MD Sports Senior Football League Division 1 final
He may not have started this game, but Ronan Sweeney's handprints were all over it by the time referee Billy O'Connell blew the final whistle in St Conleth's Park at the end of a truly enthralling Division 1 league final. The Kildare selector didn't enter the fray until the 35th minute, and with his side down to 14 men and three points down upon his arrival, Sweeney scored 1-4 to turn the game on its head.
Indeed it was the substitutes that Ross Glavin made for Moorefield that made the biggest difference in this game; Sweeney struck 1-4; Niall Hurley-Lynch scored 1-1; Mark Dempsey sured up a shaky defence and David Whyte won a free at the death that resulted in the equalising score for his team.
It is heartbreak for Naas who had put in a superb effort in the league to advance to this stage, defeating Celbridge in thrilling fashion in the semi-final, and they looked as if they would land just their second ever title at this level and their first since 2005 for long stages of this game.
Moorefield began the game without the likes of Roli Sweeney and David Whyte, while Naas were without Eoin Doyle who remains sidelined through a hand injury. Eamonn Callaghan was deployed in a centre-back role, and the Kildare veteran swept up plenty of ball throughout the opening 30 minutes and set attacks in motion with his range of foot passing.
The opening stages were quite cagey and tense as both sides kicked a number of wides during the first 10 minutes, and that trend continued throughout the remainder of the half. One player who was supremely accurate during the first half was James Murray as he scored the first of his two points in the opening minute as he curled over from on front of the stand, and Eanna O'Connor followed up with a couple of well taken long range frees to put Moorefield three pointsup in the early stages.
Naas were creating the opportunities but struggling to take them up until Ailin McDermott opened their account on 10 minutes, the wing-back sailing up the pitch and striking a fine shot over from the right wing. His partner in the half-back line, Brian Kane, followed that up with a superb point soon after as he shrugged off the attentions of Kevin Murnaghan to float the ball over from 45 metres out. Murnaghan almost atoned by piercing through the Naas defence to get in on goal, but his shot was well blocked by goalkeeper Luke Mullins.
John Joyce levelled the tie when he split the posts from the right following some fine setup play by Paul McDermott, before Joey Cocoman nailed an effort from out on the right wing to nudge the County Town ahead for the first time in the game. It was tight for a spell after that, though Mullins had to be at his best again when saving a low drive from Eddie Heavey in the 19th minute, and when the ball broke it was quickly moved up field where Aidan Begley pointed to double the Naas lead.
It was wiped out in a couple of minutes however as Adam Tyrrell and James Murray both raised white flags in quick succession, before John Joyce and Heavey traded scores at either end to keep the scores level at 0-6 apiece. The remainder of the half belonged to Naas however, with Ronan Joyce nudging them back into the lead, before Moorefield's Ryan Houlihan was shown a straight red card for appearing to kick out at John Joyce when the two players were on the ground. A converted free from Ross Bergin doubled their advantage, and Ronan Joyce sent them into the half-time break with plenty of confidence as he jinked by three Moorefield defenders before clipping the ball over from close range.
Declan McCabe's side took a 0-9 to 0-6 into the second half, and with Moorefield reduced to 14 men Naas opted to use Callaghan as the sweeper on front of a two-man full-forward line of Adam Tyrrell and Eanna O'Connor.
Naas began the half brightly as Conor Mellett angled over a fine point from the left wing to put four between the sides, but that gap was halved over the next five minutes as both O'Connor and Tyrrell stroked over a point each from frees. Mellett was beginning to get into the game at this stage, and he floated over a lovely long range point to keep Naas ticking over, but Ross Glavin began to bring in his subs and they started to make an impact. One of those, Ian Meehan, was denied a goal by a brilliant save from Mullins within a minute of his introduction, while Roli Sweeney announced his arrival with a fine point from the left wing.
Naas responded with a score from the excellent Ailin McDermott after Kane and Callaghan had carried the ball upfield, but Moorefield had taken the ascendancy by this stage and they hardly looked like they were playing with 14 players at all. Sweeney fired over two points in as many minutes to narrow the gap to one point, the first of which was a deft flick with the hand over the bar from a Niall Hurley-Lynch pass, while the second was a trademark Sweeney score as he stroked it over from the left wing.
Naas then lost Ronan Joyce to a black card in the 48th minute for an off the ball pull, and Hurley-Lynch continued his positive impact by firing over a point from close range. Callaghan restored Naas' advantage with a point following another positive run from McDermott, but Moorefield had another kick in them as Hurley-Lynch gathered a long ball from David Whyte, swiveled in the area and blast a thunderous shot past Mullins into the Town End. That put Moorefield into the lead for the first time in the tie since the opening stages, and they looked to have all the momentum.
Naas regathered themselves however, and points from Callaghan and a free each from Mellett and Shane Bergin had them one point ahead with 61 minutes played. When Mullins made an outstanding save on Hurley-Lynch in the dying moments it looked for all the world that Naas would hang on, but Naas conceded a free on the '45, O'Connor dispatched it with aplomb and Moorefield were level.
When Naas lost the resulting kickout the ball was worked to Sweeney and the veteran made no mistake with a gently caressed effort from close range that sent the Moorefield crowd into raptures. He added a goal from a penalty late on for good measure, guiding his side to a four-point win they never looked likely to achieve.
Scorers for Moorefield: R Sweeney 1-4(1-0pen), E O'Connor 0-4f, N Hurley-Lynch 1-1, J Murray and A Tyrrell(1f) 0-2, E Heavey 0-1.
Scorers for Naas: C Mellett 0-3(1f), A McDermott, R Bergin(1f), J Joyce and R Joyce(1f) 0-2 each, B Kane, S Bergin(1f), J Cocoman, A Begley and E Callaghan 0-1 each.
T Kinsella; L Callaghan, L Healy, S Healy; J Murray, K Murnaghan, R Houlihan; D Flynn, A Masterson; C O'Connor(R Sweeney 35mins), E Heavey(I Meehan 41mins inj), A Mullins(N Hurley Lynch 37mins); E O'Connor, A Tyrrell(D Whyte 44mins inj), M Murray(M Dempsey HT).
L Mullins; S Gibbons, S Bergin, E Bateman; A McDermott, E Callaghan, B Kane; D Gahan, P McDermott; R Bergin, J Cocoman(B Murphy 55mins), J Joyce; C Mellett, R Joyce(D Gallagher 48 BC), A Begley.
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