Drama galore as gutsy Tyrrellspass qualify for provincial semi-final

Story by Tom Kelly

Saturday, 17th November, 2007 9:00am

 Tyrrellspass  2-6

 Eire Og  0-11

Westmeath senior football champions, Tyrrellspass qualified for their second Leinster club semi-final in-a-row at Dr Cullen Park on Sunday afternoon last, by a one-point margin over Éire Óg in a classic game of two halves, with a very unpleasant off-the-field skirmish adding to the drama of the occasion.

The stakes were high in Carlow, a ground where Éire Óg have a very proud record, particularly in their glory days of the 1990s. Tyrrellspass brought a very large contingent of fans with them but, unfortunately, what is normally good-humoured banter at Gaelic games matches got out of hand last Sunday and one prominent Tyrrellspass fan was assaulted, with about five minutes of normal time remaining in the first half.

The Gardaí were quickly on the scene and the perpetrator was escorted from the ground. Ironically, this most unwelcome incident distracted the crowd at a time when the winners scored what was to prove to be a crucial second goal. However, the entire escapade left an unsavoury taste on what was a memorable win for the Tidy Town.

Tyrrellspass lined out with one change in personnel and one positional switch from the match programme, the front cover of which had them down as being from Offaly! Keith Scally replaced Ray Sheeran at left half forward, while corner back Tommy Newman and midfielder David Murphy swopped positions.

They had the benefit of the wind in the first moiety and were on top for most of the opening half an hour. However, the Barrowsiders had by far the better of the exchanges on the change of ends and they will particularly rue a glaring miss by veteran substitute, Willie Quinlan, with the second last kick of the game, when the diminutive forward seemed certain to score at least a point.

The action came thick and fast right from the first whistle, with both sides missing early opportunities to take the lead, Denis Glennon`s 45-metre shot dropping short after only 50 seconds and Éire Óg`s Bryan Carbery shooting wide, less than half a minute later.

The home team eventually went in front in the third minute when the referee moved a free kick forward to a scoreable position, following dissent by Trevor John Gonoud, and Simon Rea duly pointed the resultant 40-metre free. David Glennon then shot wide from a similar position to his older brother`s earlier shot. However, it wasn`t long before the men in navy and blue were level, when fine play by Trevor John Gonoud and Kevin Connell set Denis Glennon free and his blistering pace brought him by a posse of would-be tacklers, before he fisted the equalising point.

It got even better for the visitors in the sixth minute when a trademark jink by Martin Flanagan gave him the space to fist a pass to Gavin Hoey, who in turn picked out Keith Scally and the number 20 replicated the composure he had shown in the Westmeath county final by coolly slotting the ball under the body of Robert Moore from 15 metres. Soon, Martin Flanagan appeared to be harshly yellow-carded, before Éire Óg reduced the deficit with a great point under pressure from Eric McCormack.

The Éire Óg defence were already finding out what countless club and county defences  discovered to their cost in 2007, that Denis Glennon in full flight is almost unstoppable and the 2004 All-Star nominee repeated his earlier searing run with another fisted point. On this occasion, goalkeeper Robert Moore`s attempt to stop Glennon in his tracks earned him a yellow card. At the other end, Trevor John Gonoud had sensibly  begun to concentrate on football rather than niggly incidents and he produced a tremendous catch to thwart an Éire Óg attack. The winners were working the ball out of defence with great patience and skill and one such counterattack almost yielded a goal, with Denis Glennon arriving a split second too late to convert an inswinging cross by his brother David.

In the 19th minute, Martin Flanagan did very well to pick out Keith Scally whose shot for a point was deflected over the endline. However, the ensuing `45` was wasted, with Kevin Connell`s quickly-taken effort ultimately leading to Tommy Newman screwing the ball wide. Three minutes later, the visitors went four points ahead when Keith Scally and Martin Flanagan combined for the overlapping Philip Sheridan to point in style. Éire Óg`s Derek Hayden was then fouled after a lengthy solo run and the same player popped over the resultant free.

The referee`s decision in this case was roundly booed by the Tyrrellspass fans and it was obvious that an incident was brewing between a couple of fans from both sides. After Martin Flangan`s shot dropped short, a man was clearly seen to box a Tyrrellspass fan, but as tempers frayed the Gardaí arrived promptly on the scene and the offender was removed from the ground. The visibly dazed Tyrrellspass man was then helped from his seat. 

Meanwhile, on the field of play, the winners struck for their second goal with Keith Scally`s fisted ball across the Éire Óg goalmouth been pushed into the net by the alert David Glennon, to put the Tidy Town two goals in front. In the 29th minute, Derek Hayden received Bryan Carbery`s pass and the ever-dangerous midfielder pointed neatly.

 In injury-time, yet another foul on Denis Glennon gave his brother David the opportunity to increase his side`s lead, which he duly did with a free from his hands, which went over the crossbar via the hands of Robert Moore. In the 33rd minute, a foul on inrushing centre half back, Cormac McCarthy resulted in Simon Rea pointing a free kick from the ground. At half-time, Tyrrellspass led by 2-4 to 0-5, but the main source of conversation during the interval concerned the earlier unsavoury incident in the stand.

