Ardee St Marys let a six point first half lead slip in Castlebellingham tonight as St Josephs earned a point courtesy of a 0-15 to 0-15 draw in Group 1 of the Anchor Tours Senior Football Championship.
Darren Clarke, operating in a defensive role for the Marys, showed his class by hitting six points for the Blues but a strong finish from the Joes meant the Marys were left frustrated on the opening night of the SFC. Alan Quigley’s late free pulled the men from Dromiskin level near the end.
It’s hard to believe nine months have passed since the Blues hopes of a first Championship win in 21 years were cruelly denied by the Sean O’Mahonys. We’re deep into year 22 now and while the draw for the group stage did throw up the tantalising proposition of a rematch with the Dundalk men, that would have to wait.
The Joes were the opposition on Day One. Intermediate champions in 2016, they would hardly consider themselves pushovers – nor should anyone else, especially on their determined performance here.
The Joes started the scoring three minutes in as Peter Duffy tipped over Derek Mulligan’s effort. Jamie Rooney levelled with a fine effort.
In the early stages, Daire McConnon showed some glimpses of why he is so highly regarded in local circles. He stretched those rangy legs and slotted over with his right foot before Clarke put over his first of the night – advancing from deep and pointing from all of 40 yards.
Quigley and Clarke swapped further scores before McConnon scored two in two minutes. First he swept a point over the bar with his left foot and then he popped up on the opposite side to fist one over the bar.
After Eimhin Keenan was fouled, Clarke did what he does best from close range before Jack Mulligan arrowed a great score over Duffy’s bar. Veteran Clarke was proving just as adept at stopping attacks as he is finishing them, excelling in his deep role.
Full back and captain John Bingham was proving equally as useful going forward. Never shy of getting up with the play, he scored a nice point to put the Marys five up. Clarke’s 35-yard curler made it 0-09 to 0-03.
Just as they would do towards the end – denying the Marys a win in the process – the Joes enjoyed a flourish before half time. Craig Doherty, Conal O’Hanlon and the best of the bunch from Daire Smyth brought them back within three. Kian Moran’s well hit point left it 0-10 to 0-06 at half time.
Fresh from scoring four goals in the Ardee men’s last league outing, Ryan Rooney was enduring a frustrating evening in the full forward line. He was withdrawn five minutes after the restart, with Paudy Clarke on.
After Quigley kicked a free off the ground, Mark Fay pointed. At the back, Conor Keenan did well to deny the Joes a clear goalscoring opportunity. He and his defensive teammates couldn’t prevent Alan McKenna scoring and then Mulligan putting one over with his fist.
Clarke had added to his first half tally with a free, another one cancelled out by a Quigley free. Eamon Callaghan the guilty party this time. The gap was now just two points.
Alan Kirk has been in fine form for the Marys thus far in 2017, notching 2-23 in seven league outings. It took him 45 minutes to get off the mark here, but he did so neatly. Kian Moran added another to restore the four point half time lead.
Doherty fed Cian McGuinness for the next score and then Quigley stroked a 40 yard free over. It wasn’t all success for him though. He missed some presentable chances too.
When Conal Smyth reduced the deficit to 0-01, you could see the Marys were lagging. The pace and directness of the Joes was hard to cope with. Quigley made it 0-14 all from open play.
With six minutes remaining, Clarke finished off a long period of Marys possession to regain the lead. Two minutes remained when Quigley scored his sixth of the night, again from a free. The Blues were trying to take the sting out of the game but they had let offs and resolute defending to thank for their point.
Quigley fired wide in injury time and sub Niall Carroll produced a vital block to deny Jack Mulligan at the death. Neither player walked away from that unhurt. That was that as referee Paul Kneel blew his whistle.
ARDEE ST MARYS: Peter Duffy, Conor Keenan, John Bingham (0-01), Eamon Callaghan, Kian Moran (0-02), Eimhin Keenan, Darren Clarke (0-06), Ronan Carroll, Robbie Leavy, Daire McConnon (0-03), Alan Kirk (0-01), Mark Fay (0-01), Jamie Rooney (0-01), Ryan Rooney, Dean Matthews.
Subs: Paudy Clare for Ryan Rooney (35), Niall Eccles for Jamie Rooney (41), Niall Carroll for Eamon Callaghan (50).
For all the very best coverage of local teams in the Louth GAA Championship – previews, match reports, reaction, features, social media updates and more – stick with ThisIsArdee.ie. We’ve got Ardee St Marys, Hunterstown Rovers, Sean McDermotts, John Mitchels and Westerns GFC covered.