A late flurry from Clan na Gael saw the Dundalk side overcome Hunterstown Rovers 2-14 to 1-12 in Castlebellingham on Sunday afternoon, a result which dashes Rovers hopes of Intermediate Football Championship success for another year.
Ray MccCabe’s goal with just minutes remaining seemed to end any hopes of Hunterstown edging this encounter – and meant the Clans once again had the better of the side from Pairc Baile Fiach on the big match stage.
Paul Carrie hit 0-05, all from frees, and Glen Mathews scored a brilliant first half goal but it wasn’t enough. The Clans found scores easier to come by than the men in red.
The two sides are familiar foes at this stage and Sunday’s clash saw rivalries renewed once again. The Clans needed a replay to beat Rovers in last year’s Intermediate Championship semi-final and two years ago, they also needed two stabs to beat Hunterstown in the league promotion/relegation playoff.
Rovers – still without inter-county star Ryan Burns – will have felt 2017 would bring a change in fortune against the Dundalk side. They remain in promotion contention once again in the league and secured their passage to the Championship knockout stages courtesy of two wins from two.
Jim Matthews had to plan without full back Paul Taaffe for this one which meant Richard Cunningham slotted into the full back line. David Finn continued in midfield, with Ryan Ward in the half-forward line.
JJ Quigley got the scoring underway before Paul Carrie made his way forward to slot over from a free. It then fell to Tony McKenna to cancel out Quigley’s next effort.
It was tit-for-tat early on. Billy Smyth scored from a narrow angle but Glen Mathews replied with a carbon copy at the opposite end. Ray McCabe was starting in the Clans full forward line and he had a considerable height advantage over all three of Hunterstown’s last line of defence. Early indications suggested that may be an issue.
Mathews scored a belter of a goal to hand Rovers the impetus just after the midway point of the half. Quigley’s poor free was won by Rovers who got the ball forward quickly. Padraig Mathews won it and played in his namesake who produced an emphatic finish across Sean Smyth and in.
The Dundalk men almost replied instantly but when Conal McKeever went for power his shot cleared the bar. Robbie Curran, who himself was consistent with the boot, hit a free and a 45 either side of Richie Taaffe’s point. That was a fine team move involving five Rovers men.
The teams went in 1-06 to 1-06 at the break. Billy Smyth finished well for the Clans goal four minutes before the interval, playing a one two before beating Niall Carrie. Brendan Lennon scored Rovers best of the opening 30.
Curran hit another free to open the second half scoring before McCabe’s point dropped just over the bar. Carrie hit two frees – one long range and one closer in – either side of another McCabe score as the sides traded blows.
Brian Mathews’ moved forward from the back to level the match and Jim Mathews side were in front when Carrie made it five from five frees. Without Burns, free-taking has been an issue this term but no so today with the experienced Carrie in fine form.
League top scorer Alan Landy got off the mark to extend the lead but that was as good as it got for the Mid-Louth team. Niall Carrie was forced to save well from Mark Newell and then after Finn was denied a point by the post, Curran pointed from play.
McCabe pointed after Carrie was dispossessed in midfield and while McKenna hit back, Newell scored again and then McCabe scored to surely break Hunterstown hearts. He added another point in injury time, after Sean Smyth was forced to save from Brendan Lennon.
HUNTERSTOWN ROVERS: Niall Carrie, Richie Cunningham, Brian Mathews (0-01), Martin Lennon, Patrick Taaffe, Paul Carrie (0-05), Richard Taaffe (0-01), Tony McKenna (0-02), David Finn, Paddy Mooney, Brendan Lennon (0-01), Ryan Ward, Alan Landy (0-01), Padraig Mathews, Glen Mathews (1-01).
Subs: Keith Brennan for Ryan Ward (42), Conor Matthews for Paul Carrie (60)