SFC St Colmcilles 1-16 Rathkenny 0-12
The second game in Group C of the SFC threw in at 6.30 in Stamullen following a late change of venue when two of the outsiders for this years championship, Colmcilles and Rathkenny, went head to head, with the Cilles coming out as winners. It was a valuable two points as they will go a long way to ensure survival in senior championship. Last year Cilles solitary draw and Rathkennys sole win were enough to guarantee participation in the 2018 SFC.
The game had a lot hanging on it and it was a clash of an experienced Rathkenny team versus a youthful Cilles team; indeed only 3 of the starting team were even born when Cilles last won a SFC championship game all of 25 years ago –a win in Simmonstown over Kells. The club has changed somewhat in the interim. The game itself was not exactly a spectacle but this more more due to the fact that there was plenty of rain just before and during the game which lead to multiple handling errors and sticky enough underfoot conditions which lead to players losing their footing on occasions especially when turning. An interesting feature of the game was the prospective clash of the previous two Meath captains Donal Keoghan and Grahan Reilly. As it happens the direct pairing did not materialise as the played in different sectors of the pitch.
Rathkenny settled into the game quicker despite electing to play into the not insignificant wind. Keith Curtis landed two frees in the opening two minutes of the game where he drew frees in identical positions, Keith was the standout attacker on the day from either team and had a great hand in most of the Rathkenny scores. However Cilles settled down and got the next 4 scores including 3 from play and all from different scorers in the 5 th 8 th 13 th and 17 th minutes. Another free from Curtis and a fisted point from Keoghan after a solo run showing a clean pair of heels drew the sides level.
A feature of the game was the Rathkenny game plan was to launch high ball into the Rathkenny full forward line seeking out the effervescent James Macken playing in an unusual full forward position. It can’t be said that the tactic worked but it did mean the play was broadly in the Cilles half and Rathkenny will rue many missed chances –at one point they kicked 5 wides in a row. One wonders how much difference the injured Caolach Halligan would have made had he been available for selection – his high level of accuracy was sorely missed and the game could have been very different had he togged out. Rathkenny did have a goal disallowed following a blatant push and they had a significant goal chance when Macken had a shot from the ground narrowly wide. In the last 10 minutes of the first half both of the Cilles county players, Brennan and Reilly, scored from play Ben from a searing run and close in finish whilst Biggy scored a trademark long range effort on the run. The pendulum turned though and now it was Rathkennys turn to score three in a row two from Curtis and one from Timmons . A second Kelly free from range had the game all square at the short whistle.
Cilles made a substitution at half time with Ian Mullen coming in at centre back. Once again Rathkenny started the half brighter with another Curtis free, A point from Conlon on the spin followed by an outrageous 55m free from Brennan against the wind had Cilles a point up only for Keoghan to score another solo effort from wide right. However the game was effectively won in the 40 to 50 minute mark when Cilles scored 1 -5 without reply.The decisive goal came when Brennan typically won dirty ball on the Rathkenny 45, broke forward and passed to Cathal Hilliard who palmed to the net. The other 5 points all from play made the game safe from a Cilles point of view.
The last 10 minutes Rathkenny outscored St Colmcilles by 3 to 2 with Cilles having pulled back plenty of players and content to hold onto their lead. With great congestion around the Cilles square there was a few fractious encounters as Rathkenny sought out a goal. Yellows were brandished regularly and a red for two yellows was also shown but after all this was real Meath championship football.
Referree Jack Gordon conducted the game with typical calm assurance. Great credit must go to St Pats for hosting this second game ( earlier they hosted the game when Donaghmore Ashbourne ousted Senchelstown by a point.) at short notice. It was typical of the Pats contribution to Meath football that the first occasion this year in which their main pitch was used was to facilitate the counties SFC championship. In a nice touch the afternoons proceedings got off with a great rendition of Amhran na bhFiann prior to the first game.
In another nice touch the county board produced for the occasion a glossy SFC programme relevant to all games. Team photos and club profiles were given along with a schedule of fixtures.
Next up for Rathkenny is a game versus their hosts today St Pats who showed great character in coming from a 9 point deficit to draw with Ratoath on Friday night. If Hannigan gets fit and Brian Meade lords midfield as he did in Saturdays game Rathkenny are well capable of getting a result there.
Cilles play last years beaten semi finalists Wolfe Tones in their next game. Interestingly, when Cilles were promoted to Div 1 league in 2016, their first game on this landmark occasion was against the Tones. The Tones started very well and one of their celebrated forwards scored what was an incredible point -almost from the sideline 45 m out ,when after a dummy solo and a feint he put a long curling effort over the bar. He remarked to his marker “that’s how the professionals do it”. Eventually though Cilles reeled the Tones in and won out by a point in the end. As both teams walked off the pitch the laconic Cilles defender remarked to his marker glad to see ye can lose as professionals also. Bring it on.