After facile victories over Sean Connolly’s, Ballymahon and Killashee St Brigid’s in the first three rounds, Longford Slashers failed the first serious test of their defence of the Connolly Cup against Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s at Devine Park in Mostrim on Sunday evening last.
Both teams knew that they were assured of a place in the senior championship quarter-finals coming into the Round 4 game, but that fact did not diminish a physical and intense game. It was perhaps fitting that it was a scrambled goal that ultimately decided a scrappy encounter.
St. Columba’s started brightly, and scored the first two points through James McGivney and a Donal McElligott ‘45. Mark Smith got Slashers off the mark in the 7th minute with an excellent left-footed effort from play, and further points from Martin Nevin and Brian Farrell edged the town side in front.
With David Sheridan and Michael Brady gaining the upper hand at midfield, Colin Smith kicked three frees in a row to leave the title holders in a strong position with twenty minutes gone. But Mullinalaghta were in no mood to lie down however, and four minutes before the break they got the crucial score.
Slashers goalkeeper Gordon Hourican flapped at a high ball lobbed in by James McGivney, and amid a goalmouth scramble, Conor McElligott forced the ball over the line. After a brief discussion with his umpires referee Fergal Kelly awarded the goal that drew St. Columba’s level. Colin Smith converted a free to leave Slashers a point ahead at the break, 0-7 to 1-3, but the goal gave the Mullinalaghta men a huge boost.
St. Columba’s brought a renewed physicality and intensity to the second half that Slashers couldn’t cope with. Mullinalaghta won most of the breaking ball around midfield as they hunted in packs, swallowing up any Slashers players that brought the ball into contact. Crucially, they had the scoring ability to consolidate their control, and weren’t long overturning the half-time deficit.
The impressive Kevin Mulligan equalised within three minutes of the restart, and a James McGivney free in the 36th minute saw them assume a lead that they did not surrender. Slashers did not register their first score of the second half until the 47th minute, a Michael Brady point.
By then, St. Columba’s were three points up through scores from Conor McElligott and Kevin Mulligan. The North Longford outfit further asserted their dominance with another James McGivney free, a wonderful Shane Mulligan point from play and another Conor McElligott effort to leave them five points up with six minutes to go.
The county champions resorted to launching balls on top of Martin Nevin on the edge of the square in the hope of forcing a goal, but Mullinalaghta survived the onslaught to register a significant win.
Slashers will certainly need to improve if they are to collect the Connolly Cup for a third year in a row under Denis Connerton, while St Columba’s (coached by Gerry Fox) will be happy with both the performance and the result. Ironically both sides will face each other again in the quarter-final and that promises to be a most intriguing battle at Pearse Park.
MULLINALAGHTA ST. COLUMBA’S: Patrick Rodgers; Bernard Donohoe, Thomas McCabe, Francis Mulligan; Conan Brady, Donal McElligott (0-1, ‘45), Shane Mulligan (0-1); Ruairi McElligott, John Keegan; Mel Dermody, James McGivney (0-3, two frees), Conor McElligott (1-2); Kevin Mulligan (0-3), Gary Rogers, JJ Matthews. Sub:- Simon Cadam for B Donohoe (26 mins). LONGFORD SLASHERS: Gordon Hourican; Paul Devine, Barry Gilleran, Gareth Ghee; Peter Brady, Dermot Brady, Conor Clarke; Michael Brady (0-1), David Sheridan; Brian Farrell (0-1), Colin Smith (0-5, all frees), Trevor Clendenning; Tom Madden, Martin Nevin (0-1), Mark Smith (0-2). Subs:- Ruairi Barrins for P Brady (18 mins); P Brady for R Barrins (half-time); R Barrins for P Devine (38 mins); Stephen Phillips for T Madden (49 mins); Andrew Dalton for C Clarke (56 mins). Referee: Fergal Kelly (Ballymahon).
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