Three points was the difference between Donaghmore/Ashbourne and Seneschalstown at the end of this gripping hoganstand.com Meath Senior Football Championship clash in Stamullen on Sunday afternoon but Seneschalstown can justifiably feel as though this was one game which got away from them.
Between missed opportunities and the concession of a very sloppy goal with ten minutes remaining on the clock they could pinpoint a number of moments in the match which proved costly against the beaten finalists in 2014.
In a game which was very closely contested throughout and which featured several spells of fine football from both sides Donaghmore/Ashbourne were probably that little bit more clinical with their scoring chances and this was a key factor in the result. Missing county man Brian Menton they struggled to win primary possession at midfield as in the first half Tean Cummins and Damien Sheridan and in the second half Robert Ruddy and Sheridan did very well in winning the aerial battle. And with others such as John Smith, Bryan Clarke and Joe Sheridan also showing up well over the hour the foundations were in place for a much needed victory but while the basis of the performance was solid some of the finishing on the construction of the performance just let the side down.
Donaghmore/Ashbourne it was who opened the scoring when pointing from play with just fifty four seconds on the clock. Soon after Seneschalstown suffered a blow when Peter Waters was forced to leave the fray after picking up an injury, being replaced in the action by Adam Carey. It took nine minutes for the Devenish Nutrition sponsored side to register their opening score of the game and when it arrived it was courtesy of a Sheridan double act. Joe sent a line ball in towards Brian and looping around to get the return pass he sent the equalising score over the bar. Joe Sheridan soon edged his side in front by a point when after fielding a ball in and slipping after gathering possession he managed to regain his footing before steadying himself and clipping a left footed shot over the bar. The Donaghmore/Ashbourne men hit back with two points in a minute to go 0-03 to 0-02 in front before Bryan Clarke sent a forty five metre free over from out to the left of the uprights.
Substitute Adam Carey linked up well with Joe Sheridan moments later to create a goal scoring opportunity but between a combination of good pressure from the defenders and a smart stop from their goalkeeper Donaghmore/Ashbourne managed to avert the danger. Clarke then brought the sides level once more when he once more pointed a long range free after Brian Sheridan drew a foul. Thus far in the game Ashbourne danger man Andrew Tormey had been well marshalled by Conor Cowley in the Seneschalstown defence but in the twenty fourth minute he managed to escape the corner backs clutches to fire a dangerous ball goal bound only for goalkeeper Wesley McDonagh to advance off his goal line and gather safely.
Seneschalstown were working with a ferocious appetite and when their defence managed to prevent a scoring opportunity with some brilliant tackling as they hunted in packs the ball was worked out to wing back James Byrne who drove forward, piercing a hole in the heart of the Donaghmore/Ashbourne defence before off-loading to the supporting Niall Lyons who made no mistake to grab his point. The side from the banks of the Boyne soon saw another goal opportunity go a begging. Very good play from corner back John Smith, Adam Carey and Brian Sheridan saw Bryan Clarke find himself with a goal scoring chance but he saw his effort for a major blocked out. A potential three pointer still became a one pointer when Joe Sheridan reacted quickest to scoop up the loose ball and split the uprights.
Donaghmore/Ashbourne did manage to reduce the deficit to a point when stroking over a free in first half stoppage time but David Hosie's side will still have been relatively content to be in the ascendancy at the interval and confident of kicking on in the second half. Midfielder Robert Ruddy was introduced to the action upon the resumption in an attempt to reinforce their dominance in the aerial exchanges and offer his side a third option for their kickouts alongside Damien Sheridan and Tean Cummins.
Donaghmore/Ashbourne had opened the first half scoring after just fifty four seconds and it took Seneschalstown all of fifty five in the second half before they registered their first score when Bryan Clarke sent a forty metre free over the bar into the stiffening breeze after Joe Sheridan received a push in the back. Andrew Tormey then sent over a delightful point when splitting the posts with a left footed shot from as near to the end line as made no difference. The Meath star then sent over a brilliant point from out on the left to leave the game in the balance once more and with those in attendance needing the assistance of a Roman soothsayer in order to confidently predict what way it would pan out.
Bryan Clarke who was having a superb game then fired over a magnificent effort after escaping the clutches of his marker and minutes later curled over a forty five metre free after being fouled to cancel out a pointed Donaghmore/Ashbourne forty five. Then with thirty nine minutes on the clock there was drama aplenty as referee Cormac Reilly, having had his attention drawn to a Seneschalstown player being clipped off the ball by the linesman, showed no hesitation in showing Darragh McGovern was shown a red card.
The side in green got back onto level terms with a pointed free five minutes later and then edged one ahead when substitute Aidan Hughes, who was only on the field, pointed. Brian Sheridan ensured the game remained on a knife edge when he sent the most magnificent of points over the bar when bisecting the posts with a shot off the outside of his right boot from out on the right following good defensive work from Cormac Noonan who commandingly won a ball before laying off to Robert Ruddy who then found Bryan Clarke before the corner forward placed his captain for the score.
By now it was looking more and more likely that the game would be won either by a moment of brilliance or by the concession of a sloppy score and much to the chagrin of the Seneschalstown following they were very soon to concede the sloppiest of goals. When a long ball rained in on the square none of those who jumped to field it managed to get a touch on it and when Wesley McDonagh turned around all he could see was the O'Neills ball nestling in the back of his net. His side almost struck back immediately for after they had carved the Donaghmore/Ashbourne defence wide open Bryan Clarke saw his daisy cutter of a the goal effort stopped by the goalkeeper.
A pointed thirteen metre free pushed Paul Clarke's men four to the good but when Bryan Clarke sent another free sailing over the blackspot the margin was back to three again. Brian Sheridan had been fouled for the free after being picked out with a delightful reverse crossfield pass from Adam Carey. Now with three between the sides Seneschalstown went off in search of the score which would draw them level but try as they might, most notably when Robert Ruddy saw his effort saved after getting on the end of a Joe Sheridan knockdown they just couldn't get that elusive three pointer.
And so when Cormac Reilly sounded his final whistle after fifty six seconds of injury time they were left shattered and disappointed as they somehow managed to lose a game in which they outplayed the victors for large parts. However, it's a long road that has no turning and when the Championship resumes in August they will be confident of finishing the group stages with two victories.
Seneschalstown Scorers: Bryan Clarke 0-06 (0-05 Frees), Joe Sheridan 0-03, Niall Lyons 0-01, Brian Sheridan 0-01.
Seneschalstown: Wesley McDonagh, Conor Cowley, Cormac Noonan, John Smith, Mark Fox, Paul Carey, James Byrne, Tean Cummins, Damien Sheridan, Niall Lyons, Brian Sheridan, Peter Waters, Bryan Clarke, Joe Sheridan, Mark Carey.
Seneschalstown Substitutions: Adam Carey for P. Waters (inj.), Robert Ruddy for N. Lyons.