A dramatic and decisive 58th minute converted free from the ice-cool Robbie O’Connell ensured that St Mel’s College advanced to their first Leinster SFC ‘A’ semi-final since 2004 at the expense of last year’s beaten All-Ireland Senior ‘B’ Finalists Scoil Aodháin.
Just as he did in the previous round where St Mel’s accounted for St Joseph’s, Rochfortbridge by the minimum margin, 0-7 to 1-3, it was fifteen years old Longford Slashers clubman O’Connell that produced the match winning goods, keeping his nerve to point a vital pressure free.
Indeed, that was St Mel’s only score of a concluding half where they were pushed to the pin of their collar and they’d to dig deep into their reserves to cling on for victory. A similar fade out in the semi-final against Good Counsel just might not be retrievable.
It was definitely the proverbial game of two halves at cold and blustery Emmet Park, Killoe on Friday afternoon last; St Mel’s dominated the first half and they enjoyed a commanding seven point lead at the break, 1-6 to 0-2, but the Dublin school emerged a completely different proposition after their interval pep talk and their fightback made for a very nervy final few minutes.
The drama was embellished by the fact that Scoil Aodháin believed the interval score was 1-5 to 0-2 - a St Mel’s point seemed to have been waved wide by an umpire but referee Chris Dwyer intervened to award the score - and this led to some confusion following the final whistle.
Scoil Aodháin’s concerted second half onslaught saw them outscore under the cosh St Mel’s by 0-7 to nil, levelling proceedings at 1-6 to 0-9, before O’Connell took centre stage and hoisted over the winner.
Both sides had early opportunities but they were guilty of kicking poor wides. St Mel’s Darragh Doherty finally broke the impasse in the 10th minute with a good point. He contributed three points in all and the skilful Mostrim youngster caused Scoil Aodháin problems throughout.
Scoil Aodháin levelled with a nice point from Conor Kavanagh before St Mel’s took control of proceedings. Two points from Shane Thompson (on his home patch of Killoe) and a pointed Doherty free put them ahead by three, 0-4 to 0-1, by the 21st minute; Thompson, in fact, was rather unlucky not to rattle the twine as his strike thumped the crossbar and went over for a point.
He wasted no time in making amends and found the net a minute later after he got on the end of Doherty’s pass and calmly slotted home. Scoil Aodháin had their chances but just couldn’t put the ball over the bar.
St Mel’s continued to convert their chances, adding points per Thompson and Doherty, and they were unlucky not to grab a second goal in the 27th minute with Thompson forcing a fine save out of Aodháin’s keeper Sean Power. Just before the break Kavanagh pointed a free for Scoil Aodháin leaving them seven points adrift, 0-2 to 1-6.
Whatever was said in the Scoil Aodháin half-time team-talk it had the desired effect and they made a bright start to the second half. Two frees from Kavanagh and a fine point from play from Cian Gerrard cut the gap to four points, 0-5 to 1-6, in the 40th minute.
Gavin King struck a fantastic long-range free from the ground in the 42nd minute to leave just a goal between the sides. The momentum was with the Whitehall school and Mel’s struggled to gain possession. When they did get the ball into the forward line they kicked a number of poor wides; panicking a little.
It was all Scoil Aodháin and a good point from centre-half back Cathal Doran brought them to within a point of Mel’s in the 53rd minute. Two minutes later another King free levelled the match at 0-9 to 1-6.
With time running out and extra-time looking a strong possibility, St Mel’s were awarded a free with O’Connell duly delivering the winning point. It was St Mel’s only score of the second half and boy was it was a precious one.
ST MEL’S COLLEGE: Daniel Doherty; James Moran, Liam Barry, Paddy Duggan; Ryan Moffett, Cillian Lee, Peter Lynn; Joe Heaney, Sean Noonan; Robbie O’Connell (0-1, free), Darragh Doherty (0-3, 0-2 frees), Daniel Kirby; Cian Finnan, Shane Thompson (1-3), Brian Harte.
Subs: Robbie Clarke for Kirby (41 mins), Peter Hanley for Thompson (49 mins), Nathan Steele for Hanley (inj, 59 mins).
SCOIL AODHAIN: Sean Power; Rory Kerins, Sean Brennan, Tony O’Sullivan; Daire Gray, Cathal Doran (0-1), Elliott Craig; Aaron Elliott, Gavin King (0-2,0-2 frees); James Doran, Conor Kavanagh (0-4, 0-3 frees), Cian Gerrard (0-1); Paddy Small, Jeff Rafter, John Connell (0-1).
Subs: Donal Ryan for J Doran (23 mins), Enda O’Donnell for Rafter (28 mins), Adam Conway for Gerrard (50 mins).
Referee: Chris Dwyer, Offaly.