The backdrop to Annacurra’s opening Senior Football Championship match against St Mary’s was a blissful weather conditions. While the morning of the match was a little cooler with predicted temperatures of 19 degrees and some cloud cover in Baltinglass where the match was to be played the later afternoon kick off happened under beautiful conditions without much protection for the players against the sun. It was going to be an important day for the water carriers.
Other conditions had not been so auspicious for the Green and Gold of Annacurra in the lead up to their crucial game. Injuries and immigration had taken their tole on the preparations for this years championship. Experienced and crucial players such as Patrick Moules and Peter Clancy were not available due to injury and others such as Frank Clune and Pierce O’Brien were either out of the country full time or working abroad on and off and were not able to stake their names to starting places on the team.
Annacurra’s league campaign had been enough to hopefully secure their place in Division 1 in 2014 but could not be described as stellar as they stood just outside the relegation zone going into the match. But as every years All Ireland Championships will tell you league form is not always the best predictor of championship form. This is the problem with facing opposition like St Mary’s though as being a group team they have no league form to work from, so we were facing an unknown quantity but one that had won the county championship two years previous.
The scoring started early in the match and St Mary’s opening point within the first minute set the tempo for an exciting spectacle that made great viewing for the neutrals. Annacurra then took control of the game notching up the next 4 scores of the match within 10 minutes. Alan Byrne surged forward from his postion as lynch pin of the defence as the centre back to score the first of his two points from play. This was soon followed by a well worked goal created through the technical flair and extraordinary ambition and vision of Ian McDonald who played the ball across the goal after beating several St Mary’s defenders to place the ball into the path of Martin O’Brien who stroked the ball to the back of the net.
Annacurra then scored 2 more unanswered points before St Marys registered their second score of the game. Michael O’Brien was involved in both of those, firstly taking the first of his two points in the game with a great right booted effort from distance. He then used great vision to put a cross field ball into the path of Clive Horan who opened his account with a left footed score from play. Clive looked dangerous all day whenever the ball came towards him and he was to close out his account with an outstanding total of 6 points, 2 of which were from placed balls.
St Mary’s were going to be no push over and they then proved with by pegging Annacurra’s lead back to the Martin O’Brien goal before Alan Byrne scored his second point of the day to put the scores at 1 – 4 to 3 points with just 14 minutes played. Mary’s then responded with another point and in the 17th minute levelled the game with a Don Jackman penalty after pressure was applied to the Annacurra full back line and a fould was blown in the large parallelogram.
Annacurra though didn’t wilt under the pressure and got the next two scores through Clive from play and young Bob Fitzgeralds long distance free.
At this point it is worth an interlude to point out the youthfulness of the Annacurra team with 3 of the starting team still being in school. Bob Fitzgerald, who is also achieving note with county and school football and hurling underage teams and Nevan O’Sullivan and James Keenan. The future looks bright for the club so. But back to the action.
St Mary’s added another score but Annacurra closed out the half the stronger with a point from Martin O’Brien from play and Clive from a placed ball to put the score at half time Annacurra 1-8 to St Mary’s 1-5. A lead of 3 points with it looking like Annacurra had reacted well to the St Mary’s penalty and taking back control of the game.
St Mary’s opened the scoring when the second half resumed but after that Annacurra took control of the scoreboard and with 15 minutes of regulation time to play were 5 points ahead and looking good. Alan Horan scored a point in the 35th minute to restore the lead back to 3 points. St Mary’s then took control of the game though and subjected Annacurra to sustained pressure and were effectively camped out in our half with wave after wave of St Mary’s attack launching themselves against our goal. Annacurra were up to the challenge though and in those vital minutes managed to break the St Mary’s waves of attacks and to not concede. Then it looked like Annacurra had taken the game by the scruff of the neck when they broke forward after the sustained St Mary’s attacks and put the ball into the hands of Clive Horan who stroked the ball over the St Mary’s posts. Annacurra then did the sensible thing again and gave the ball back to Clive who increased our lead to 5 points with 15 minutes of the second half played.
It would however be wrong to write St Mary’s off. They were 2011 county champions for a reason and they then showed why they had won the title by breaking forward from deep, running at Annacurra down the middle and creating over laps in their inside forwards to rattle the ball into the Annacurra net. The St Mary’s fight back was on and Annacurra again had to answer questions about their character after conceding another goal and soon after another point to reduce the margin to the minimum after 48 minutes of play.
Annacurra then stood up to the challenge when Mick O’Brien scored his second point of the day to extend our lead to 2 points with 11 minutes of normal time left on the clock. St Mary’s though scored the next two points to level the game on the 52nd minute and started to put the squeeze on in the middle 8 as the Annacurra men started to feel the temperature rise and not just from the warm weather. Annacurra looked to be in some disarray around the centre of the park and half forwards and backs but managed to slot over the next point to take back the lead before St Mary’s once again levelled it in the 57th minute. Tense times were had by both sets of supporters as the count down to the final whistle began. But the game finished all square and a reply will be required to separate the sides.
Annacurra’s two man inside forward line of Clive Horan and Ian McDonald looked very dangerous and game their markers headaches. Both were contenders for the mana of the match award. But the AnnacurraGAAclub.com man of the match award goes to Ciaran Byrne who displayed tenacious determination and toughness to win vital balls to secure possession for the Annacurra tema particularly during the high pressure period at the close fo the match when mistakes were going to be costly.
Other Annacurra men shone brightly in the first half, like Stephen Murphy and alan Byrne but the teams second half performance was not up to the quality of their first and that is something that will have to be worked on for the replay.
It was an entertaining game of football and the draw was probably a fair result. We will look forward to the replay and hopefully the men in the Green and Gold can do enough to progress to the next round.
Final Score: Annacurra 1-13, St Mary’s 2-10.
Annacurra Team: Michael Doyle, James Keenan, Paul McDonald, Liam Moules, Jack O’Sullivan, Alan Byrne, Ciaran Byrne, Alan Horan, Robert Fitzgerald, Nevan O’Sullivan, Michael O’Brien, Stephen Murphy, Clive Horan, Ian McDonald, Marting O’Brien
Subs used: Shane McAllister and Vincent Flaherty
Subs not used: James Fitzgerald, John O’Neil, Pierce O’Brien.
Alan Byrne: 2 points from play
Martin O’Brien: 1 – 1 from play
Mick O’Brien: 2 points from play
Clive Horan: 6 points, (2 from free’s).
Alan Horan: 1 point from play
Robert Fitzgerald: 1 point from a long distance free
AnnacurraGAAclub.com Man of the Match: Ciaran Byrne