but they never really got close enough to truly trouble the winners late on. Yet this is a game that Durrow could possibly have won. They had plenty of possession and by marking Niall McNamee and Anton Sullivan out of the game for long periods, they gave themselves a great chance.
However, the Durrow forwards were guilty of some very poor shooting, some bad option taking and didn't get in for the goal or goals that they had to get to win this one. Instead, they conceded three goals and if lady luck went against them for the first one, the third one was a disaster.
Rhode had led by 1-4 to 0-3 at half time and while no one in O'Connor Park was getting excited about the potential of a shock result and a parish derby final between Durrow and Tullamore, the losers were very much alive and kicking. The game had turned in Rhode's favour early in the second half. Firstly impressive Durrow midfielder Brian Geraghty was wide with a decent half goal chance after just twenty seconds. It wasn't a sitter but it was a scoreable one that Durrow simply had to get and their misery was completed when Rhode swept down the field and Aaron Kellaghan stroked home a goal.
Durrow dug deep and Barry O'Rourke and goalkeeper Stephen Fitzgerald converted frees with Niall McNamee replying at the other end. Rhode's third goal arrived in the 42nd minute. Durrow may quibble at the free awarded against Ross Ravenhill out around midfield when he punched the ball forcefully but was deemed to have jumped into a Rhode player. Ciaran Burke made a mistake with the high ball in and Niall McNamee finished very well to the net to put them 3-5 to 0-5 ahead.
There was no way that Durrow were going to pull in a nine point deficit, though they fought all the way to the finish and were certainly not disgraced. They got the gap back to seven points with thirteen minutes left and six with four remaining but never threatened to get the goal that would have created anxious moments for Rhode.
It was unfortunate that Burke's mistake led to that third goal as he had done a superb marking job on Niall McNamee. The Offaly senior hurler stuck to McNamee like glue and frustrated him while the Durrow defence also kept a very tight reign on Anton Sullivan – McNamee's only point from play was a late score that was initially waved wide and only flagged after the referee spoke to both umpires and a linesman.
In the first half, Rhode had started well and it looked bad for Durrow. Darren Garry should have got a goal inside the first minute when blazing over the bar but Rhode moved well and deserved their 0-4 to 0-1 lead after seven minutes. Amazingly, their only other score in the first half was that penalty goal and they kicked some unusually poor wides. Durrow had made a good few errors in the early minutes but they cut these out and really tightened up on the Rhode forwards. They did well to be trailing by 1-4 to 0-3 at the break and it was a very creditable display by Durrow.
It was a strange sort of display by Rhode. They were well short of their best, lacked their usual intensity and didn't attack at the same pace that had carved Shamrocks apart in the quarter-final. However, semi-finals are all for winning and Rhode will be happy with way there are. James McPadden, Dylan Kavanagh, Brian Darby and Aaron Kellaghan were their best players on a day when many didn't find their A game.
Durrow weren't as far away as the scoreline might suggest but they weren't truly close either. Apart from that third Rhode goal, Ciaran Burke was immense in their defence while Ross Ravenhill was superb on their half back line, showing great physicality and desire - David Magner got forward for two fine points as well as mopping up a lot of loose ball as he benefitted from Rhode pulling players down the field. Brian Geraghty had a mighty game for them at midfield, ensuring that they at least broke even but from here up, Durrow were in bother. Micheal Mooney showed real class at times and kicked two excellent points while John Murphy, a late call up for Brian Duignan, showed very good touches but their shooting was way off at times and their star forward Kevin McDermott was tightly marshalled by the very efficient James McPadden.
Rhode: Niall McNamee 1-5 (4f), Anton Sullivan 1-1 (goal from a penalty), Aaron Kellaghan 1-0, Ciaran Heavey, Darren Garry and Gareth McNamee 0-1 each.
Durrow: David Magner, Kevin McDermott (2f) and Micheal Mooney 0-2 each, Stephen Fitzgerald (f), Barry O'Rourke (f), Alan Geoghegan and John Murphy 0-1 each.
RHODE: Ken Garry; Keith Murphy, Conor McNamee, James McPadden; Niall Darby, Dylan Kavanagh, Brian Darby; Alan McNamee, Pauric Sullivan; Anton Sullivan, Ruari McNamee, Ciaran Heavey; Darren Garry, Aaron Kellaghan, Niall McNamee. Subs – Gareth McNamee for Pauric Sullivan (39m), Shane Sullivan for Heavey (50m), Tomas Muldoon for Ruari McNamee (62m).
DURROW: Stephen Fitzgerald; David Magner, Ciaran Burke, Mark Hughes; Ross Ravenhill, Gerry Spollen, Michael McDermott; Bobby O'Dea, Brian Geraghty; Barry O'Rourke, Kevin McDermott, Jack Fogarty; Daniel Wyer, Micheal Mooney, John Murphy. Subs – Oisin Cusack for Hughes (35m), Alan Geoghegan for Fogarty (39m), Jack O'Brien for Wyer (42m), Brian Duignan for O'Rourke (45m), Terry Byrne for O'Dea (50m).
Referee – Fintan Pierce (Raheen).
MAN OF THE MATCH
Aaron Kellaghan (Rhode): There wasn't many really outstanding performers here. Ciaran Burke did a super marking job on Niall McNamee for the most part while Ross Ravenhill also stood up for the losers and James McPadden was a contender in the Rhode defence. Aaron Kellaghan gets the nod as he was very good for Rhode when they went well in the first quarter, he got their second goal and also won the first half penalty, dubious as it might have been.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
The first half penalty was a big call and had a huge bearing on this result.
Fintan Pierce ended up a much more central figure than he would have liked. Gerry Spollen's black card and in particular the Rhode penalty were huge talking points in the first half. Video evidence will tell more but at first glance, the penalty looked very harsh. He was in control and did most things well, even if there were a few debatable decisions but Durrow certainly won't be happy at the decisions that went against them.
The form of Rhode remains a talking point. They will be favourites for the final and they are capable of producing a huge performance here but their form suggests that Tullamore have a great chance.
This was the fourth game in a busy weekend at O'Connor Park and the pitch held up very well. It is an absolute credit to head groundsman Jim Kelly and his fellow workers, and they mind the pitch with genuine care and attention.
Rhode play Tullamore in the final.
Wides: Rhode – 10 (7 in first half); Durrow – 8 (3 in first half).
Yellow cards: Rhode – 1 (Niall McNamee); Durrow – 1 (Ross Ravenhill).
Black cards: Rhode – 1 (Keith Murphy); Durrow – 1 (Gerry Spollen).
Red cards: 0.
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