Gaels perform Houdini act

May 30, 2003
Lough Lene Gaels staged one of the greatest snatch-and-grab acts in the history of the senior hurling championship to claim their fifth title in seven years last September. Here, we recall their most dramatic success yet. Lough Lene Gaels underlined once again why they are the greatest team the senior hurling championship has seen over the past decade when they scored two goals in injury-time to snatch the Examiner Cup from Castletown-Geoghegan's grasp in an amazing county decider on September 15 last. Castletown looked like taking the title for the first time in 12 years when Pat Clarke's 60th minute point put them in front, but the wily Gaels hit back with goals from Daniel Carty and John Kennedy in an astonishing 60-second period to secure a 4-11 to 2-12 victory. The result, while tough on Castletown, was a reward for perseverance and the incredible spirit which has been the hallmark of Lough Lene Gaels teams since their breakthrough year of 1996. The Collinstown club has now claimed five of the last seven senior championships on offer, but none were as dramatic as this. Stung by the criticism they received in the aftermath of their shock defeat to Clonkill in the 2001 semi-final, the Gaels bounced back in the best possible fashion last season. There wasn't the slightest hint of complacency (which many felt had been their downfall the previous year) as they emerged from the stronger of the two championship sections en route to their seventh title success in all. The Gaels may not have achieved a 100 per cent winning record in 2002, but when it came to the big games, they once again demonstrated unrivalled levels of skill, fitness, guile and ability. They may have dropped championship points against Clonkill and Castlepollard, but their passage into the knock-out stages was never in any doubt. The championship got off to a cracking start with the Gaels and reigning champions Clonkill battling out a 3-11 to 1-17 draw on May 26. In a superb contest which would have done justice to any county final, the men in purple and gold showed that they still had the hunger to challenge for the top prize. The Collinstown men were at their brilliant best in the first half when goals from Daniel Carty and Gary Briody helped them to a 2-6 to 0-2 lead at the interval. When Joey Williams added a third goal two minutes after the restart, the game appeared to be over as a contest. But, displaying the determination which swept them to glory in 2001, Clonkill staged a marvellous comeback which saw them hit the front with only seconds remaining. The Gaels, however, salvaged a precious point courtesy of John Gavigan's last gasp equalizer. The Gaels ensured themselves of a quarter-final spot at the very least when they trounced Raharney by 4-16 to 0-7 in their second outing on June 23. Michael Cosgrove's charges were by no means home and dry at half-time when they led by 1-8 to 0-5, with David Cunningham accounting for the only goal. On the restart, Daniel Carty bagged two goals and matters got worse for Raharney when they had John Greville sent off. The Deelsiders' day of woe was completed when John Gavigan scored a fourth goal for the rampant Collinstown men. Lough Lene Gaels suffered their only defeat of the campaign against Castlepollard two weeks later, but it could be argued that the absence of Christo Murtagh, Gary Briody and Francis O'Farrell through injury weakened them considerably. The sides were on level terms at the interval, but three wonderful points from Darren McCormack, followed by a goal from Sean McLoughlin, on the restart put 'Pollard firmly in the driving seat. In the final quarter, goals from Paul Williams and John Kennedy (two) set up a grandstand finale, but a late Kevin Brazil point put the seal on a 2-13 to 4-3 victory for John Davis' side. That defeat resulted in the Gaels meeting Brownstown in the quarter-final. The gulf in class between the county's top team and one that has been struggling to remain in the senior ranks was never more evident, with the Gaels romping to a 3-12 to 0-3 win. A Gary Briody goal helped the Gaels to a 1-5 to 0-2 lead at the break and they clicked into overdrive in the second half with an exhibition of scoring. Briody and Daniel Carty grabbed further goals to leave 18 points between the sides in the end. John Gavigan also weighed in with four delightful points from play. In the semi-final on August 25, the purple and golds renewed acquaintances with Castlepollard. Unlike their previous meeting, this was a make-or-break tie for both teams. The championship's form team up to that point, 'Pollard were fancied to repeat their earlier victory, but their north county neighbours had other ideas. Brendan Williams, John Kennedy, Joey Williams and Daniel Carty hit early scores to propel Lough Lene Gaels into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead. Sean McLoughlin and Kevin Brazil replied with points for the blue and golds, but further efforts from Carty and Brendan Williams had the Gaels perched on a 0-8 to 0-6 lead at the interval. In the second half, the Gaels continued to rack up the points, leaving 'Pollard needing goals. They managed to breach the Collinstown cover on two occasions, but more often than not, they were frustrated by the brilliant Christo Murtagh who proved an immovable object at centre back. For many, Murtagh's display that afternoon was the finest seen all season. A major turning point came just after the restart when Daniel Carty set up Gary Briody for a crucial goal. Briody and Joey Williams immediately followed up with points to leave eight between the sides. 'Pollard looked a beaten team as the game entered its final quarter, but with the dream of landing the senior title in their centenary year still burning, they reduced the deficit to three points following goals from Barry Kennedy and Kevin Brazil. However, John Gavigan responded with a vital point for the Gaels, who eventually ran out 1-15 to 2-7 winners. Having been in the unusual position of underdogs for the semi-final, Lough Lene Gaels were installed as favourites for the final against Castletown-Geoghegan, the team they had beaten in the 1996 decider. The black and ambers were entitled to fancy their chances, however, especially as they had achieved four straight wins in reaching the showpiece game. The Gaels made a dream start with John Kennedy's early goal giving them a 1-2 to 0-1 lead. But Castletown eventually found their feet and, as half-time approached, were on level terms, 1-6 to 0-9. However, Michael Cosgrove's side ended the half as they had started it with a second goal from Gary Briody and a point from team captain John Gavigan leaving them four points clear, 2-7 to 0-9. With John Brennan and Pat Clarke gaining the upperhand at midfield, Castletown roared back into contention when Ronan Whelan crashed a penalty to the net in the 38th minute. But their chances were dealt a severe blow two minutes later when substitute Gary Jackson was sent off just moments after being introduced. The Gaels failed to take advantage of this, however, and when Pat Connaughton's scrambled goal was followed by Clarke's lead point in injury-time, defeat was staring them in the face. But, like true champions, the Collinstown outfit refused to panic and they went on to claim victory in the most dramatic circumstances imaginable. Daniel Carty first-timed the all-important third goal through a mass of Castletown bodies after Brendan Williams' '65' had dropped short of the target. Then, before Castletown could recover, John Kennedy netted for a second time to copperfasten the win and send Gaels' supporters wild with excitement. The Lough Lene Gaels team which captured the senior hurling championship was: Mark Briody; Shane Murtagh, Martin Williams, Matt Kennedy; Brendan Williams, Christo Murtagh (0-1), Ciaran Williams; Matt Shaw, Paul Williams; Joey Williams, John Gavigan (0-3), David Cunningham (0-1); Daniel Carty (1-1), Gary Briody (1-1), John Kennedy (2-3). Subs used: Mark McNicholas (0-1), Michael Murtagh and Francis O'Farrell.

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