Ryan Burns hit 1-03 on his return to action tonight as Hunterstown Rovers secured their place in the Division 1 promotion playoff final courtesy of a 3-11 to 1-10 win over Naomh Fionnbarra at Pairc Baile Fiach.
A poor first half showing left Hunterstown’s hopes of progression to the final hanging by a thread but a vastly improved display after the break meant Jim Mathews side won through, with a seven point cushion between them and their opponents. The Finbarrs may have had one eye on an Intermediate Championship semi-final date with the O’Connells in seven days time. Keith Brennan and David Finn scored the other goals for the home team. Conor Osbourne netted for the visitors.
Rovers leapfrogged the men from Togher into second place in the division with their win over Glen Emmets a week ago, meaning home advantage at Pairc Baile Fiach. If that wasn’t enough good news, 12 weeks to the day since his controversial sending off as Louth exited the Championship, Burns returned to GAA activity.
It was little surprise, given his availability, that he came straight into the team, adding to the returning faces as Hunterstown enjoyed an almost full bill of health having seen the absentee list fill up in recent weeks. Paul Carrie was the only man missing, with Muiris O’Suilleabhain a long term absentee.
Burns hit Rovers first point of the game from a free after Padraig Butterly opening the scoring. William Woods missed from the 45 and a free but two more Finbarrs’ scores put them in command before Brennan hit the net. He picked up the ball on the 45 and ran at the back line, going on the outside and showing his marker a clean set of heels before squeezing a shot between Andy McCann and the post.
Two Woods’ scores from play – the second a fine instinctive point – edged the Finbarrs in front and despite Brendan Lennon’s reply, Woods and Jack Butterly struck again, the former bringing his tally for the half to 0-04. His last effort went over the bar. Rovers were lucky to escape without conceding a goal.
A combination of cheap concessions, poor handling and bad decision making – especially going forward – made Hunterstown’s task all the harder but when Burns notched a free on the stroke of half time, they went in just two behind. One spectator noted at the break – ‘ it couldn’t get any worse.’ It didn’t.
Hunterstown edged the encounter between the sides in the regular season, winning 2-10 to 1-11 on that occasion. This time, they’d win by a more comfortable scoreline. After Burns hit two wides in the opening minutes of the second half, Alan Landy’s neat turn and point made it a one point game.
Tony McKenna got the bounce of the ball in midfield and drew his side level shortly after and then Rovers turned up the heat on their visitors. Brennan and Lennon pointed and then after Richie Taaffe did well to win a kick out, Burns showed his composure in front of the posts to find the goalkeeper’s bottom right corner.
Osbourne responded with a goal of his own for the Finbarrs four minutes later – after the most almighty scramble. That left it 2-07 to 1-08 but after Burns and Woods swapped scores, sub Padraig Mathews made the most of his first involvement in the game with a score.
Finn, operating at left half back, scored at the second attempt to make the game safe. Mathews and Brennan put the gloss on things late on with Finbarrs’ scores mere consolation at that stage. It will be Newtown Blues or St Josephs who will stand in Hunterstown’s way en route to Division 1 for 2018.
HUNTERSTOWN ROVERS: Niall Carrie, Brian Mathews, Paul Taaffe, Martin Lennon, Patrick Taaffe, Richie Taaffe, David Finn (1-00), Tony McKenna (0-01), Ryan Ward, Keith Brennan (1-02), Brendan Lennon (0-02), Paddy Mooney, Alan Landy (0-01), Ryan Burns (1-03), Glen Mathews.
Sub: Padraig Mathews (0-02) for Alan Landy.