Late goals seal Castlerahan's passage to IFC semi-final

Intermediate Football Championship semi-final replay

Castlerahan 2-9

Cuchulainns 1-9

Castlerahan advanced to meet Ballyhaise in the Intermediate Championship final when they finally got the better of Cuchulainns in the final instalment of this championship trilogy at a rain-sodden Kingspan Breffni.

The former senior kingpins have a reputation as a resilient outfit, a legacy honed from dozens of battles over the years, and it was under-pinned again here. Backs to the wall, down by three and looking likely to exit the championship, they produced two goals in the closing stages to seal their place in the final in stirring fashion.

This was the ultimate slow-burner of a match – indeed, series of matches – but it ignited in the second half here when things opened up and the sides threw everything at it.

The early exchanges were cagey again; the sides were level at 0-3 apiece after a stop-start opening 19 minutes but Castlerahan suffered a major blow when key defender Fergal Reilly was forced off with what looked like a hamstring injury.

In the two earlier meetings in this championship, scores were at a premium; the opening round of the championship finished 0-8 apiece in Virginia and, last week, it was 1-6 to 0-9. That trend continued in the first half here; in difficult conditions, wet underfoot with a swirling breeze, defences were on top again.

The 2018 and 2019 senior champions opened a two-point lead in the first five minutes via a Karl Cosgrove free and a point from marauding corner-back Stephen Cooney, who received a pass from Oisin O’Connell after an Oisin Kiernan shot dropped short.

The teams were mirroring each other in terms of their defensive set-up when the opposition had possession and that, along with poor delivery of the ball at both ends of the field and ponderous build-up, contributed to a poor spectacle.

That’s not to mention the shooting, which was also below par in the first half. The one exception was a wonderful 50-metre strike from Oisin Kiernan from the left wing, which cancelled out Cuchulainns’ opener, an Evan Doughty free.

An Adam O’Reilly strike made it 0-3 to 0-2 but the quality dropped in the second quarter as the game became littered with errors. However, as it wore on, it became clear that Cuchulainns, who had been in trouble on their own kick-out early on, were gaining a foothold.

Castlerahan failed to score between the 12th minute and the half-time break. Bryan Magee fisted over the equaliser on 17 minutes in the same passage of play in which the unfortunate Reilly sustained that injury; the loss not long afterwards of Enda O’Connell also had an unsettling effect on Brian Donohoe’s side.

And when Magee curled in with the right boot and Mark Gilsenan sent over from what was half a goal chance, Cuchulainns had registered four scores in a row and were going in at the midway point with a spring in their steps, despite not having played much in the way of sparkling football.

Then again, this wasn’t a night for that; it was a game which one side was probably going to have to win ugly, or at least plain, a night when it was all about making good decisions, executing the basics and keeping cool heads at the right time and Castlerahan are past masters in those areas.

The second half started at a frenetic pace; both sides immediately carved out chances but good defending from both forced turnovers. Sean Óg McGearty blasted over for Castlerahan but Cuchulainns then struck for a great goal, Evan Doughty’s brilliantly finding Adam O’Reilly who slotted low to the net.

Oisin O’Connell replied as the intensity, and excitement, increased. Karl Cosgrove’s shot then bounced over the bar but after a great run from Niall Carolan, Turlough Farrelly pointed and then O’Reilly added another to make it 1-8 to 0-8 on 38 minutes.

Back came Castlerahan with a Cosgrove free and a Paul Cusack point – there was possibly a goal on but he opted for the white flag, wisely – but O’Reilly kicked a superb score in response at the other end.

By now, a terrific game of football had broken out. Gavin Daly bombed over a huge point to make it a one-point game with 10 minutes remaining but a well-struck Doughty free restored Cuchulainns’ two-point lead.

With five minutes left, Adam O’Reilly added another – again, there was the possibility of a goal – to make it 1-9 to 0-9. But Castlerahan summoned a grandstand finish; having not hit the net in approximately 180 minutes including injury time against Cuchulainns, they managed it twice in the closing nine minutes of play.

The first came when a high ball caused chaos and Oisin O’Connell got the final touch. Castlerahan were by now smelling blood and they closed it out in injury time when O’Connell intercepted a kick-out and fed Enda Flanagan, who made no mistake to send his team into a three-point lead which they held for the closing seconds.

Castlerahan’s win, achieved after losing two important players to injury, was testament to their heart and experience and built on a solid platform at midfield, where Cormac Daly was outstanding. A talented, youthful Cuchulainns lacked for nothing in effort but probably panicked a little on the home stretch; they will be back.

Cuchulainns: Conor Gallagher, Killian Lynch, Conor Flanagan, Eoghan McCabe, Cian Donoghue, Niall Carolan, Ruairi O’Connell, Eoghan Donoghue, Philip Smyth, Cian Doughty, Adam O’Reilly (1-3), Mark Gilsenan (0-1), Evan Doughty (0-2f), Bryan Magee (0-2), Turlough Farrelly (0-1)

Subs: Adrian Taite for N Carolan (16 mins, temp, reversed 17), Adrian Taite for E Donoghue (29), Sean Kenny for C Flanagan (60)

Castlerahan: Kieran Daly, Stephen Cooney (0-1), Fergal Reilly, Euan Henry, Sean Óg McGearty (0-1), Oisin Kiernan (0-1), Paul Cusack (0-1), David Wright, Cormac Daly, Enda O’Connell, Enda Flanagan (1-0), Karl Cosgrove (0-3, 2f), Oisin O’Connell (1-1), Cian McCabe, Padraig McGahern

Subs: Jamie Reilly for Fergal Reilly (18, inj), Gavin Daly (0-1) for E O’Connell (30), Jason O’Gorman for McGahern (40), Shane O’Reilly for Cusack (56)

Ref: Oliver Óg O’Reilly