Hunterstown Rovers became the first name in the hat for the draw for the quarter finals of the Louth GAA Intermediate Championship on a wild and windy Saturday afternoon in Darver, as Ryan Burns continued his recent good form by hitting 1-06 as Cooley Kickhams fell to defeat in their opening game of the 2020 series.
Cooley will now face Dundalk Young Irelands in a decider to see who will follow Rovers into the last eight. They will come to rue the opening seconds of the match when Neil Gallagher upended Glen Mathews to concede a penalty, which Burns scored. Hunterstown had the wind in their favour for the opening 30 minutes and ultimately were able to use it to their advantage. Cooley did not, hitting more wides in the second period than scores.
Peter Dooley’s Hunterstown had been dealt a blow in the days before the game with the experienced Paul Carrie ruled out but ahead of schedule, Tony McKenna returned to beef up their midfield in the second half at the Centre of Excellence. Having not played a minute of football since GAA resumed due to a broken arm, his introduction was both risky and timely in equal measure. It paid off.
So too did the introduction of Padraig Mathews. The former Louth forward added a late score and went close on another occasion, as he helped to dampen Cooley momentum and give his side much need breathing space as the game edged towards its conclusion.
The game’s only goal had arrived inside two minutes but referee Colm McCullough, no sooner than be began the game, had whistle to lips once more. Oisin McGee and Burns combined to put Glen Mathews through. Gallagher rushed off the line and brought the forward down. Burns, fresh from hitting 0-05 in the opening round win in the Grove, sent Gallagher the wrong way to compound the Louth goalkeeper’s misery.
Burns then hit three scores before Cooley could muster their first wide, let alone a score. All three of the scores were from play, and while such opportunities dried up later on when Cooley’s Gerry Malone was reassigned to reign him in, the quick start gave Rovers a commanding lead. James O’Reilly had an effort blocked as Cooley looked for a route back into the game, while Darren Marks hit wide after a short 45.
Emmett Rogan’s point arrived on 18 minutes to get the Kickhams on the scoreboard and by that time, they had began to assert a level of control on the game. Brian White split the posts and Michael Carron followed suit following a good run.
A couple of wides meant Gary Thornton’s team struggled to claw back Hunterstown’s lead. It didn’t help when a cheap concession in midfield allowed Burns to split the ball to Ward who ran through and took his point well.
There was a scare for Rovers shortly after the restart when talisman Burns pulled up and required treatment. He carried on, but with Rovers having already lost the influential Muiris O’Sullivan to an eye injury, they could ill-afford to see their ranks depleted.
Cooley were seeing more of the ball and when Brian White notched the point of the second half, you felt an onslaught may be oncoming. In truth, it never arrived. The team from Pairc Baile Fiach had Richard Taaffe aggressive in the tackle and Martin Lennon and Paddy Mooney defended doggedly.
The Peninsula men hit six wides in the second half, as well as two efforts which were short. It was this wastefulness in front of the posts, compared to Rovers’ proficiency in that area, that proved decisive. That too and a superb double save from Niall Carrie. Sub Paddy Johnson’s well hit shot was parried clear and then as McCarron honed in on the loose ball, Carrie dived to his right to block.
Corner forward Michael Rafferty and Burns swapped scores, from play and a free respectively. Rafferty managed to point again when Cooley won the kickout. However, Rovers extended their lead as Paddy Mooney and Burns again found their range.
Mathews would score again after Burns’ laid on a Jason Monaghan forward ball and David Finn also pointed in injury time, either side of a brace from impressive Cooley sub Aoghan McGuinness. Patrick Sheelan also pointed but it wasn’t enough as tempers flared in the closing stages. Conor McGuinness tangled with Ward and McKenna with frustrations coming to the fore within the Cooley camp.
They will be consigned to a fourth year outside the senior championship ranks if they fail to beat the Young Irelands next weekend. Hunterstown have been one of the form sides in the county post-lockdown, winning all four league and Championship fixtures and may consider themselves primed for a Championship tilt.
They have lost at the quarter-final in two of the last three years, failing to advance from the group in 2018. They will be feared in the last eight this time around.
We’ll have a full gallery of images from the match on LouthNow.ie later on Saturday. Keep an eye out.
HUNTERSTOWN ROVERS: Niall Carrie, Daithi Carroll, Patrick Taaffe, Martin Lennon, Muiris O’Sullivan (Brian Matthews, 16) , Richie Taaffe, Paddy Mooney (Keith Brennan, 60), Ryan Ward, Jason Monaghan, Brendan Lennon (Tony McKenna, 31), Oisin McGee (Alan Landy, 31), David Finn, Jamie Ward (Padraig Matthews, 47), Ryan Burns, Glen Mathews.
COOLEY KICKHAMS: Neil Gallagher, Gerry Malone, James Loughran, Dean McGreehan, Ross Magennis, Conor McGuinness, Darren Marks, Peter Thornton (Keith White, 56), Fergal Malone, James O’Reilly (Patrick Sheelan, 50), Brian White (Aoghan McGuinness, 43), Eoin McDaid, Emmett Rogan (Joe Mee, 31), Michael Carron, Michael Rafferty.
REFEREE: Colm McCullough