Wayne McKeever condemned the O’Connells to an opening day Senior Football Championship in Ardee on Sunday afternoon, as a late second half surge set his Dundalk Gaels side on the road to what looked like a very comfortable eight point win.
In truth, the O’Connells faded badly and the Gaels had the firepower to make them pay late in the game but for 45 minutes, both teams contributed to an absorbing and altogether watchable contest. With St Josephs yet to thrown into the mix, there appears plenty more intrigue to come from this group.
McKeever is an O’Connells clubman and was the man at the helm in 2012 when he led them to a first Intermediate title in this history. It was a first Championship success of any kind in 24 years and unquestionably laid the groundwork for the 2017 success that followed.
Eanna McArdle, one of McKeever’s four changes to the Gaels side from the listed XV, got the scoring underway with a free before Robert Quigley repeated the trick for the Castlebellingham outfit. The impressive Quigley then put a fine long range effort between the posts and Niall Conlon scored a free of his own in what was an efficient start by Wayne Callan’s side.
They were boosted however by the Gaels passing up no shortage of their own scoring opportunities at the other end of the Pairc Muire field. Ger McSorely hit two wides inside the opening 10 minutes and he was unable to divert Kevin McArdle’s pass into an open goal. The Louth man had the net at his mercy but, at full stretch, couldn’t provide the required touch.
McArdle himself pointed after good play from Oisin Murray and the teams were level when Stuart Reynolds denied Derek Crilly a goal, diving to turn Crilly’s punch over the bar. Sean Murray moved forward from a short free and had time and space to spilt the posts but Conlon squared things up moments later following an error in the Gaels back line.
Another McArdle free dropped over the bar and then McSorely pointed from play as the Dundalk side took control towards the end of the first 30 minutes. Reynolds had to provide another save to deny Crilly a goal, after he came inside from the right – and had to settle for the point. Whilst the veteran O’Connell’s man won that personal duel, his team would go in behind.
Despite a superb right footed point from Bernard Osborne, the Gaels held a two point lead at the break and it could have been more with wides accruing. Murray and Barry Watters were the latest guilty parties in that regard.
The teams exchanged two points each at the start of the second period. Conlon scored from a free and play, the latter a fine effort after a quick attack from the O’Connells. Anything he could do, McArdle matched. The men from the Grove had impressive Salem Rifaie to thank for keeping the deficit at two. He produced a goal saving block to deny James Stewart.
Quigley caught a forward ball, called his mark and unerringly pointed. He almost found the net himself moments later only for a deflection to take the ball away from Joe O’Donoghue’s goal. Quigley missed the subsequent 45 but did make amends moments later with another from play, levelling the scoreline.
That was to prove their last score. Dundalk Gaels ended the game with eight straight scores between minute 43 and 65. As they went up a gear, O’Connells frustrations boiled. Conor McGill and Conlon were carded by referee David Fedigan, who made the short hop from Hunterstown, and the game was soon beyond them.
Jason Clarke put two over, while Jamie Faulkner and Barry Watters got in on the act too. McSorely, Crilly, and McArdle took their tallies to 0-02, 0-03 and 0-05 respectively with McArdle’s free ending the scoring at the scoreboard end in Ardee.
St Josephs make up the three team all-Division 2 Group 3 in the Senior Championship.
O’CONNELLS: Stuart Reynolds, Emmet Byrne, Conor Byrne, Eimhin Caldwell, Stuart Osborne, Jackie Agnew, Andrew Sharkey (Conor Culligan, 48), Sean Cairns (Mark Stanfield, 59), Ciaran O’Brien, Dean Corrigan, Bernard Osborne, Niall Conlon, Robert Quigley, Conor McGill, Salem Rifaie.
DUNDALK GAELS: Joe O’Donoghue, Kyle Rafferty, Jamie Faulkner, James Lynch, Dave Maloney, David McComish, Oisin Murray, Barry Watters (Eamonn Kenny, 56), Derek Crilly, James Stewart (Niall Hearty 37), Ger McSorely, Kevin McArdle (Sean McCann, 50), Sean Murray, Jason Clarke, Eanna McArdle.
REFEREE: David Fedigan (Hunterstown Rovers)