Loup experience proves vital as Steelstown lose close encounter

Loup came into this game as red-hot favourites but by the final whistle they were just happy that they would go into the next round in the winners’ group.

Yet at the end of the first half there were few signs that the second half would turn out the way it did, even though Stephen Cleary, playing his first game for many months, was off target from two or three frees that he would normally have pinged.

By the midpoint of the half Loup led 0-04 to 0-01, Cleary’s 6th minute point from a free in response to early scores from Ronan Devlin and Ciaran Devlin, who would finish the half with five points, four from frees.

Declan McVey and Paul Young responded to Cleary’s solitary point in this first quarter spell.

Two points in quick succession between the 22nd and 23rd minute from Liam Heffernan cut Loup’s lead to 0-06 to 0-04 but a magnificent 25th minute Ciaran Devlin point from 50 metres, in between frees in the 24th and 30th minutes took Loup to 0-09 to 0-04 at the break.

Yet, in hindsight maybe, Steelstown gave a glimpse of what would unfold in the second half when Eamon Donnelly broke through the Loup defence and was denied a goal when keeper Thomas Mallon got a strong left hand to the ball to deflect the rasping shot over the bar.

Steelstown manager, Hugh McGrath was obviously disappointed to lose out but he was pleased and, indeed, proud of his side’s second half performance.

“The first half performance was very poor,” said McGrath. “Ordinarily we are very good starters but we did not kick in from the start, possibly through nerves.

“I think in the second half, after a few choice words at the break, we did kick on.

“We said that this was do or die and we competed for the ‘dirty ball’ in the middle sector and guys like Neil Forrester and Paul O’Hea began to break the game line.”

Between the 47th and 54th minutes Steelstown had Loup on the run as they reeled off four unanswered points from Eamon Donnelly, Mickey McKinney, Stephen Cleary who levelled and Ryan Devine who lashed the ball over the bar from 50 metres to put the city side 0-12 to 0-11 in front.

At that stage Steelstown were very much in the ascendency, manager McGrath stating; “I think Loup’s experience really showed at that point.

“They won the next three kick outs in a row, with Johnny McBride getting two and Joe O’Kane the other. It just shows what that level of experience brings to championship games like that.

“It’s only being involved in scenarios like that that you will get better.

“Experiences like that will stand to us the next day, that when you go a point up you can drive on and go two and three points ahead and progress from there.”

Steelstown launched one last attack as they sought the goal that would send the game to extra-time, Loup funnelling back to get numbers behind the ball.

Aidan Cleary got possession going forward into a crowded area. As he attempted to release the ball he went down and the referee’s whistle sounded. The referee awarded a free out, indicating that Cleary had thrown the ball. The managers had differing opinions on the incident.

The Loup scorers were - Ciaran Devlin 0-06, 0-05 frees, Brian Doyle 0-02, Declan McVey 0-02, Ronan Devlin, Paul Young, Johnny McBride, Benny McVey and Fintan Devlin 0-01 each.

The Steelstown scorers were - Stephen Cleary 0-05, 0-03 frees, Liam Heffernan 0-02, Eamon Donnelly 0-02, Stephen McCauley, Michael McKinney and Ryan Devine 0-01 each.

Loup - Thomas Mallon; Dominic McVey, Roddy O’Kane, Colm McVey; Brian Doyle, Aidan McAlynn, Fintan Devlin; Johnny McBride, Ronan Devlin; Aidan McVey, Ciaran Devlin, Paul Young; Benny McVey, Gavan Mallon, Declan McVey; Replacements - Joe O’Kane for Dominic McVey 42 mins; Anthony O’Neill for Aidan McVey 50 mins.

Steelstown - Martin Dunne; Tony Ling, Kevin Lindsay, Ryan McCloskey; Neil Forester, Paul O’Hea, Eamon Donnelly; Ryan Devine, Stephen McCauley; Conan Doherty, Michael Moore, Mickey McKinney; Liam Heffernan, Aidan Cleary, Stephen Cleary; Replacements - Pearse Doherty for Conan Doherty 44 mins; Shane O’Connor for Liam Heffernan 57 mins.

Referee - Peter O’Connor (Desertmartin).