Hurlers book Christy Ring final place

Hurlers book Christy Ring final place

18 November 2020

GOALKEEPER Stephen Keith proved to be the hero as Down grabbed a placed in the Christy Ring Cup after penalty shoot-out drama in Newry on Saturday.

After the match had ended all square it all came down to penalties — and Keith performed the heroics.

Not only did he make three saves, but he then stepped up to score the winning goal.

The reward is a meeting with Kildare in the final at Croke Park this Sunday. 

“We are a proud hurling county, not that big, but very proud,” said a delighted Down boss Ronan Sheehan afterwards. “This was a massive day for us. The only pity I suppose is there was no one in the stands to enjoy what the boys did.”

Offaly made the brighter start and opened the scoring after three minutes when Cillian Keely floated a point over the bar.

However, just 60 seconds later, the visitors were rocked when Eoghan Sands broke free from the attentions of the visiting defence and thumped the ball to the back of the net to boost Sheehan’s men.

Eoghan Cahill’s free from 30 metres out brought Offaly back to within a point at 1-0 to 0-2 and he then engineered enough space soon after to float one over the bar and make it a level contest.

With four minutes gone, Down were back in front when Pearse Og McCrickard sent over the bar. Just three minutes later, the helter-skelter start continued with a second goal of the match — but unfortunately for the Mournemen, this one went the way of Offaly. Shane Kinsella got on the end of a flowing move on a wet pitch and delivered an unerring finish beyond Keith. 

McCrickard floated over his second point of the first half when he soloed away from his marker and delivered a floated finish high over the bar.

The scoring abated for the next few minutes, before Sands showed great strength and panache on the ball, before firing high over the bar to make it a level game on 14 minutes. 

Down did move ahead just before the first water break when Oisin McManus found the target from a 65. Cahill took his chance from a 17th-minute free to level things up once more, and just 60 seconds later Shane Kinsella pointed to put the visitors ahead by one.

Down refused to let them move clear though and on 21 minutes, McManus delivered another free to make it 1-5 apiece.

Down broke on Offaly in a flowing attack, which yielded a 24th minute free, McManus continuing his unerring vision in the first half with a well-landed score.

Down made the error of conceding another free just seconds later and Cahill did not need any encouragement given the eye he showed from a placed ball in the first half, once more dispatching the score confidently.

On 27 minutes, Cahill again profited from the placed ball, firing over the bar of Keith to leave the Mournemen trailing by a point by 1-7 to 1-6. 

Daithi Sands popped up with a very welcome score for the Red and Blacks to equalise. A minute before the end of normal time in the first half, McManus landed another free to put Down in front. 

However Peter Geraghty kept Offaly very firmly interested in the contest when he pulled the sides level again.

Cahill was still devilish in his torment of Down before the interval when he supplied his fifth point of the half to make it 1-9 to 1-8 in the visitors’ favour at the turn-around.

After the restart, Down came out fired up, looking to wipe out Offaly’s advantage. They did that when Oisin McManus’ free made it 1-9 each. 

Cahill soon responded in kind however as his diminutive movement continued to prove a thorn in Down’s side, scoring his sixth minor. 

Six minutes after the restart, Kinsella gave Offaly a two-point cushion when he smashed over an effort to bring his overall personal tally for the afternoon to 1-2. 

Down then had Lady Luck smile upon them. Offaly were awarded a penalty, but Eoghan Cahill’s effort came back off the post. 

There was some controversy however as the Offaly players argued with the official that the ball had actually gone into the net and thumped off the stanchion in the goal. However no goal was awarded, as Offaly continued to lead 1-11 to 1-9.

In the 42nd minute, Cahill landed another free to open Offaly’s advantage back up to three points. McCrickard and his opponent David King quickly swapped points, before Cahill again showed great composure to allow Offaly to keep Down at arm’s length. McManus scored again to make three between the sides, 1-14 to 1-11 at the next water break.

After play resumed, Down were ready to give it one last big push. Quickly after the action started again, Donal Hughes scored two minors to leave just a point in it at 1-14 to 1-13. 

With nine minutes left to play though Cillian Keely nudged Offaly two ahead again. Substitute Paul Sheehan’s 52nd minute free once more kept Down on their coat-tails. 

With five minutes of time to play, Sands popped up again to make it a level match. It ensured a grandstand finish to the game. 

Cahill had the chance to put Offaly one ahead from a free which was a huge way out. However he managed to split the posts, to the delight of the visitors.

Down weren’t done and Barry Trainor landed a score following an adventurous run forward to make it 1-16 each and force extra time.

In the first period of extra-time, Offaly were out of the blocks quickest as first Keely, and then Geraghty knocked over scores to open up a two-point gap and leave the Mourne county on the back foot.

Substitute Sheehan led Down’s response and he immediately brought the gap back to one.

Conor Woods kept Down’s momentum motoring when he levelled the scores up, before Offaly took a grip again with an Adrian Hynes score six minutes into the extra-time period to make it 1-19 to 1-18.

Sheehan then scored a free just before the end of the first period of extra-time to level once more.

Hynes fired over ten minutes into the period to give Offaly a lead at half-time of extra-time. Down then produced a key moment in this monumental tussle when Daithi Sands found the back of the net to catch Offaly cold at the resumption. 

Offaly were stunned, but picked themselves back up off the floor, Adrian Treacy scoring from a free. Sheehan extended the gap to two. Liam Langton then scored two points though to make it level-pegging once more. The whistle blew, and this contest would be decided on penalties.

Offaly scored their first effort to make it 1-0. Both sides then missed their next spot-kick as the nerves of what was at stake after a marathon battle got to both. 

Offaly scored their second from four efforts, but Down were once again thwarted from the spot as the tie began to slip away from them in heartbreaking fashion. 

Down did make it back to 2-2 with their next two. Down then scored their final spot-kick to seal victory in a remarkable clash.

Down will now take on Kildare at Croke Park on Sunday at 4 o’clock in the final, after they defeated Roscommon convincingly 3-24 to 1-9 in Saturday’s other semi-final.

Down: S Keith (capt), T Murray, C Taggart, M Hughes, B Trainor, C Woods (0-1), L Savage, M Conlan,  J McManus, D Hughes (0-2), P McCrickard (0-3), T Prenter, O McManus (0-6), E Sands (1-2), D Sands (1-1). Subs: P McNally, P Savage, R Costello, P Sheehan (0-4), R McCusker, M Fisher, G Hughes, C Egan, M Patterson, C Cassidy, PJ Davidson.

Offaly: S Corcoran, C Burke, B Conneely (C), P Delaney, D Egan, C Keely (0-3), D King (0-1), E Cahill (0-9), D Nally, S Kinsella (1-2), J Sampson, P Geraghty (0-2), C Gath, O Kelly, L Langton (0-2). Subs: J Dempsey, D Dougan, A Treacy (0-1), S Cleary, T Geraghty, A Hynes (0-2), B Duigan, B Murphy, K Dunne, C Langton, J Keenaghan.

Down 2-20

Offaly 1-23

(Down won 3-2 on penalties)