Backboned by a number of vastly experienced players with several senior championship medals to their credit, the current Fr. Manning Gaels third string almost sprang a surprise against the title favourites Legan Sarsfields in the Junior Football Championship semi-final at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Saturday evening last.
When Legan midfielder Conor Quaine fired over a tremendous point from a tight angle with time running out, the Sarsfields were leading by 0-12 to 0-10 and looked to have done enough to clinch their place in the county final but the Gaels hit back to score a dramatic goal in the final minute of normal time.
A Padraic Davis free broke kindly for substitute Conor Heslin who found the back of the net to put the Drumlish/Ballinamuck outfit ahead but Legan launched an immediate counter-attack to earn a close range free that was converted by Conor Quaine to leave the sides all square at the final whistle.
The fading light in this fixture, which started just after 7pm, was a serious cause of concern in the closing stages of this tight contest and a draw was probably the fairest result as darkness descended rather rapidly.
Legan manager James Farrell watched his side cruise into a comfortable 0-6 to 0-2 lead after 14 minutes with the points coming from Conor Quaine (2, one free), Paul Ross (2), John Slowey and a fine strike from wing back Noel O’Neill before another score was registered by Ian Moran in the 26th minute.
But the Gaels battled back to close the gap to just the minimum of margins at the break, 0-7 to 0-6, with corner-forward Paul Cassidy firing over four frees while centre-half-back Martin Mulleady and Niall Mulleady were also on target for the north Longford side.
James Breslin (Junior) was denied a goal in the early stages of the game when the Legan keeper Michael Doherty produced a fine point-blank save and repeated the feat to deny Paul Cassidy in another great chance for the Gaels with a couple of minutes gone on the changeover.
Legan were guilty of some very poor finishing in the first half, shooting seven wides, and continued to enjoy the better of the exchanges in the second half to establish what looked like a winning 0-11 to 0-8 lead following further points from Conor Quaine, Barry Tierney, Niall Flood and John Slowey.
But the gutsy Gaels managed to remain in contention with scores from Martin Mulleady, Tyrone Crowe, Paul Cassidy (free) and James Murtagh to trail by 0-11 to 0-10 and a very exciting finish materialised as the game ended in a draw, just like the other Junior Championship semi-final involving Moydow Harpers and Longford Slashers on the same programme in front of a sparse attendance at Pearse Park.
LEGAN SARSFIELDS: Michael Doherty; Joseph Keogh, Noel Cox, Kevin Moran; Noel O’Neill (0-1), Shane Cox, Conor Moran; Niall Flood (0-1), Conor Quaine (0-5, two frees); John Slowey (0-2), Cormac Hanlon, Darragh Flynn; Ian Moran (0-1), Paul Ross (0-2), Barry Tierney (0-1).
Subs:- Declan O’Neill for P Ross (injured, 38 mins); Kieran Murphy for D Flynn (49 mins); P Ross for K Murphy (injured, 54 mins); James Nulty for I Moran (57 mins).
FR. MANNING GAELS: Michael McEvoy; Gabriel Higgins, Francis Lennon, James O’Neill; Pete McWade, Martin Mulleady (0-2), Peter Davis; Padraic Davis, James Murtagh (0-1); Tyrone Crowe (0-1), Gary Brady, James Breslin (Junior); Niall Mulleady (0-1), Francis McNamee, Paul Cassidy (0-5, all frees).
Subs:- Declan Donnelly for G Higgins (11 mins); Gearoid Nertney for Peter Davis (injured, 38 mins); Cathal O’Reilly for T Crowe (49 mins); Conor Heslin (1-0) for N Mulleady (51 mins).
Referee: Patrick Maguire (Granard St. Mary’s).