St. Mel’s snatch late winning point to reach championship quarter-finals

15-year-old Robbie O'Connell (Longford Slashers), who scored the winning point (free) in stoppage time for St. Mel's College against St. Joseph's, Rochfortbridge in the Leinster Senior Football Championship Round 2 game on Friday last.
St. Mel’s College are still in the race for the Leinster Senior Championship title as they snatched a late winning point to pip St. Joseph’s, Rochfortbridge at the post in a very tight contest and can now look forward to a home quarter- final, provisionally fixed for this Friday (January 16) against Dublin opponents St. Aidan’s C.B.S., Whitehall (Scoil Aodhain) at Emmet Park, Killoe, 2pm (tbc).

St. Mel’s College are still in the race for the Leinster Senior Championship title as they snatched a late winning point to pip St. Joseph’s, Rochfortbridge at the post in a very tight contest and can now look forward to a home quarter- final, provisionally fixed for this Friday (January 16) against Dublin opponents St. Aidan’s C.B.S., Whitehall (Scoil Aodhain) at Emmet Park, Killoe, 2pm (tbc).

The Round 2 game against St. Joseph’s was played in extremely difficult conditions at St. Mary’s GFC grounds in Rochfortbridge on Friday last and while most of the players on the pitch struggled to combat the rain and a very strong wind, 15-year-old Robbie O’Connell produced a very determined display to emerge as the St. Mel’s matchwinner.

Apart from his immense workrate throughout this torrid test of stamina amid the horrendous weather, the Longford Slashers youngster kept his composure to fire over the last three scores for his school - all from frees - and he kicked the decisive final point in the third minute of stoppage time to settle the issue.

St. Mel’s showed a lot of character to survive this stern challenge against a physically stronger St. Joseph’s, who were guilty of squandering several chances with the aid of the wild elements in the first half and it might have been a different story had corner-forward Jack Reid not let the ball slip from his grasp with the goals at his mercy in the 4th minute.

The Longford college got a lot of players behind the ball to restrict the Rochfortbridge outfit to just a solitary point in the first half, scored by Killian Doyle in the 7th minute, and soon after Joe Heaney (11 mins) converted a free for the equalising score.

That was the way it remained until the break, 0-1 to 0-1, but a poor match improved considerably in the second half with St. Mel’s hitting the front with a brace of points in quick succession through Joe Heaney (free) and Cian Finnan.

But St. Joseph’s bounced back immediately with a well-taken goal from Killian Doyle and when Jack Reid shot over the bar in the 43rd minute they were leading by 1-2 to 0-3.

That was really putting it up to St. Mel’s (who were also guilty of some poor finishing) but three points in a row followed from David McCarthy and Robbie O’Connell (two frees) regained the lead (0-6 to 1-2) and in between St. Joseph’s were reduced to 14 players when midfielder Cathal Moran was sent-off.

While Shane Thompson missed a glorious opportunity of putting the issue beyond all doubt when he shot wide in a clear-cut goal attempt in the 51st minute, St. Mel’s had a very lucky escape immediately at the other end with keeper Daniel Doherty coming to the rescue.

Doherty made a great double save to prevent Killian Doyle from scoring a second goal for St. Joseph’s, who got back on level terms when Ian Kilcoyne fired over a free in the 56th minute.

With extra-time looming, the drama was far from over and three more players were dismissed by whistle happy referee Conor Dourneen - Joe Hyland (St. Joseph’s) in the 58th minute and St. Mel’s duo Daniel Smith (who was just brought on) and David McCarthy deep into stoppage time.

In a very tense finish up stepped Robbie O’Connell to land the winning point, from a free awarded for a foul on Darragh Doherty, and it remains to be seen whether St. Mel’s are good enough to progress a stage further against stiff Dublin opposition.

St. Aidan’s C.B.S. succeeded in reaching the All-Ireland Post-Primary Schools Senior ‘B’ Football Championship Final in 2014, losing out by a point against Colaiste Choilm, Ballincollig (Cork), and will prove difficult to beat in the battle for a place in the last four in Leinster.

ST. JOSEPH’S ROCHFORTBRIDGE: Aaron McHugh; Siya Nxumalu, Joe Hyland, Ned Cully; Jack Murphy, Sean Quinn, Bobby Gonoud; Cathal Moran, Finbar Coyne; Dylan Flanagan, Killian Doyle (1-1), Derek Conroy; Jack Reid (0-1), Ciaran Doyle, Ian Kilcoyne (0-1, free).

Subs:- Sam Duncan for J Reid (22 mins); Sam Plant for S Nxumalu (34 mins); J Reid for S Quinn (injured, 36 mins).

ST. MEL’S COLLEGE: Daniel Doherty (Longford Slashers); Stephen Farrell (Young Grattans), Liam Barry (Longford Slashers), James Moran (Young Grattans); Peter Lynn (Young Grattans), Cillian Lee (Killashee), Ryan Moffett (Killoe); Sean Noonan (Mostrim), Peter Hanley (Clonguish, captain); Robbie O’Connell (Longford Slashers, 0-3, all frees), Joe Heaney (Sean Connolly’s, 0-2, frees), Daniel Kirby (Longford Slashers); Darragh Doherty (Mostrim), Nathan Steele (Longford Slashers), Cian Finnan (Longford Slashers, 0-1).

Subs:- David McCarthy (Killoe, 0-1) for D Kirby (28 mins); Shane Thompson (Killoe) for J Heaney (38 mins); Paddy Duggan (Longford Slashers) for J Moran (42 mins); Robbie Clarke (Longford Slashers) for C Finnan (black card, 45 mins); Daniel Smith (Longford Slashers) for Darragh Doherty (injured, 63 mins).

Referee: Conor Dourneen (Cavan).