Joe Mallon SFC semi-final
It was a defensive masterclass of the highest order from Celbridge as they kept out on of the county's most potent attacks with a combination of brilliant organisation, power and no little heart to seal their place in the Senior Championship final for the first time since winning the title back in 2008.
In a game where chances were at a premium, it was Celbridge who made the most of their opportunities as Johnstownbridge will rue a number of wides in the first half along with a couple of goal chances that they let slipped through the net, but there can be no arguments about the rightful victors here.
Trevor O'Sullivan's men dominated the midfield exchanges from both their own kickouts and the Johnstownbridge kickouts, while the likes of Hugh McGrillen, Mick O'Grady and Kevin Flynn were rocksteady in defence.
Despite the low-scoring nature of the first half it was an absorbing affair that presented plenty of talking points, partly due to the fact that so many county players were marking each other.
The most entertaining of those match-ups was Mick O'Grady tracking Daniel Flynn in a battle where both men gained the upperhand on different occasions, and Celbridge would have known that shutting down the hulking full-forward would go a long way to winning this game. There was also the interesting tactic of switching Flynn and midfielder Seán Hurley at times, with the latter going to the edge of the square and offering a valuable outlet at times.
The game began at a blistering pace as Fergal Conway burst through the middle straight from the throw-in but couldn't find a finish to match his run as he dragged a shot for a point wide, but Celbridge soon bagged the opening score as Shane Harte curled over from close range. Flynn's first involvement in the game was to make a stunning catch 15 metres from goal and try to barge through three defenders, and though he engineered some space, his shot was tame and down the throat of goalkeeper Shane McNamara. Johnstownbridge didn't manage their first point until the sixth minute, but it came when Flynn knocked down a long ball from Hurley into Cathal McNally's path and he pointed from close range.
Celbridge dominated the next 10 minutes, and they should have had a goal when Conor Brophy's long ball was knocked down to Mark O'Sullivan by Seamus McNally as he attempted to cut the pass out, but O'Sullivan's shot from six metres out was brilliantly blocked by Jamsie O'Connor, though he did blaze the rebound over. The same player notched his second of the game moments later as Celbridge edged 0-3 to 0-1 ahead.
Paul Cribbin's first point of the game finally ended a barren spell for Johnstownbridge in the 20th minute, but a fine score from the left wing from the boot of David Hughes restored the two-point cushion for Celbridge. The score of the game arrived on 23 minutes as Barry McNally claimed a brilliant mark from a Ken Dixon kickout, played it down the left wing to Cribbin and he cut inside before curling over a peach of a shot from 35 metres.
Hughes then converted the first free of the day with a fabulous effort from the right touchline, but Johnstownbridge finished the half in the ascendancy as Hurley levelled the game with a point from a free, before Cribbin scored his third of the half with a stunning effort off the outside of the boot from 45 metres out. Johnstownbridge then took the lead as Shane McNamara kicked the resultant kickout straight to McNally who sent it back over the black spot with ruthless efficiency, leaving Johsntownbridge in a 0-6 to 0-5 lead at the break.
The start to the second half gave an indication that this was going to be a humdinger of a game as both sides traded a couple of early scores, but Celbridge dominated the last 20 minutes of the game in a real showing of strength.
Jimmy Farrell's excellent point within a minute of the restart doubled the Johnstownbridge advantage, but that was as good as it ever got for Brian Flanagan's men. A brilliant point from the right wing from full-back Kevin Flynn halved the deficit, before Brophy finally shook off the attentions of Luke Flynn for long enough to curl over a fine score to level matters.
Johnstownbridge hit back with a brilliant point on the counter after a Des Holton block on David Byrne, with Cribbin eventually applying the finishing touch following a blistering break. That point, coming in the 33rd minute, turned out to be Johnstownbridge's last score until the 63rd minute of the tie as Celbridge sat into the driving seat, strapped their seatbelt on and sped towards the finish line in impressive fashion.
Brophy began to cut loose during this period, and following points from Archbold and Hughes the county man sailed over a stunning effort from long range to really lift the Celbridge crowd. The game could have taken on a different complexion had Cathal McNally not dragged a presentable goal chance wide in the 43rd minute, and the men from the Offaly border were punished as Celbridge tagged on four points in a row.
Archbold got his second, while Hughes added a '45, Brophy curled over another eye-catching score and David Byrne pointed well under pressure from the right wing as Celbridge ran into a 0-14 to 0-8 lead with seven minutes left to play.
Johnstownbridge threw the kitchen sink at their opponents late on, throwing Hurley and the two Flynn brothers, Daniel and Luke, to the edge of the square, and though the latter converted a penalty in the fourth minute of injury time after McNamara had hauled down substitute Joey Higgins in the square, it proved to be too little too late as Celbridge had enough of a lead built up to see the game out.
Scorers for Celbridge: D Hughes 0-4(2f, 1'45), P Brophy 0-3, T Archbold and M O'Sullivan 0-2 each, K Flynn, S Harte and D Byrne 0-1 each.
Scorers for Johnstownbridge: P Cribbin 0-4, L Flynn 1-0pen, C McNally 0-2, S Hurley(1f) and J Farrell 0-1 each.
S McNamara; M Konstantin, M O'Grady, D McEvoy(D Corcoran inj 12mins); R Flynn, H McGrillen, R Flynn; F Conway(P Carty 58mins), C Brophy; J Costello, T Archbold(K O'Callaghan 53mins), P Brophy; M O'Sullivan(D Byrne HT), D Hughes, S Harte(K Murphy HT).
K Dixon; D Holton, L Flynn, J O'Connor(J Doyle 60mins); E O'Donoghue(J Higgins 36mins), S McNally, K Cribbin(K McNally 47mins); B McNally, S Hurley; P Cribbin, C McNally, G Doran(I McKeown 43mins); J Farrell, D Flynn, S Doran.
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