The Annacurra crowd’s heads hung low leaving the county grounds today after a defeat by the narrowest of margins to An Tochar who ran out deserved one point winners in the opening game of the senior championship group stages.
This now puts Annacurra in a very difficult position in their group. St Patricks of Wicklow town beat Donard the Glen on Friday night in the other group game. Effectively, this result means that if Annacurra are to progress to the quarterfinals of this years championship they have to beat both Donard the Glen and St Patricks and probably still hope for the score difference result to go our way.
It was a depressing day to be an Annacurra supporter and the crowd were despondent and disappointed. By extension I can only imagine how disappointed the men that donned their green and gold jerseys and lined out for their parish today can feel. They now have to get over any horrible feelings of despondency they may have in the pits of their stomachs. We all know those feelings as we have experienced them in some stage of life, the ones where some how your stomach feels both empty and filled with rocks simultaneously and a sense of gloom and dejection creeps over you like a depression. There are group of men out there who are that are experiencing those sensations as I type and you read. Men that have fought for and put their bodies on the line for their parish in the past but today their efforts were not up to the task put in front of them.
Its not possible to be sure but I suspect that Annacurra walked into an ambush. An Tochar are towards the bottom of Division 2 while Annacurra ride up at the dizzying height of 5th place in Division 1. Never the less, today was about one thing and one thing only, Championship football! League counts for nothing when it comes to this time of year and today certainly proved that old adage. The men from Roundwood wanted to win more, were more determined to chase the ball and the game and they deserved their victory. They went out with a game plan to beat us and it worked. They defended in depth, playing a two man inside forward line and bringing a corner forward out the field. Whenever Annacurra moved into the An Tochar half they were like a swarm of bee’s protecting their hive from honey stealing interlopers. Every ball played into the Annacurra attack was difficult to make a return from as An Tochar contested for everything frustrated the Annacurra attack. An Tochar then broke forward at pace making particularly good use of cross field balls on occasion to slice open the protection in the Annacurra defence.
This frustration with An Tochars tactics of playing deep and breaking quickly seemed to blunt the rest of the Annacurra game and they were not able to turn the advantage of an extra man to their benefit, even after one of the An Tochars was sent off early in the second half. As with many teams before this deficit in playing numbers seemed to spur them on to extra efforts to make up for the enforced reduction in numbers.
Inside 5 minutes of the game An Tochar were piling on the pressure as they opened out of the traps much quicker than Annacurra did. Early in the match they had a goal chance when Robert Fitzgerald in the Annacurra goal had to react decisively to stop a ball with his legs that had got away from him when dropped onto the edge of the square. Soon after that the Roundwood men opened the scoring when ill-discipline in the Annacurra back line gave them a free they duly converted. This ill-discipline was to be a feature of the Annacurra game as they gave away soft frees in positions advantageous to An Tochar.
All the same An Tochar were not being overly decisive and clinical with the large amount of possession they had and repeatedly missed chances that they could have converted. Yet Annacurra still failed to take advantage of that. An Tochar were not wasteful of their possession on the 8th minute of the first half though when a rasper from their centre forward found the back of the Annacurra net when they broke quickly from midfield to run straight at the heart of the Annacurra defence.
To be fair to the Derry men though they reacted well to the An Tochar goal. Mick O’Brien found himself with a goal chance and was in hard luck not to convert it. Alan Byrne then settled things down with Annacurra’s opening score on the 10th minute and Clive Horan notched over the next two. Clive displayed fantastic reactions for his first when a long range free dropped short and he was fastest to react to scoop up the ball and swing around onto his left to take his point. His second was another particularly good effort. Peter won good ball in midfield and played it down the wing for Mick O’Brien who then drew the An Tochar defence before combining well with Clive to allow him to slot the ball over the bar.
This put the minimum between the teams but An Tochar started to pressure again and were unlucky to not get another goal if Shane McAllister had not performed a wonder tackle while tracking through is own large rectangle to take enough out of the ball and allow Annacurra to clear their lines. That was not the only goal scare that An Tochar created and soon after again they threatened the Annacurra goal and we rode our luck not to concede a three pointer again.
