By Gearoid LoughnanePhotos courtesy of Sean Ryan Photography
On a weekend of great upsets in the Galway Senior Hurling championship, Castlegar very nearly added last year’s county finalists Loughrea to the list of favourites who fell this weekend, in Athenry on Sunday evening. Castlegar, managed by former Galway and Offaly manager John McIntyre, came back from a slow start to lead by four points with ten minutes to go but from then until the end they failed to score again with Loughrea showing great heart to claw back their opponents and draw level in injury time. Indeed Loughrea could have snuck it in the end when they were awarded a long range free but Johnny Maher’s attempt just drifted wide. In truth it would have been an injustice had Castlegar not got something out of the game.
Loughrea started strongly and played some wonderful hurling in the opening quarter with Johnny Coen and Neil Keary-twice, shooting points in the opening minutes with Ger Farragher replying from play for Castlegar. Jamie Ryan then broke on to a long Brian Mahony delivery to goal and put his side 1:03 to 0:01 ahead after ten minutes. Ger Farragher narrowed the gap with a brace of frees either side of a long range point from Brian Mahony, who excelled at wing back. A great catch from a puck out by Johnny Maher set up another opportunity for Neil Keary to point and he took the chance with aplomb to put his side 1:05 to 0:03 to the good after 18 minutes. Farragher and Maher then traded points from the placed ball before Farragher sent over a masterful sideline cut. Johnny Coen then pointed for his side after lovely stick-work from Paul Hoban and Johnny O’Loughlin to put his side 1:07 to 0:05 up. This was as good as it got for Loughrea as Castlegar slowly began to come back into the reckoning. Farragher and the lively Dean Higgins then pointed from play before a Farragher free cut the gap to just two points. Maher then pointed his second free of the half in the 29th minute before Castlegar shot 1:02 without response before the break. First Higgins broke through the Loughrea defence to score a fine goal and in doing so become the first man to score a goal against Loughrea in championship 2013 who up until then were the last team in the championship to have kept a clean sheet in all their games. Castlegar, buoyed up by Higgins’ major, followed up with well taken points from Enda Concannon and Sean Connolly to take a two point lead into the half time break on a score-line of 1:10 to 1:08.
Johnny Maher opened the second half scoring in the second minute with a well struck free with Farragher then responded in kind for his side after Concannon was fouled. Maher then drew a good save from Castlegar ‘keeper’ Johnny Murphy before Neil Keary who was outstanding throughout, pointed a fine sideline from the stand side in the sixth minute of the half. Maher then drew the sides level with another free in the eight minute and as it became apparent that this game was going down to the wire the scores seemed to dry up. After a tight couple of minutes Castlegar struck gold when Concannon fired to Nigel Murrays net and put his side three to the good. Keary then responded for Loughrea with his fifth point of the day. Kevin Brady, who had a great battle with Eoin Mahony throughout, then pointed, leaving three between the sides again. The openness of the first half was definitely gone now and it was becoming a real championship dogfight. Enda Concannon looked to have put his side in a commanding four point lead with ten minutes to go but as already noted this proved to be Castlegar’s last score. Loughrea were in trouble now but never gave up and eventually got themselves back into the game. That man Keary struck a great goal after a frenzied build up involving substitute Joseph Mooney who’s goal bound shot was diverted into Keary’s path off a Castlegar body. With just a point in it again it was Loughrea who finished stronger with Keary again the catalyst. After great work from Hoban, Keary picked up the ball from a tight angle and headed for the posts. He was hauled down on the ‘21’ however, presenting Maher with an opportunity to level the game which he did with consummate ease. Loughrea then won a free inside their own half and Maher came out to take responsibility. However his effort dragged wide and both teams had to settle for a share of the spoils. This leaves both sides in a good position to qualify although neither are guaranteed to progress. Next up for Castlegar is a Kinvara side, who are on two points, while Loughrea must face off against Craughwell, for the second time this year, to ensure their passage to the quarter finals.
Best for Loughrea on the day were Eoin Mahony, Tom Regan, Brian Mahony, Johnny Coen and Neil Keary. Castlegar were best served by Murphy in goals, scorer in chief Farragher, Higgins, Concannon and the highly influential David O’Gorman.
Loughrea scorers: Neil Keary 1:05(1 s/l), Johnny Maher 0:05 (5 frees),Jamie Ryan 1:00, Johnny Coen, 0:02, Brian Mahony 0:01.
Castlegar scorers: Ger Farragher 0:08 (5 frees,1 s/l), Enda Concannon 1:02, Dean Higgins 1:01,Sean Connolly 0:01, Kevin Brady 0:01
Loughrea: Nigel Murray, Tom Regan, Damien McClearn, Eoin Mahony, Alan Cormican(Stephen Creaven), Sean Sweeney, Brian Mahony, Emmet Mahony(Joseph Mooney), Gavin Keary, Paul Hoban, Johnny Coen, Neil Keary, Johnny O’Loughlin, Johnny Maher, Jamie Ryan.
Castlegar: Johnny Murphy, Brian Hartnett, Pa Connell, Padraig O’Flynn, Tomas Mannion, Kevin Keane, Donal McGreal, Ger Farragher, Sean King, Dean Higgins, Enda Concannon, David O’Gorman, Sean Connolly, Ronan O’Flynn, Kevin Brady.
Referee: Christopher Brown