Unbeaten in both the senior championship and league this season, Abbeylara continued their great run under new manager Maurice O’Connor when they produced a strong finish to overcome Clonguish at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Saturday evening last.
In front of a disappointing attendance, Abbeylara reached the county final for the first time since 2006 and can now look forward to a meeting with the title holders Killoe Emmet Og in the 2015 Connolly Cup decider on Sunday October 4th.
For most of this very competitive semi-final clash, very little separated the sides and a draw was looking the likely outcome until the younger Abbeylara outfit stepped up another gear in the closing stages to come out on top.
The teams were deadlocked (1-6 to 0-9) with 52 minutes gone on the clock, at which stage Robbie Smyth converted a long range free and the Abbeylara full-forward immediately landed a terrific point from play to leave Clonguish in some trouble.
The advantage was extended soon after when substitute Sean Murphy fisted the ball over the bar and when impressive defender Colm P Smyth joined the attack to kick over his second point in the 58th minute the writing was on the wall for Clonguish.
Abbeylara then suffered the setback of having another replacement James McEntire sent-off for a straight red card offence in the 60th minute after he impeded David Barden and McEntire is set to be suspended for the final.
That gave Clonguish a glimmer of hope and after Joe O’Brien fired over a free in stoppage time his team tried to engineer a dramatic last gasp equalising goal.
But the resolute Abbeylara defence stood firm and following a fabulous catch by Brian Smyth to avert a dangerous situation, Clonguish substitute Darren Quinn had one last chance but his goal attempt was blocked out wide of the posts.
It was a gutsy performance by Abbeylara to dig out the hard earned victory but it might have been a different story but for a brilliant block by prominent full-back Fergal Battrim who prevented Paul Barden from scoring a goal in the 42nd minute.
That came just after the Abbeylara keeper Damian O’Connor had landed a well struck ‘45’ to leave his side leading by the minimum of margins (1-5 to 0-7) and the ding-dong battle continued with a point apiece from Joe O’Brien (free) and Robbie Smyth (play) before Kevin Burke fisted over a score to level matters.
But Abbeylara went on to outscore Clonguish 0-4 to 0-1 during the remainder of the game and are now just one step away from regaining the Connolly Cup the club last won back in 2006.
Robbie Smyth got the crucial only goal in the 14th minute, flicking the ball into the empty net after linking up with Conor Berry, and it must be said that Smyth (scoring 1-3 in total) stood up when it mattered in playing a leading role in this significant Abbeylara success.
Clonguish trailed by just a solitary point at half-time (1-3 to 0-5) with three of their scores coming from the lively Ciaran Williams (all fine efforts from play) allied to excellent long range strikes from Paul Barden and David Faughnan.
The opening Abbeylara score in the 10th minute was registered by Cian Brady, selected to start at left-corner-forward but who dropped back to operate as an extra defender.
Their other points in the first half came from Jason Kelly (free and play) and both sides were guilty of kicking a few wides including clear-cut goal chances.
The first of those fell to Clonguish attacker Kevin Burke, who flicked the ball wide after connecting with a pass from Peter Hanley, while Abbeylara corner-forward Bernard Crawford failed to hit the target when he had a great chance of finding the back of the net.
Abbeylara made a bright start to the second half when Colm P Smyth surged forward to fire the ball over the bar but a couple of points (both from play) in quick succession from Joe O’Brien left the sides all square (0-7 to 1-4) with four minutes gone on the changeover.
But Abbeylara found that little bit extra thereafter to eventually emerge victorious and deserved to go through to the senior football championship final, mainly due to the decisive Robbie Smyth goal.
ABBEYLARA: Damian O’Connor (0-1, ‘45’); Barry Smyth, Fergal Battrim, Cormac Smyth; Brian Smyth, Michael McHugh, Colm P Smyth (0-2); Arthur O’Connor, Derek Smith; Nigel Rabbitte, Conor Berry, Jason Kelly (0-2, one free); Bernard Crawford, Robbie Smyth (1-3, one point from free), Cian Brady (0-1).
Subs:- James McEntire for D Smith (36 mins); Sean Murphy (0-1) for B Crawford (46 mins); Eamon Gallagher for Cormac Smyth (48 mins).
CLONGUISH: Mikie McGuinness; Brendan Burke, Ronan Sweeney, Brendan Devine; Darragh McLoughlin, Anthony Watters, Conor Shields; David Barden, Peter Hanley; Paddy Dowd, Paul Barden (0-1), Kevin Burke (0-1); Ciaran Williams (0-3), David Faughnan (0-1), Joe O’Brien (0-4, two frees).
Subs:- Stephen Norton for D McLoughlin (24 mins); Darren Quinn for B Burke (55 mins).
Referee: Donal Kane (Young Grattans).