Salthill-Knocknacarra 2-11 Renvyle 2-7
(After Extra Time)
Neighbouring clubs, Renvyle and Naomh Feichín, will renew their championship rivalry at Junior A level in 2014 but there will be no local derby in the league after Renvyle lost out to intermediate championship outfit, Salthill Knocknacarra in the 3A West decider on November 15th last. Both sides belied the treacherous underfoot conditions and incessant rain to serve up a feast of entertaining free flowing football which was easy on the eye but this will serve as no consolation to the West Connemara men who were more than a match for their more illustrious opponents over the course of the opening sixty minutes. In fairness to Salthill-Knocknacarra, however, they had a slight edge in the fitness all through and the advent of extra time seemed to give them a new lease of life when it was most required.
Salthill Knocknacarra wing forward Eoin O’Mahoney opened the scoring with a superb long range point on 5 minutes but Renvyle restored parity four minutes later, courtesy of a converted close range free by Tommy Walsh. Then, on 11 minutes a high dropping ball from the boot of Alan Heanue was broken into the path of Barry John Salmon by corner forward Shane Lydon and the promising minor made no mistake from close range. Salmon’s opportunistic goal was the catalyst for a ten minute period of Renvyle dominance during which they spurned no less than five clear cut point scoring opportunities from both play and placed balls. Wing forward Andrew Butler slotted over Salthill-Knocknacarra second point on 21 minutes but Shane Lydon countered with a close range free on 23 minutes before Tommy Walsh’s second converted free on 26 minutes extended his side’s lead to four points. Salthill-Knocknacarra were full of running and invention up front however and they finished the half the stronger with two unanswered points from play. O’Mahoney and Butler, who were running riot on the wings, shared these two scores between them and they were crucial contributions in terms of the final outcome.
Renvyle led by 1-3 to 0-4 at half time but they should have been much further ahead. They made a very positive start to the second period when Tommy Walsh set up Shane Lydon for his second point and Renvyle’s first from play. The Salthill-Knocknacarra response however was both immediate and decisive, a pointed free from the boot of Noel Tyrell on 32 minutes and then two magnificent long range punts from midfielder Sean O’Dowd inside the next three minutes. The momentum was temporarily with the seasiders and they went on to dominate the possession stakes over the next ten minutes. Salthill-Knocknacarra were well in the ascendancy during this third quarter but wayward shooting in front of goal prevented them from forging ahead. Renvyle took full advantage of the reprieve on 46 minutes when midfielder Enda Walsh picked out full forward Noel Varley with a wonderful diagonal pass and the Mervue Utd star turned his marker superbly before applying a confident finish. It was a superb piece of individual brilliance on Varley’s part, a goal worthy of winning any final which should have galvanised the troops into one final supreme effort over the closing minutes of this captivating contest. Salthill-Knocknacarra stood firm however, refocused their energies and efforts, and once again wrestled the initiative back from their opponents. Tyrell added his second converted free on 50 minutes and three minutes later Butler showed tremendous pace and control to cut through the Renvyle cover before unleashing an unstoppable shot to the roof of the net. Salthill-Knocknacarra now led by 1-8 to 2-4 with only seven minutes remaining. The timing of their opening goal was perfect but they didn’t push on. A couple of point scoring opportunities were spurned and Renvyle drew level on 58 minutes when David Kearney picked out Rory Lavelle with an astute crossfield pass and the former St Marys College star split the posts with unerring accuracy. Renvyle went for the jugular in the time that remained and with literally seconds remaining on the clock and their legions of loyal supporters roaring them on, GMIT college star Ian Heanue fired over what appeared to be the match winning point only for referee Brendan Kinneavy to call back the play and award a free out for an earlier infringement during the course of the same attack. Moments later the full time whistle sounded with the sides inseparable on a scoreline of 2-5 to 1-8.
Renvyle’s Tommy Walsh, now operating more effectively at centre forward, opened the scoring in extra time with probably the best individual point of the match. It was an inspirational score but only served to reignite Salthill-Knocknacarra. A quickfire brace from Sean O’Dowd and Andrew Butler edged them ahead when Noel Tyrell capitalised on some slack marking in the Renvyle defence by scoring Salthill-Knocknacarra’s second goal on 67 minutes, there appeared to be no way back for Renvyle. With half time in extra time fast approaching, Alan Walsh, who got through a trojan amount of unselfish work all day, presented Noel Varley with a glorious goal chance which could have resulted in a penalty award but ultimately came to nothing after Varley’s shot was snuffed out by two covering defenders. Rory Lavelle notched his second point during the second period of extra time but this was quickly cancelled out by a fine solo effort from Salthill-Knocknacarra’s centre forward Kieran Archibald. Renvyle refused to throw in the towel however and with just two minutes remaining Noel Varley’s goal bound effort came back off the butt of the post and fell into the path of Barry John Salmon only for the latter’s soccer style finish to be cleared off the line by Salthill-Knocknacarra defender Des Joyce. His miraculous intervention typified the huge hunger and appetite for the fray that was ingrained in his team from the outset. It was also the final dramatic action of a pulsating final that neither side deserved to lose but ultimately had to produce a winner.
While Salthill-Knocknacarra had a real match winner in the mercurial Andrew Butler, the defensive heroics of central defenders David Burke and Enda Gavin cannot be underestimated in terms of the overall context of this contest. This duo negated the influence of Renvyle’s former minor and U21 star Tommy Walsh. This was a key element in the Salthill-Knocknacarra battle plan. At the other end of the pitch, Renvyle’s full back line of Mickey Walsh, Daniel Walsh and Aidan Flaherty were rock solid from start to finish with the latter putting in a Man of the Match performance. Ultimately, however, it was the Salthill-Knocknacarra half forward line of O’Mahoney, Archibald and Butler that put paid to Renvyle’s promotion prospects, while O’Dowd’s hat trick of points from his midfield base was also highly significant in the final analysis. Salthill-Knocknacarra now advance to a county final showdown with 3A North winners, Tuam Stars.
Footnote: On behalf of Renvyle GAA club, I would like to extend a sincere word of thanks and appreciation to Coiste Páirce CLG Na Piarsaigh for their excellent hosting of this important West Board Final. Táimid go léir an-bhuíoch dhaoibh. Well done also to Na Piarsaigh referee Brendan Kinneavy who was sharp, firm, sensible and fair, both in his interpretation of the rules and also his management of players and officials on both sides.