BY NIALL SHERRY
ALL PIX DANNY LAHART
Hickey at the double as Freshford make final
Michael Lyng Motors Hyundai Intermediate Hurling Championship
St Lachtain’s 2-12 Fenians 0-10
A 2-goal salvo from centre-forward Liam Hickey was the difference between the two sides at UPMC Nowlan Park last Sunday.
There was just two points separating the teams when the first of two green flags were raised deep into the second half. Goal-scorer Hickey would be involved in many of the key moments during the semi-final battle, including the sending-off of Fenians centre-back, Rory Phelan, which ultimately proved crucial in this tie.
The first scoring chance of the day fell to that man Hickey who registered a wide from about 65 metres out.
The Johnstown side opened the scoring courtesy of a Mark Webster free, which the strong wind drew in between the posts. The same player would get the second point of the day, also from a placed ball.
Fenians wing-back John Henderson, who had a great game, launched a probing long ball into the danger zone. JJ Delaney and Freshford full-back Harry Burke tussled for possession, and as they battled, the referee blew his whistle, and went to consult with his umpires. The outcome was a penalty awarded for the foul on the Kilkenny veteran forward.
Mark Webster stepped up and blazed his attempt over the bar, to add a point to the score board, rather than the expected three. Given what was about to happen, the failure to raise the green flag was very costly.
With a 3-point lead, Fenians were the more settled side, but the course of the game was about to change.
On 11 minutes Liam Hickey and Rory Phelan were involved in an exchange, which again saw referee John Kennedy consult with his other officials. Fenians number 6 Phelan was red-carded and Freshford’s Hickey was shown a yellow.
Shortly after this turning point, Fenians almost goaled through Conor Tobin, who pulled his shot just wide of the post. Small margins.
St Lachatains opened their account on 14 minutes thanks to a well taken point from county star James Maher. From the next passage of play, Darragh Tobin took a good catch before finding Willie Brennan with a nice pass and the midfielder duly popped the ball over the bar. At the water break, the Johnstown side led by 0-4 to 0-1, but they were now playing with 14 men, following Phelan’s dismissal.
As play resumed, the Freshford side appeared to have a little more spring in their step and went on the offensive. Some nice play saw Shane Donnelly take possession and despite the Fenians attempts to halt the number 15, he riffled his shot to the net, only for referee Kennedy to bring play back and award Donnelly a free for a foul in the build-up. Freshford manager Steven Farrell was not a happy camper, and you could see his point. Liam Hickey converted the placed ball to register his sides second point of the day.
Another Freshford foul gave Mark Webster the opportunity to notch another point from the placed ball. Freshford responded well and reeled off the next three scores. Firstly, Shane Donnelly hit a lovely point over his left shoulder, before full-forward Cian Dawson pointed. The third score was a family affair. Great inter-play between James and Darragh Maher resulted in the latter hitting a cracking point. The sides were now tied. This Fenians side don’t lie down, and they re-took the lead after Willie Brennan found Connor Tobin who hit a nice point.
Liam Hickey then restored parity from the placed ball after James Maher’s surging run was halted. The Johnstown side, despite their numerical disadvantage were still playing on the edge, and another indiscretion saw Hickey point from a free. This pattern was repeated and again, Hickey took full advantage.
St Lachtains were really utilising the extra man, and that man was Criomhtann Bergin who was getting on plenty of ball and being very efficient with it.
Liam Hickey then slotted over another free and his Fenians counterpart, Mark Webster did likewise. Freshford then sprung forward, Shane Donnelly broke away and despite being fouled, popped the ball between the sticks for the last score of a pulsating 1st half to leave his side two points to the good at the short whistle, 0-9 to 0-7. The water break really came at the wrong time for Kevin Galvin and his management team, as the opposition would register 8 points in this period.
The second half continued in the same vein. The impressive hard-working Alexander Rafter combined nicely with Brendan Quinn and Shane Donnelly before the ball arrived with Noel McGree, who split the posts for a well-worked score. Fenians hit back through Willie Brennan after a nice pass from John Henderson. JJ then won his next duel with young Bergin before passing to Darragh Tobin who reduced the deficit to the minimum.
Cian Dawson roaming a little further out the field won possession and was fouled, Hickey, again the beneficiary.
A Line ball from Hickey then dropped short, but his number 14, Dawson was on hand to gather the ball and shoot over to leave his side 3 to the good at the second water break.
Playing against the wind in the second period, Fenians were much more direct, and were trying to hit JJ with long passes and feed off him. The next ball in saw Delaney win possession before off-loading to Webster who in turn found Tobin who won a free. Webster pointed.
With just two points between them, St Lachtains looked to exploit their numerical advantage. James Maher drove the ball forward towards Donnelly. Some sloppy Fenians defending resulted in the referee awarding the second penalty of the day for a pull back on Donnelly. Unlike Webster, Liam Hickey stepped forward and drove his penalty hard and low into the net, giving the keeper no chance. The Johnstown’s side were now in serious trouble, 5 points down.
If there was any doubting the result of the game, this doubt was removed shortly after. Hickey collected the puck-out before racing through on goal and riffling to the back of the Fenians net. Game, set and match Freshford. The two-goal hero would leave the pitch before play resumed with an injury that his manager will hope isn’t too serious.
St Lachtains advance to the final. Steven Farrell knows his side will need to improve on this showing to get over the line in the decider.