Joe Mallon SFC quarter-final
It was all too easy for Johnstownbridge on Saturday afternoon as they sealed their place in the Senior Football Championship semi-final for the first time in a long time with a facile win over Clane. The standout performers were rather predictable for Brian Flanagan's men, with Daniel Flynn, Cathal McNally and Glen Doran all particularly impressive, while it was Flynn, Paul Cribbin and Seamus McNally who netted the goals that helped ease them over the line.
Despite Clane failing to mount a sustained challenge that would have troubled Johnstownbridge, there will be plenty of optimism emanating from their camp after all of their starting forwards scored from play, while their defence looked rocksteady throughout.
Johnstownbridge entered the half-time break with a 0-9 to 0-4 advantage after dominating the majority of proceedings in the first half, though they probably should have been a good bit further in front. Daniel Flynn missed a penalty with the last kick of the half, while numerous gilt-edged opportunities for points were also spurned as the men from the Kildare border with Offaly failed to fully hit their straps.
It was an intriguing encounter nonetheless, but it became evident after less than quarter of the game that Clane were relying to heavily on 19-year-old full-forward Brian McLoughlin, a hugely talented player, but one that has been carrying a hamstring injury through the last three rounds of the championship. The former Kildare minor star was their go-to man in attack, but too often he was left isolated as the presence of Luke Flynn and numerous other Johnstownbridge defenders swallowed him up. He did score three of their four first half points however, with all of his efforts coming from frees.
It was the victors who opened their account first, Cathal McNally comfortably stroking over a fourth minute point to settle into the game, but McLoughlin was quick to respond at the opposite end through a free. A couple of pointed frees from Sean Hurley pushed Johnstownbridge into a 12th minute lead that they would never relinquish, but it could have been much better for them had it not been for a fine block from Paddy McKenna on a close range Sam Doran shot.
McLoughlin cut the gap to one with a free after quarter of an hour, but Johnstownbridge reeled off five points in a row to really take the initiative. Their county players stood up in this period as Cathal McNally did some fine work to create an opportunity for Jimmy Farrell to score, before Paul Cribbin knocked over a couple of points in quick succession. Daniel Flynn, who had been quiet up to this point, soon burst into life. He registered his first score of the afternoon following a trademark meandering run across the field, effortlessly bumping Clane defender Cathal Geoghegan out of his way en route to goal, and he then fired over another after being left in acres of space on front of the Clane goal.
Johnstownbridge's strategy of pulling plenty of players back and allowing Flynn plenty of free space on his own up front was reaping reward, but Conor Doyle was soon pushed back on front of the former AFL player to sweep and ensure his leash was tightened somewhat.
Points from Jake Devey - Clane's first from play - and Brian McLoughlin ensured that Clane would not go in too far behind, but they ought to have when Glen Doran was fouled as he tried to strike for goal, leading to referee Brendan Hickey stretching out his arms for a penalty. Flynn stepped up to take the kick, but he dragged his effort wide of the righthand post.
The second half was an absolute whitewash however, with Johnstownbridge finally hitting their stride and Clane pretty much dropping their heads as their opponents struck score after score without meeting much resistance. Early scores from McNally and Flynn pushed the leaders seven points ahead, and though McLoughlin responded with a free at the other end, Johnstownbridge netted a 37th minute goal that put the matter beyond all doubt. It came from an unlikely source as defender Seamus McNally made his way up from his centre-back post, got on the end of a ball from Flynn and struck it confidently to the back of McKenna's net. A free from Hurley straight after meant that Clane would never find a way back into the game, even though McLoughlin was continuing to slot over every chance he was getting from placed balls.
Flynn then bagged the goal that he likely to get all day, taking a high ball from Sam Doran, turning to goal and blazing an effort into the top right corner, and his younger brother Luke soon sauntered up the field to kick a fabulous long range effort.
Paul Cribbin netted Johnstownbridge's third and final goal 10 minutes from time, and the closing stages were played out in rather predictable fashion as Brian Flanagan's side kicked points at their ease to put some added gloss on the scoreboard.
Scorers for JTB: D Flynn and P Cribbin 1-3 each, S Hurley 0-4f, C McNally 0-3, L Flynn, S Doran, G Doran and J Farrell 0-1 each.
Scorers for Clane: B McLoughlin 0-6f, J Devey and J McCreevy(1'45) 0-1 each.
K Dixon; D Holton(M Newman 57mins), L Flynn(J Doyle BC 53mins), J O'Connor; E O'Donoghue, S McNally, J Higgins(M Donnelly 49mins); B McNally, S Hurley(S Flanagan 50mins); P Cribbin, C McNally, G Doran(K McNally 49mins); J Farrell, D Flynn(J Morrin 55mins), S Doran.
P McKenna; B Corbett, P Regan, C Doyle; C Egan(E Co'Connell BC 50mins), C O'Donoghue, C Geoghegan; S Christeansen(S McCormack 52mins), E Naughton; C O'Flaherty, R Hyland, C Byrne(D Gibbons 58mins); P Doyle(E Gillman 38mins), B McLoughlin, J Devey(J McCreevy 48mins).
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