PJ feels the pain of loss: Loughgiel boss rues missed chances but won't lay the blame on Watson
Loughgiel 2-11MT Leinster 0-18
After a year of emotive scenes, hurling begins another year delivering more. Mount Leinster Rangers, All-Ireland Intermediate champions from two years ago when Loughgiel were claiming their second senior title, are now in the St Patrick's Day decider against Portumna of Galway.
Loughgiel manager PJ O'Mullan (below, right) rued a sickening defeat but remained gracious afterwards. After a dreadful first half when they never really got up to the pitch of the game, they produced a gutsy finish to leave it in their own hands.
As it happened, Liam Watson flashed a routine free wide with normal time up. Shortly after, he bravely won another from beside the same location that he would surely have nailed. Problem was that Mark McFadden was spotted indulging in afters by referee Cathal McAllister, who awarded McFadden his second yellow card and reversed the free.
Still, nothing flatters like imitation and in MLR, O'Mullan could see comparisons with a younger Loughgiel.
"They reminded me of ourselves two years ago," O'Mullan commented. "I tried to tell everyone how good this team are. You have to give them credit, they were the better team on the day, they took their chances and we can have no complaints."
Denis Murphy's 11 points, with three from play, carrying their second-half resistance was a problem the Shamrocks could not trouble-shoot. Ronan McCloskey was booked before being taken off late in the first half, and Paul Gillan also tried his luck but with diminishing returns.
"I would say our scores came from play whereas the majority of their scores came from dead ball. You have to look at that and wonder were we fouling badly, not tackling well?" O'Mullan posed afterwards.
Alarms bells sounded in the Loughgiel camp when Johnny Campbell failed to make the starting team. It soon became apparent that they would miss Campbell under the puckout as they were wiped out in the first half.
Occasionally DD Quinn would aim his puckouts to either corner-back, but the resulting clearance would be gobbled up by a huge Rangers middle sector of Derek Byrne, Pádraig Nolan and Edward Byrne.
With the pitch sticky and workrate of the essence, Loughgiel matched the Carlow champions for the first quarter but tailed off significantly after. Such was the pressure MLR exerted that despite numerous chances to clear and getting hooked or blocked, eventually a half-blocked shot from Eoin Doyle spun in the air and evaded everyone's estimates, coming to land with a splat on Quinn's goal line before he cleared.
After streaking into the lead for the first time on 11 minutes, the Shamrocks would score only twice in the remainder of the half while MLR stitched seven on the scoreboard.
After gaining hardly any frees or breaking ball in the first half, the Shamrocks addressed that with a storming effort in the second.
An early goal arrived from Benny McCarry, latching onto a McFadden delivery to hit the net. Declan Laverty was struggling to control the sliotar when Watson relieved him and arrowed over a stunning stroke from beside the Shamrocks dugout to electrify an already-charged support in the packed stand.
Just as they began to lose their grip on the game again, sideline cut from McAuley was controlled by Watson, who whipped a groundstroke to the net to equalise with seven minutes left. He then levelled after a Derek Byrne point, before Byrne collected a break from the resulting puckout and sent Murphy on his way for the decisive score.
One final chance fell to Watson from a 75-yard free, but it didn't have the legs as McAllister blew his whistle to unleash joyous celebrations from the travelling support of Carlow.
O'Mullan wasn't about to wonder what might have been over those last few spurned chances, insisting: "Liam owes Loughgiel hurling nothing. Some days they go over and some days they don't. He got a goal to get us back into it."
Mount Leinster manager Tom Mullally reminded us of the relationship between the two clubs, stating, "We would rather have played Loughgiel in a final because we have so much respect for them but the fact it was today, we had to try and get a win for ourselves.
"The conditions weren't easy to put the ball over the bar and it was a day where if you took enough chances you were going to go through."
LOUGHGIEL: DD Quinn; P Gillan, N McGarry, R McCloskey; B McAuley, M Scullion, O McFadden; M McFadden 0-1, T McCloskey; J Scullion 0-1, D Laverty, E McCloskey 0-2; B McCarry 1-0, S Casey 0-1, L Watson 1-6, 3f. Subs: T Coyle for R McCloskey (26m), James Campbell for Scullion (39m), D McCloskey for J Scullion (54m), M Connolly for T McCloskey
Yellow cards: E McCloskey (7m), R McCloskey (20m), McFadden, (29, 72m)
Red card: McFadden (72m)
MT LEINSTER: F Foley; M Doyle, G Doyle, G Kelly; Diarmuid Byrne 0-1, R Coady, E Coady; Derek Byrne 0-1, P Nolan 0-1; P Coady, E Byrne, D Phelan 0-1; D Murphy 0-11, 7f, J Coady 0-1, E Doyle 0-2. Subs: J Murphy for Nolan (47m), HP O'Byrne for J Coady (54m), J Hickey for E Coady (56m), W Hickey for E Doyle (59m).
Yellow cards: E Coady (7m), M Doyle (10m), E Byrne (14m)
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)