While Abbeylara advanced to the Senior Football Championship quarter-finals, they were forced to withstand a very determined comeback by a spirited Fr. Manning Gaels side in the second half of the entertaining play-off at Emmet Park, Killoe on Thursday evening last.
Rattled by a terrible start when left them trailing by 1-3 to 0-0 with just four minutes gone on the clock and who ended up eight points behind at the break (1-9 to 0-4), the Drumlish/Ballinamuck outfit were thrown a lifeline with a goal from a penalty converted by keeper Paddy Collum and the course of the game changed completely.
Up until then Abbeylara were in control, building on a brilliant start with Shane Mahon scoring a crucial goal as early the second minute, while four of their nine points in the first half were fired over by Conor Berry who was making his presence felt at full-forward.
County minor Conor slotted over three frees, along with a cracking strike from play, while Robbie Smyth (2), William Crawford, Brian Smyth and corner-back Barry Smyth were also on target for rampant Abbeylara who appeared to be cruising to a place in the last eight of the Connolly Cup.
The best the Gaels could manage was a total of four points with prominent wing back Emmet Noonan surging forward to land their opening score in the 6th minute while his brother James then converted a couple of frees. And just before the break full-forward Sean Whelan blasted a first-time shot over the bar.
The Gaels cause suffered a setback when midfielder Fergal Reilly had to retire injured during the second quarter of the contest but they showed a lot of character to come storming back in the second half, inspired by the big boost of the Paddy Collum penalty goal with four minutes gone on the changeover.
With Aaron Quinn proving to be a real driving force at centre-half-back. Fr. Manning Gaels played some really fine football to register 1-5 on the trot and when Padraig Gill landed an excellent point in the 42nd minute the teams were remarkably all square, 1-9 apiece.
The other Gaels scores in this glorious spell came from James Noonan (two frees), along with excellent efforts (play) from Martin Cassidy and Darren Farrelly, and that was really putting it up to Abbeylara.
But the pressure was eased on Donal Ledwith’s side when another county minor Nigel Rabbitte landed a very good score in the 43rd minute and the lead was extended when Robbie Smyth converted a well struck free in the 49th minute.
Abbeylara then had a rather lucky let-off when Padraig Gill was going through but lost the ball in his attempt to create a goal chance in the 53rd minute and the Gaels fell further behind when Conor Berry fired over his fourth free in the 58th minute.
While the Gaels were given a glimmer of hope when James Noonan landed a point from play, time ran out for the gallant losers with referee Patrick Maguire blowing the final whistle a minute into stoppage time.
ABBEYLARA: Damien O’Connor; Barry Smyth (0-1), Enda Ledwith, Anthony McBrien; Eamon Gallagher, Colm P Smyth, Michael McHugh; James McEntire, Fergal Battrim; Brian Smyth (0-1), Robbie Smyth (0-3, two frees), Nigel Rabbitte (0-1), Shane Mahon (1-0), Conor Berry (0-5, 4 frees), William Crawford (0-1).
Subs:- Colm Dalton for E Gallagher (black card, 31 mins); Jason Kelly for W Crawford (41 mins); Michael O’Connor for J McEntire (49 mins); Sean Murphy for Brian Smyth (60 mins).
FR. MANNING GAELS: Paddy Collum (1-0, penalty); Dylan Quinn, Cian Brady, Gary Connell; Martin Cassidy (0-1), Aaron Quinn, Emmet Noonan (0-1); Johnny Kane, Fergal Reilly; Darren Farrelly (0-1), Diarmuid Cooney, Padraig Gill (0-1); Podge Gill, Sean Whelan (0-1), James Noonan (0-5, 4 frees).
Subs:- David Collum for F Reilly (injured, 23 mins); Darren Reilly for M Cassidy (51 mins); Pete Collum for S Whelan (54 mins).
Referee: Patrick Maguire (St. Mary’s Granard).