Annacurra will be playing in the intermediate football championship next year after they were condemned to relegation following a 14 points to 10 defeat on Friday night against an Avondale side inspired by Oisin and Conor McGraynor.
The two sides went to war in a controversial and heated affair in Ballinakill in cold but dry conditions, with both knowing that defeat would mean the drop to the IFC.
Annacurra made a bright start to the game, going two points to no score in front after 10 minutes. However, Avondale turned the game on its head thanks to points from Oisin and Conor McGraynor, and Conor Byrne. A further point from Eugene Dunne sent them into half-time with a 0-04 to 0-03 lead.
Referee Eddie Leonard and his linesmen were under the spotlight in a second half bogged down by rising tensions between both sets of players due to questionable and overly lenient officiating. The controversy did not stop Oisin McGraynor from continuing his man-of-the-match performance by chipping in with a further two points in the second period as Avondale extended their lead in a half which they dominated for the most part.
However, Annacurra — who got their first score of the second half with seven minutes left on the clock — came back to level the game in the final few minutes, with Mick O’Brien notching the leveller after two minutes of additional time. Matters were made worse for Avondale when Seán McGraynor was sent off following a physical confrontation between himself and Annacurra’s Gearóid Murphy.
Sensing blood in the water, Annacurra took the lead for the first time since the 10th minute of the game when Clive Horan and Frank Clune both split the posts to give Annacurra an early extra-time lead. However, they were unable to keep the magnificent Oisin McGraynor quiet as his two frees handed the initiative back to Avondale going into the second period of extra-time.
Annacurra would score just one more through Frank Clune as Avondale dominated the second period. Oisin McGraynor got his sixth point of the game, while Conor McGraynor capitalised on a lightning quick break instigated by Saoirse Kearon to further cement the lead. Conor Byrne got the final score of the game as Avondale secured their senior championship status for 2019.
Considering the stakes that came with the game, it was no surprise that Friday night’s game started as cagey as it did. Despite how the game turned as it went on, Annacurra were the first to break the tension with the opening score of the contest through a Frank Clune free.
Avondale spent those early minutes wasting what opportunities they got, registering three wides before Annacurra doubled their advantage with 10 minutes on the clock. In fact, the most significant action concerning one of the Avondale players during those early minutes was when Oisin McGraynor — who would go on to dominate proceedings — received the first yellow card of the game.
That booking seemed to inspire a bit of a stir in Avondale, as they were level within three minutes as Oisin McGraynor and brother Conor both split the posts to peg Annacurra back. Conor Byrne and Gearóid Murphy traded frees before Annacurre goalkeeper Robert Fitzgerald brilliantly denied Oisin McGraynor a certain goal.
However, Avondale did manage to grab the lead before half-time as, after Conor McGraynor had a point controversially ruled wide to the dismay of Conor and his teammates, Eugene Dunne ventured forward out of the half-back line to put the ball over the bar.
If the first half was a mild, cagey affair between two sides tense with the ramifications of a defeat, the second 30 minutes was closer to an explosive slugfest as the intensity and physicality between the two sets of players went up a notch.
Oisin McGraynor continued to ascertain a grip on proceedings with a point to double Avondale’s lead, before he pointed a free to extend the lead to 0-06 to 0-03. As Avondale continued to dominate the half and Annacurra grew in desperation, the tackles and aggression got harder, as was seen by a pair of bookings received by players of Annacurra and Avondale. These were two of a total of three bookings handed out by the referee on the night.
However, such was the standard of tackle that was being made, there possible could and should have been a lot more than that, including one instance which saw an off-balance Conor Byrne bowled over by an Annacurra man which did not even draw a foul.
The perceived softness of the officiating drew the focus of Avondale away from the topic at hand, which in turn opened the door for a stunning late comeback from the Annacurra men which looked so unlikely for the first 20 minutes of the second half.
Gearóid Murphy got Annacurra’s first score of the half with seven minutes left. Conor McGraynor managed to restore his side’s three point lead on 55 minutes. However, that didn’t discourage Annacurra. Mick O’Brien capped off a brave fightback which saw Annacurra notch three points in the 58th, 60th and 62nd minutes respectively.
Not only were Avondale guilty of throwing away a lead which seemed so secure with 10 minutes to go, but they were then reduced to 14 men just a minute after the equalising score. As Annacurra advanced up their left-hand side, Avondale’s Seán McGraynor appeared to get involved in a coming together with Annacurra’s Gearóid Murphy. As a result of this coming together, McGraynor was issued a straight red card from the referee, capping off a nightmare final five minutes.
While the final whistle put an end to Annacurra’s scoring spree, there was a sense that Avondale were up against the ropes. Clive Horan took advantage of this with a point to give Annacurra the lead early in extra-time, followed by a free which doubled that advantage.
To their credit, Avondale overcame that vulnerability to rebound through three scores, two of which came from the boot of the exceptional Oisin McGraynor, to hand them a one point lead at half-time in extra-time.
Those late regulation-time and early extra-time surges from Annacurra seemed to have contrasting effects on both temas in that Avondale went about securing their lead in the second period with a more methodical, careful approach to the second half of extra-time, while Annacurra came across as tired and lethargic as they were unable to conjure up the kind of energy that allowed them to make the comeback that they did at the end of normal time.
With Annacura attempting one last push on the Avondale rearguard, the latter’s full-forward line picked them off. First was Oisin McGraynor with his sixth and final score of a tremendous performance, before Conor McGraynor notched the score of the game in a manner which summed up the fortunes of the two sides. After Shane Beavor made a heroic block to prevent Annacurra a goalscoring opportunity, Saoirse Kearon gathered the ball a broke into a run through the middle of the park.
He helped the ball onto Conor McGraynor who used his low centre of gravity, pace and agility to weave his way into a position to put the ball over the bar to send the Avondale bench into raptures.
While Annacurra managed to reduce the lead to within a goal, Avondale registered one more score to put the result beyond all doubt. The final whistle blew minutes later and Avondale’s championship future was secured for another year while Annacurra can reflect on their mistakes and build for the next season.
WicklowNews Man of the Match: Oisin McGraynor.