Hunterstown Rovers got their 2017 league campaign off to the perfect start on Saturday evening at the Gaelic Grounds – putting the O’Raghallaighs to the sword in a swashbuckling 2-13 to 0-07 victory.
Second half goals from Alan Landy and Ryan Burns helped Rovers surge away from ther hosts after a much closer first half between the sides. The Drogheda side will rue a host of missed opportunities in the first half as they dominated for a time. But, Rovers left the happier.
In a quirk of fate, Jim Mathews began the 2017 league campaign back in charge of Hunterstown against the team of which he spent the last three years at the helm.
Returning to familiar ground, Mathews was able to call upon Ryan Burns and Paul Carrie but Ryan Ward who suffered an ankle injury in last weekend’s Paddy Sheelan Cup win over Na Piarsagh was out so David Finn partenered Tony McKenna in the centre of the park.
Both teams endured disappointing league campaigns last year with each finishing mid-table and never really troubling the teams at the top. O’Raghallaighs SFC campaign didn’t amount to much either – but when they’re good, they are a force to be reckoned with and Mathews will have been wary of the challenge posed to Rovers on Saturday evening.
That challenge looked like a credible one early on as the Drogheda men took the lead inside two minutes. They had much the better of the play in the opening 20 minutes of the game but were left to bemoan wastefulness in the final third of the field. The home side hit two efforts short into the grateful hands of Niall Carrie and hit a wide by the time Rovers responded. Alan Landy got them off the mark.
The sides exchanged points, O’Raghallaighs from a free and then Rovers through Brendan Lennon after a sweeping move upfield. Finn advanced upfield and fed Burns, who in turn found Landy. He passed to Finn who slipped in Lennon to score.
Lennon put Rovers in front for the first time in the game with an effort from range while O’Raghallaighs racked up the wides. Burns and Padraig Matthews scored their respective first points of the encounter before the home side hit back to leave it 0-03 to 0-05. The O’Raghallaighs goalkeeper was quick off his line to deny Glen Matthews a goal minutes before the interval.
Hunterstown did get back to the dressing room with a three point advantage after Burns kicked a free on the stroke of half time. Finn was the man fouled.
The visitors may have been wary of an O’Raghallaighs fightback in the second period – especially considering the town team failed to take 10 presentable point chances in the opening half hour. But, the Drogheda side were made to pay for their profligate display in front of the posts.
Within 20 seconds of the retstart, Glen Matthews got in on the act and it was all Hunterstown from then on. Ten minutes into the second period, they got a deserved goal. Landy latched onto a high ball from Burns, beat his man for pace and volleyed an effort past the goalkeeper. 0-03 to 1-07.
Minutes later, Brendan Lennon was fouled and referee Aidan Shevlin pointed for a penalty. Burns’ right foot effort sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and Rovers had a ten point buffer.
The Louth star, who excelled here when allowed to come back down the field and get involved in the build-up, scored a routine free to extend the lead before a superb score from Padraig Matthews went over. Frustration was beginning to show in some men in green-and-white. They did get their first score of the second half though, coming a full 25 minutes after their last.
They’d get three more but by that stage this affair at the Gaelic Grounds was all over bar the shouting. Landy, Lennon and Burns all added to their tally in the final minutes. The latter was probably the score of the game. Burns took a ball in the air, cut inside and fired over with his left foot.
For all their quick, incisive attacking play – and there was plenty of it – Rovers defended well too. They crowed out the opposition forward line well when they needed to and had keeper Carrie and full back Brian Mathews to thank for some crucial interventions.
O’Raghallaighs saw a player black carded near the end too, for leaving one on Burns. His effort in the final minute ensured he and Hunterstown had the final say. They have got their league campaign off to the best possible start.
HUNTERSTOWN ROVERS: Niall Carrie, Keith Brennan, Brian Mathews, Richie Cunningham, Muiris O Suilleabhain, Paul Carrie, Patrick Taaffe, Tony McKenna, David Finn, Brendan Lennon (0-03), Padraig Mathews (0-02), Paddy Mooney, Alan Landy (1-03), Ryan Burns (1-04), Glen Matthews (0-01).
Tonight’s GAA Scores
- Div 1 – Cooley Kickhams 3-14 Ardee St Marys 3-10
- Div 2 – O’Raghallaighs 0-07 Hunterstown Rovers 2-13
- Div 3 – Dowdallshill 1-10 Westerns GFC 0-13
- Div 3 – St Kevins 3-19 John Mitchels 1-13
- Div 3 – Sean McDermotts 0-11 Naomh Malachi 1-09