Annacurras next two scores came from Martin O’Brien and Frank Clune respectively. Ian McDonald combined well with Martin for the first of the scores and Frank worked well with Alan and Vincent to earn a great point from play. Ian then turned on the afterburners when he found himself in space in the inside forwards and hurtled towards goal only for the shot to bounce off the ground and go wide of the mark. This was one of many opportunities that the Annacurra men would rue for missing by the end of play but it did end in a 45 that Frank stood in front of and placed over the black spot to send Annacurra in a point up at half time.
It had taken the men in the green and gold a long time to settle into the first half and some lax play at the back punished them but at half time things were looking more positive if they could maintain their composure in the second half and move through the gears. To be fair the Annacurra men won the opening exchanges of the second half when Ian McDonald won a point close to the An Tochar goal and cooly scored his own free. An Tochar reacted to this well though and were in hard luck not to score another goal when the ball floated into the Annacurra square after coming off an upright and both Robert and Shane had to don their superman capes to pull off two fantastic saves one after the other to keep Annacurra in the game.
An Tochar got the next score when they broke into the Annacurra half from midfield and well placed cross field ball found a dearth of Annacurra men and an An Tochar man running into the space to reduce the difference between the two teams to the minimum at 1 – 3 to 7 points. Annacurra attempted to respond in kind with Martin O’Brien and Patrick Moules in hard luck not to get points only for a slip at the back and some outreached hands from an Annacurra man to gift An Tochar a free close to the Annacurra 21 to allow them to tie up the game on the 42nd minute.
However two minutes of play later and another bout of ill-discipline at the back allowed An Tochar to take the lead by playing another cross field ball to find a man in space from a free for a simple score. A minute later the Roundwood men then doubled the difference to two points after another quick break and good running found a free man for the opposition in the Annacurra half for them to take the point. Alan Byrne responded as only Alan can and rocketed up the field to shrewdly win the Annacurra men another free that Ian converted to reduce the deficit to the minimum again, 8 points to 1 – 6 to An Tochar’s advantage.
On the 51st minute Frank tied the teams up again with a free and was in hard luck soon after with another free but this time from a very difficult angle on the left hand side of the park. However An Tochar then piled on the pressure and were looking dangerous around the Annacurra goal. Their hard work paid off on the 60th minute when they won a 45 that their goal keeper ran up the field to line up in Stephen Cluxton style. The An Tochar keeper didn’t make great contact with the ball and it flew towards the Annacurra goal on a low trajectory only for an An Tochar man to reach his hand highest amongst a forest of players from both sides to guide the ball over the Annacurra bar and put An Tochar a point to the good.
Annacurra tried to the end, surging back up the field repeatedly in the search of an equaliser. This culminated in the dying stages with a long distance free from Frank that couldn’t make the distance and An Tochar managed to clear their lines to lift the siege and take the glory of the championship win.
Annacurra will be disappointed with their performance, they had ample opportunities to put the game beyond their opposition but in the corollary An Tochar also missed several opportunities to close the game out against us. In the end I can only repeat what I heard from one of the analysts on the Sunday game while watching the Kerry and Cork game in Muster today as I sat down to write this tale of woe. He summed up my feelings about the result for Annacurra today perfectly when he said that for Kerry it was “One of those days the music died”. The music also died for another group of men in green and gold today.
AnnacurraGAAClub.com Man of the Match: Alan Byrne
Full time score: Annacurra 0 – 9 An Tochar 1 – 7
Robert Fitzgerald, Shane McAllister, Ciaran Byrne, Liam Moules, Martin O’Brien, Vincent Flaherty, Alan Byrne, Peter CLancy, Paul McDonald, Michael O’Brien, Clive Horan, Shane O’Keefe, Ian McDonald, Frank CLune, Patrick Moules
Subs used: Stephen Murphy for Patrick Moules.
Alan Byrne, 1 point from play
Clive Horan, 2 points from play
Martin O’Brien, 1 point from play
Frank Clune, 3 points, (1 from play, 1 from a 45 and 1 free)
Ian McDonald, 2 points from frees