Rathkenny's adventure ends after thrilling contest
Meath side edged out by Dublin opponents
Scoil Ui Chonaill2-11
Scoil Ui Chonaill win 3-2 penalties
Shortly after this amazing, enthralling, relentless Leinster Club IFC semi-final finally concluded at Pairc Tailteann today both sets of supporters rose from their seats in the stand and warmly applauded.
Seldom was a standing ovation more deserved. Both teams had given it everything over the 80 plus minutes. Everything.
The result was a little gem of a contest, a constantly evolving and fluctuating encounter that swayed one way then the other before finally, finally ending in penalty shootout. What drama. What a game.
A shoot-out is not the most ideal way to finish any Gaelic football tie. It's another aspect of soccer adopted by Gaelic games and grossly unfair on those players who are asked to take the spot-kicks under highly pressurised situations.
Penalties are arguably 'easier' to score in soccer than Gaelic football and today the Scoil Ui Chonaill players marginally proved more accurate with their spot-kicks to claim victory.
Before the Scoil Ui Chonaill players left the pitch they paused a while to bask in the acclaim of their delighted supporters in the stand.
Once the Rathkenny players started to leave the arena they continued onto their dressingroom, the applause of their fans echoing around the ground until the last black and red shirt had disappeared.
What a year it has been for Rathkenny. Intermediate champions and a concerted run in Leinster that only came to and end after a heroic struggle in this game.
This week their fans and players will doubtless reflect time and again on this game and wonder how they didn't win. They deservedly led 0-6 to 0-5 at the break in normal time.
After 42 minutes they were in front 1-9 to 0-5 and looked poised to push on, helped along the way by a brilliantly-taken Eoghan Heavey goal. Rathkenny won possession from a Scoil Ui Chonaill kick out.
The ball was worked to Heavey. The speedy corner forward jinked past a defender before slotting cooly, calmly to the corner of the net. Seven points up the odds favoured Rathkenny, big time.
Then Scoil Ui Chonaill hit back with not one but two goals in 45th and 52nd minutes. Brendan Murray got the first after a surging move; the normally robust Rathkenny defence all too easily breached.
Brendan O'Connell got the second after the Dublin side again sliced through the Rathkenny battlements. They were well-worked scores and brought Scoil Ui Chonaill right back into things.
As normal time drew to a close the Dublin team had pushed one point ahead. Now they looked the most likely winners but this Rathkenny side is fiercely tenacious and proud. They hate losing.
They put one final move together with McKeever, Ross Gore, James O'Hare and Brian Meade combining to get the ball to Keith Curtis who fired over a sweetly-stuck point. When the whistle sounded to end normal time the sides were still tied, 1-11 to 2-8.
The ebb and flow nature of the gripping contest continued in extra-time. With minds and bodies on the edge of exhaustion, mistakes were invariably made. With the help of two points from Keith Curtis and one from David Curtis Rathkenny led 1-14 to 2-9 after 70 minutes.
As the tension filled the air Emmet Rogan pulled a point back for Scoil Ui Chonaill from a free. Still, Rathkenny held, precariously, to their one-point advantage as the clock ticked down. Keith Curtis spurned a chance while James Macken was inches wide when he took a pot-shot at the posts. A point then would surely have sealed victory. With time almost up the Dublin side were awarded dubious-looking free, about 44 metres out. Rogan calmly pointed. It was onto the shoot-out.
David Curtis and Daniel Gavagan scored with well-struck spot-kicks for Rathkenny but Scoil Ui Chonaill goalkeeper Andy Bunyan superbly saved from Heavey, Keith Curtis and goalkeeper Charlie Cullen and those stops were to prove vital. Rogan, Conor Coady and Brian Fleming converted their penalties for their opponents.
The whole penalty drama held sharply contrasting fortunes for Cullen. He brilliantly saved a penalty but he then had the disappointment of seeing Bunyan stop his spot-kick. That tale of joy and woe encapsulated the afternoon for the Meath side.
There were so many heroes for Rathkenny. Keith Curtis had a stormer, capped by six points. James O'Hare also topped a fine display with a score. David Curtis, Aaron Johnson, Meade and Corban Jenkinson were others to register scores for the Meath side who made their share of mistakes but were heroic too in their attitude and approach.
Sean O'Hare, Mark Byrne, Jack Gore, Christy Meade, Daniel Gavagan and Donal Keogan didn't score but they made massive contributions in other ways. They were involved in so many moves, their workrate relentless.
Donal Curtis and his troops can reflect on a remarkable year when they won the Mattie McDonnell Cup. They were also part of a truly dramatic contest on Saturday that brightened up a dank, dark November afternoon.
Scoil Ui Chonaill - Emmet Rogan 0-5 frees; Brendan Murray 1-1; Brendan O'Connell 1-0; Neil O'Flynn 0-1; Andy Bunyan 0-1 free; Robert Kennedy 0-1; Conor Coady 0-1; Conor Dixon 0-1.
Rathkenny - Keith Curtis 0-6 one mark, two frees; Eoghan Heavey 1-0; David Curtis 0-3 two frees; Aaron Johnson 0-2; James O'Hare 0-1; Corben Jenkinson 0-1; Brian Meade 0-1.
Scoil Ui Chonaill - Andy Bunyan; Adam Wilson, Martin Tierney, Padraig Conlon; Aaron McCrea, Brian Fleming, Shane Costello; Kevin Cagney, Niall Doherty; Emmet Rogan, Ryan Keane, Brendan Murray; Neil O'Flynn, Colm Geraghty, Robert Kennedy. Subs - Conor Dixon for Keane half-time normal time, Brian Maloney for McCrea 36 mins, Brendan O'Connell for Kennedy 40m, Conor Coady for Cagney 44m, Rian Farrell for O'Flynn 61m, Sean O'Flaherty for Murray 70m, Cagney for Geraghty 78m.
Rathkenny - Charlie Cullen; Sean O'Hare, Adam Byrne, James O'Hare; Corben Jenkinson, Mark Byrne, David Curtis; Donal Keogan, Christy Meade; Jack Gore, Aaron Johnson, Daniel Gavagan; Keith Curtis, Brian Meade, Eoghan Heavey. Subs - Padraig McKeever for C Jenkinson 40m, Noah Jenkinson for J Gore 45m, James Macken for C Meade 47m, Ross Gore for Aaron Johnson 56m, Andrew Bellew for Ross Gore 59m, R Gore for Bellew 61m, Bellew for Heavey 76m, Heavey for B Meade 83m.
Referee - Enda Kelly (Westmeath).