O'Keeffe's goal crucial as Drumalee move into semis

Junior Football Championship quarter-final

Drumalee 1-8

Drung 0-9

Rarely have two quarter finalists entered a knock-out championship game with such similar recent records as Drumalee and Drung did on Thursday evening last. When the sides met in round seven of the league it finished in a draw with Drumalee coming from behind in a fiercely contested battle.

Both sides qualified for the last eight having beaten two sides that didn’t make the quarter finals and one side that did while losing out to one of the top three sides from whom the eventual winner is expected to come. They both finished with six points and an identical score difference with Drumalee just climbing above them by scoring three points more.

Ciaran O’Malley’s Drumalee have the best defensive record to date in the championship while Michael O’Rourke’s Drung have the second best along with Knockbride. All indicators where that this game would come right down to the wire and it would be a defensive affair.

Drumalee set out their stall with double sweepers in Enda McCormick and Tommy Walsh who held the wing half-back positions when Drumalee were in possession. Martin O’Reilly played as a deep sweeper for Drung as he sat in front of Conor O’Reilly’s goal on the 20-metre line with Stephen Jackson, Garry Watters, Declan McEntee and Mark Cassidy all getting behind the ball when Drung were in defensive mode.

The Drung game plan was evident and effective inside the first five minutes as Tiarnan Reilly found enough space 35 meters from goal to hook over a point on his left foot. Caolan Reilly showed well early but after rounding his man he ran into the well positioned Enda McCormick who forced the turn-over for Drumalee.

With both defenses on top in the opening ten minutes Drung tried to shoot from outside the scoring zone to no avail while Drumalee produced less scoring chance but continued to give away possession of the ball. Drumalee finally opened their account on the nineth minute when John Cassidy fouled Cian Byrne who converted the free from the 20-metre line.

After a number of wides by the Bunnoe-based lads, Drumalee picked the Drung defence when a well-placed kick pass by Gerard Reilly found the busy Sean O’Kane in the right corner-forward position. A quick well-timed hand pass by O’Kane to Tomás O’Keeffe saw O’Keeffe’s momentum break through three red jerseys before unleashing a rocket to the roof of Conor O’Reilly’s net.

After a fourth wide by Drung on the 18th minute, a booming kick-out by Brian Combes cleared a press by Drung and found Andy Fallon free on the far 65-metre line. After a solo, Fallon delivered a high cross field ball to Leigh Dunne who tapped over from close range for the team score of the game.

Referee Paul Kerr, who contributed to the game with a consistent approach to what was a foul, awarded Tiarnan Reilly a free on the 22nd minute which he sent over, ending a 20-minute spell without a score for Drung. Last year’s beaten finalists began to gain more control of the ball and on the 25th minute Michael McEntee punted over a beautiful point from the 45-metre line with his left foot to close the gap to two points.

With Caolán Reilly being well marshalled by Philip McArdle, the scoring burden fell to brother Tiarnan and with two minutes remaining to the break he delivered his third of the half. With the middle channel blocked, Reilly won possession coming down the wing and after carrying the ball to within a metre of the end line, he dropped the ball to his left foot and over the bar, making little of the nearly impossible angle.

As the half-time whistle sounded Drung had worked their way back into the contest and now only trailed by a single point but having missed eight wides to Drumalee’s two, there was a feeling that those chances might cost them in the end.

The sides were level on the sixth minute of the second half when Drumalee’s wastefulness in possession was punished by a sweet Mark Cassidy point. In the next play Dumalee worked the ball up the sideline to Leigh Dunne, who drew in the Drung defence before passing to Cian Byrne in the pocket for the Lilywhites’ first score in over 20 minutes of play.

Drumalee doubled their lead two minutes later when Sean O’Kane was fouled and Cian Byrne made no mistake from the dead ball. As Drumalee became sloppy with the ball, Declan McEntee sent over his first point of the day from 40 metres.

Drumalee again responded with the following kick-out as a Leigh Dunne pass set up Greg Duffy for a left-footed point. With the game in the melting pot, the experienced Gerard Reilly produced a couple of vital turn overs with one resulting in a Sean O’Kane point.

With Enda McCormick giving a master class as Drumalee sweeper, Drung never looked like getting close to goal. After Tiarnan Reilly was fouled Declan McEntee reduced the gap to two with the free as the final 10 minutes began.

Crucially, in the second half, Drumalee looked to be able to respond to every Drung point with a score at the other end. A super long-range point by Cian Byrne extended the Drumalee lead to three points before another Declan McEntee free left two between the sides again.

In the final minute of ordinary time, Drumalee broke away from the high-pressing Drung middle eight and created an overlap. Byrne, with O’Kane free in front of goal, looked to pass over Paul Heuston’s head but the tenacious corner-back intercepted the pass, keeping Drung’s hopes alive for the five minutes of injury time.

As injury time began, Caolán Reilly won and converted a free to give Drung back-to-back points for the first time in the second half and leave a single point between the sides. Drumalee, again winning their own kick-out, found it hard to break the Drung press into the vacuum of space at the other end of the field. Instead, they lived dangerously, working the ball from side to side in defence, rising the Lilywhite supporters’ blood pressure on more than one occasion. Finally, in the fifth minute of injury time, Sean O’Kane put the game to bed when he fisted the ball over the bar, closely followed by the final whistle.

Drumalee: Brian Coombes, Daire Donohoe, Philip McArdle, Eoin Donohoe, Gerard Reilly, Enda McCormick, David O’Keeffe, Greg Duffy(0-1), Andy Fallon, Tommy Walsh, Sean O’Kane(0-2), Leigh Dunne(0-1), Eamon Quinn, Tomás O’Keeffe(1-0), Cian Byrne(0-4,2f)

Subs: Mickey Brennan for T O’Keeffe, Sammy Brady for E Quinn, Aiden Lee for G Duffy.

Drung: Conor O’Reilly, Paul Hueston, John Cassidy, CJ McCabe, Declan McEntee, Niall Fitzpatrick, Michael McEntee(0-1), Gregory Rossiter, Declan McEntee(0-3,2f), Mark Cassidy(0-1), Tiarnan Reilly(0-3,1f), Stephen Jackson, Garry Watters, Paddy McEntee, Caolán Reilly(0-1f), Martin O’Reilly

Subs: Ronan Brady for G Watters, Lorcan McEntee for G Rossiter, Fergal Hueston for P McEntee, Garry Watters for M O’Reilly.