Naas Brian Byrne slips past the challenge of Tullamore Aaron Leavy during the AIB Leinster Gaa Club Championship game played at St Conleth's Park, Newbridge
It's quarter final time in the AIB Leinster Club SFC and for county champions, Naas, it is a date with near neighbours, Blessington for a place in the last four, which carries the added bonus this season of those semi final games being played in Croke Park.
Naas came very close to falling in that dreaded opener but in fairness they stuck with it and while it was a real heartbreak for Tullamore in Newbridge, overall Naas were the best team on the day. But having said, when you concede two goals inside a minute at a crucial time of a game you can really have few complains if the game does not go your way.
In fairness to the county champions they did not panic, despite going from three points up to three down, they cut it back to two and then in the dying minutes with the clock heading towards the long whistle time, up popped that man of the moment, and indeed man of the season, Darragh Kirwan with a vital goal that saw the boys in blue creeping over the line as the final whistle arrived straight after the kick-out from that goal.
Kirwan had been outstanding throughout for his club once again that day.
Naas had conceded a goal to Tullamore centre forward, Diarmuid Egan but within minutes Kirwan came thundering through the middle using his pace and strength before finding the net.
At the break Tullamore were still one head but with the wind in the second half giving Naas the advantage, they slowly but surely took command going three points clear.
Then came those two goals inside a minute from Ciaran Egan and Johnny Moloney.
And that incredible finish after a point from Eamonn Callaghan left two in it, Kirwan gained possession on the edge of the Tullamore square, fired his shot which was saved by Corey White, however as the ball was being hand-passed to safety, it was Kirwan who got his arm or hand to it, the Naas no. 13 admitted that “it was probably the first time I blocked a ball down” it ended up in the net and the rest is history.
Blessington on Sunday will certainly pose another big problem, another huge obstacle.
However many of these players on both sides will be vary familiar with one another, in fact many will have played together on the successful Naas CBS teams in recent times.
No doubt Naas will go into this one as warm favourites, but then again they were very hot favs to get over Tullamore in the last round. Still one feels that all things considered they will have learned a huge amount from that game and while they were missing Alex Beirne and Dermot Hanifin it is expected that the former has a decent chance of making in to the starting line come Sunday. Hanafin has a finger injury and is not expected to be fit.
Blessington defeated Baltinglass to clinch their first title since 1983, and that will certainly have given them a huge boost while in the opening round of the Leinster Club they looked in real trouble when trailing Mullinalaghta, the 2018 Leinster champions, 1-5 to 0-0 as injury time in the opening half but still trailed 1-5 to 0-2 after the third quarter.
Points from substitutes Curtis Geraghty and David Boothman (free) had them believing that the comeback was on before another sub Dan Silke Featherstone reacted quickest to a miss-hit point attempt to rifle to the net in the 55th minute, 1-5 to 1-4, going on to win 1-7 to 1-5 in one of the great comebacks in this great competition.
Still all things considered if Naas can reproduce their best form, tighten up somewhat at the back, one must fancy their chances of making it to the last four, and a date in Croke Park.
On Saturday Brian McGrogan's Kilcullen travel to Dr Cullen Park, Carlow to take on that county's junior champs, Grange, a game timed for 5 pm.
Difficult one to call but one thing is for sure The Rags will have to ensure they don't let their concentration wain as they did last time out against their Wicklow counterparts.
Meanwhile Kilcock are back in action in the Leinster IFC quarter final when they travel away to take on their Westmeath counterparts, Tang, a game fixed for Tubberclair with a 1 pm throw-in.
Kilcock will fancy their chances here, they had a fine away win over An Tocher in their opening round and will be full of confidence as they hit the road once again.
Maynooth hurlers, whose game last weekend was postponed due to a covid scare are down to play Laois champions Trumera, a game fixed for Conneff Park, Clane, on Saturday with a 1 pm throw-in.
Trumera are expected to be fairly stiff opposition but Maynooth have enjoyed a great season todate and few, from Kildare, would be surprised to see them advance. Busy weekend and lets hope all will be standing come Sunday evening.
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