The Westmeath men almost got off to a dream start to the second half when Martin Flanagan shot for a goal after only 15 seconds, but his powerful shot was too close to Robert Moore, who saved comfortably. In the second minute, a flying Denis Glennon was once again impeded en route to goal and Kevin Connell pointed a tricky left-footed free to restore the winners` two-goal advantage. However, it was to be a further 25 minutes before Pat Flanagan`s charges found the target again as a revitalised Éire Óg side patiently clawed their way back into contention.

The visiting fans booed again in the fifth minute (this time perhaps with some justification) when Derek Hayden, now operating in the forward line, was deemed to have been fouled as, head down, he burrowed his way goalwards, with Simon Rea duly slotting over the ensuing free. A one-two between the latter player and Jody Morrissey then ended with Rea pointing from play. Soon, Rea himself was fouled and Derek Hayden converted another free, leaving the Carlow champions trailing by three points with less than nine minutes of the second half elapsed.

Willie Quinlan`s name is synonymous with Carlow football for close on two decades and his introduction in the tenth minute of the second half seemed to lift players and fans alike. An astute through ball from Martin Flanagan almost put Keith Scally in for a goal, with Éire Óg netminder Robert Moore giving home fans a scare by briefly spilling the ball in the follow-up. David Glennon then spurned a decent chance for Tyrrellspass as the light began to fade in Dr Cullen Park. Two more well-taken points from Derek Hayden, with his right and left foot in the 12th and 13th minutes respectively, left just the bare minimum between the sides.

Willie Quinlan was unlucky to see his fisted effort come back off the upright, but an alert Eric McCormack dissected the posts in the ensuing play, leaving the sides level with 13 minutes remaining and the home crowd sensing that their heroes would prevail. Indeed, within a minute, will-o`-the-wisp Quinlan almost snuck in for another score but he was unable to take control of the ball quickly enough.

Two minutes later, Martin Flanagan was fouled and, with the referee refusing to allow what would have been a good `advantage` decision, a free kick was awarded. However, David Glennon was unable to convert what was a very difficult kick. The game was very much up for grabs at this juncture, but with Martin Flanagan seeming sure to find the net, Robert Moore came to his side`s rescue with a great point-blank save.

The losers then came very close to taking the lead but Eric McCormack`s high shot was waved wide, much to the annoyance of a number of his Éire Óg colleagues. The tension was now palpable and Denis Glennon almost cut in for another score as Robert Moore advanced from his line.

After a short delay, the referee threw in the ball and Martin Flanagan soared to make a great catch. The big full forward was fouled but a bout of retaliation meant that the match official again threw in the ball. This time, the free went again to the winners and Denis Glennon kept his composure to point a pressure kick.

The game ended in a welter of excitement and Darren Quinn did very well in the Tyrrellspass goal to pluck a dangerous long range shot from Derek Hayden from under his own crossbar. In the dying seconds, Willie Quinlan had a chance to become the saviour of the hour for Éire Óg but, with at least a point at his mercy, he blazed the ball wide. After the ensuing kick out, the referee blew the final whistle and the hordes of navy and blue-clad fans gave their heroes a tremendous parting ovation.

This was an excellent win for Tyrrellspass, who dug deep when they looked to be in real trouble midway through the second moiety. They now await the winners of the Dromard v. Moorefield replay, the latter team having knocked out the Tidy Town at the penultimate stage last year. On Sunday last, under the watchful eye of Tomás Ó Flatharta, they had outstanding defenders in Terence O`Brien, Trevor John Gonoud and Philip Sheridan.

Midfielder Adrian Corcoran got through a vast amount of work, while Keith Scally fared very well in an attack in which all three of the much-hyped full forward line of the Glennon brothers and Martin Flanagan delivered fine performances, with Denis Glennon`s all-round form of late being right out of the very top drawer.

Éire Óg had an imposing centre half back in Cormac McCarthy, while Derek Hayden - both at midfield and when moved to the half forward line - was one of the best players on view. Daniel Walker did well when introduced and Eric McCormack was a lively corner forward, while Willie Quinlan`s impressive cameo was spoiled by his late, late miss.

Tyrrellspass: Darren Quinn; David Murphy, Barry Murphy, Terence O`Brien; Shane Arthur, Trevor John Gonoud, Philip Sheridan (capt) (0-1); Adrian Corcoran, Tommy Newman; Kevin Connell (0-1, from a free), Gavin Hoey, Keith Scally (1-0); David Glennon (1-1, 0-1 from a free), Martin Flanagan, Denis Glennon (0-3, 0-1 from a free). Subs: Cathal Daly (for Hoey, 47 mins), Ronan Dunbar (for Connell, 49 mins), John Corcoran (for D.Murphy, 58 mins).

Éire Óg: Robert Moore; James Ryan, Shane Myers, Alan Byrne; Paul Cashin, Cormac McCarthy (capt), Christy Bolger; Peter Kingston, Derek Hayden (0-5, 0-2 from frees); Bryan Carbery, Jody Morrissey, Alan Curran; Eric McCormack (0-2), Simon Rea (0-4, 0-3 from frees), Keith Hession. Subs: Keith Moran (for Cashin, 30 mins), Daniel Walker (for Bolger, half-time), Sean Gannon (for Carbery, 37 mins), Willie Quinlan (for  Hession, 40 mins).

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois).

Footnote. Before the game, a minute`s silence was impeccably observed in memory of Paul McCarthy, a stalwart of the great Éire Óg team of the 1990s, who passed away last week, aged only 38.