Charlestown Sarsfields secured their senior championship status for the 2020 season as they edged out Claremorris in the final game of the group on a scoreline of 1-14 to 0-16 in a no holds barred, exciting encounter played in Aghamore recently.
It was very much a case of winner take all for the victors and the Sarsfields were marginally the better team all through although they were pushed hard by a Claremorris team who stepped up considerably on their previous woeful display against Belmullet.
The game was tight and tense throughout with the opening exchanges providing much food for thought with both teams keenly aware of what lay at stake. The South Mayo side laid down a marker early on with county panelist James McCormack showing his class as he cracked over two fine points from play to instil confidence and belief into the blues challenge. Colin Gill knocked over a third minutes later as Claremorris were playing all the ball and bossing the game in that all important middle zone.
The Sarsfields were struggling to contain the Claremorris runners and were sixs in sevens in all areas of the pitch but they got just the tonic they sorely needed when Paul Towey cracked home a great goal having read a knockdown from Paddy Goldrick to perfection to haul the green and white level much to the relief of their large support base.
Jack Reilly, cutting a much more impressive figure than in his previous outing, knifed a fine point from play as the Sarsfields hit the front for the first time in the match. Claremorris regained their composure after the concession of the goal however and fired over the next four points which pushed them three in front as they continued to cause endless problems for the Sarsfields with their hard running from deep.
Gareth O`Donnell handed the green and white a lifeline with a majestic point from long range as the topsy tuvry nature of the game continued to play out before our very eyes. Jack Reilly popped over a neat point from play for the Sarsfields with the very next attack and this was added to minutes later by Colm Maye who tagged on a free to leave the scores tied once again.
Michael Mullins and Paddy Goldrick swapped points just before the interval to leave the game beautifully poised at 1-5 to 0-8 as the referee called for the ball to bring to an end what was an enthralling and enjoyable first thirty with both sides having plenty to ponder on ahead of a big second half.
Again it was Claremorris who broke fast in the scond period as they banged over two quick points to hit the front once again. The Sarsfields responded with two of their own as first Niall Murphy hit a beauty from play which was added to almost from the restart by Matt Lenehan who clipped over a lovely point under all kinds of pressure.
The South Mayo side were unperturbed however and had the perfect riposte with a point from the boot of Stephen McGreal before Reilly hauled the green and white level with gorgeous effort from play. The hits were flying in from all sides and this was championship football at its best with the game having a real blood and thunder feel about it. James Shaughnessy landed a free for the blues to leave them 0-12 to 1-8 in front with fifteen left on the clock.
The Sarsfields hit another gear over the course of the next ten minutes and took control of the contest. They banged over six tremendous points in a row with Jack Reilly, Matt Lenehan , Colm Maye and Gareth O`Donnell all registering quality scores with Maye hitting two brilliant frees while O`Donnell`s point was a thing of real beauty as it was his very much in the creation and execution. That surge left the Sarsfields in an imperious position as they were totally in command leading 1- 14 to 0-12 with seven minutes or thereabouts left on the clock.
The game looked up for the blues as they were struggling badly in several areas of the pitch. The Sarsfields looked poise to coast home but they took their foot off the pedal and went into their shell to speak and sat back and invited the Claremorris men onto them. The South Mayo side found some reserves of energy from somewhere and hit four late points to close the gap to one with the Sarsfields scrambling desperately to keep the blue wave at bay. The referee`s whistle came just in time as the last few minutes became very fragmented and fractured with players from both teams black carded which saw plenty of stoppage time played as a result. The Sarsfields were relieved to hear the final whistle as they made life difficult for themselves in the final stages relinquishing control of a game they looked to have sewn up when they pushed for home midway through the last quarter.
They fell over the line at the finish but were ahead on the scoreboard which is the single most important statistic at the end of the every game.
The defence were under the cosh at times but were never breached as Enda and Gerard McLoughlin and Alan Woods were granite like in their approach to tackling and defending with Pat Walsh, Colm Maye and Conor O`Donoghue all contributing to a good overall defensive effort.
Gareth O`Donnell and Thomas Parsons had a great tussle with their Claremorris counterparts but the Charlestown pairing just about shaded it with O`Donnell scoring two memorable points from play in each half while Parsons was always a towering figure in the air taking down several balls from the sky in trademark fashion.
Jack Reilly was back to something resembling his best in attack hitting four supreme points from play from a variety of angles off left and right foot respectively. Paul Towey was always a threat in the full forward line and his goal was an opportunist strike of the highest order. Niall Murphy and Matt Lenehan were a constant menace throughout with their movement and pace causing the Claremorris defence all kinds of bother with Paddy Goldrick also showing up well and becoming more prominent when moved out to a half forward role later in the game.
The wily Aidan Higgins put in a great shift drifting back into defence when necessary and breaking up several Claremorris attacks with some typical clever, shrewd positional play. Colm Maye kicked three fantastic points from frees and was rock solid throughout while Ryan Duffy had a fine game on his introduction and won an amount of ball and used it wisely at all times. Kenny Brennan was solid and composed between the posts and dealt admirably with all that came his way
Well done to Martin Mulvaney and his management team who got the tactics and team selection pretty much spot on and there was a palpable air of relief on their faces at the final whistle as this was a game that could have gone either way in those frantic , dramatic last few minutes.
The management and team can switch their focus to securing promotion in the league as they sit second in the table with three games left to play, two of which are at home.