Avondale will meet reigning champions St. Pat’s in the semi-final of the Wicklow Senior Football Championship, after an extra-time goal from the undeniable Conor Byrne sealed a major scalp over 34-time holders Rathnew.
Neither side could be separated in regulation time of a pulsating quarter-final, with the Dales coming back from three points down going into the final ten minutes.
Scores were at a premium in extra-time, but it was Avondale who had that little bit left in the tank to claim victory when Conor Byrne fisted a square ball from the talismanic Oisin McGraynor into the back of the net. Rathnew would attempt to rebound, with Gary Byrne twice being denied by Brian Burke in the Dales goal.
The stage was set for a titanic battle between two championship hopefuls. Earlier in the day, Blessington impressively defeated Tinahely to join Arklow Geraldines-Ballymoney and St. Pat’s in the semi-finals.
It was up to Division 1A league champions Avondale, and Rathnew to complete the four-team lineup. Graham Merrigan broke the deadlock for Rathnew inside 23 seconds, before Conor Byrne and Ross Davis gave Avondale the lead with just three-and-a-half minutes on the clock.
Shortly after, the Dales were presented with their first of several goal chances, only for Cian O’Hannain’s fisted strike to be saved by Peter Dignam. Despite this minor setback, Avondale kept the pressure on the Rathnew rearguard. Eoin Baker combined with Dean Gahan to retake the lead after Eddie Doyle had equalised with a free.
Leighton Glynn, who terrorised Eugene Dunne throughout the first 30 minutes, drew the sides level, before turning Dunne once again and squaring to Nicky Mernagh, who made no mistake in scoring the first goal of the day. Suddenly, in a game that featured two teams that seemed inseparably linked, Rathnew had a 1-04 to 0-03 lead.
As would be the case all afternoon, however, Avondale would not go away. Conor Byrne got his second point of the day, before further scores from Eoin Baker and two from Byrne levelled matters with 10 minutes of the half remaining.
After surging past two Rathnew men, the otherwise excellent Oisin McGraynor could only put the ball wide when he seemed certain to score, as questions began to rise as to whether Avondale might be regret their missed goal chances.. Harry Murphy’s men retook the lead going into the break through Nicky Mernagh, only for a monstrous score from Conor McGraynor, beyond the 45-metre line, levelled affairs as the half-time whistle rang out.
The two sides trading scores at the end of the first-half acted as foreshadowing for how the rest of the game would go, as neither side could detach themselves from the other before Conor Byrne’s match-winning strike in extra-time.
Eddie Doyle gave Rathnew the lead back from a free, only for Ross Ward to level from his own set-piece after Byrne had been fouled following typically fluid passing between Conor McGraynor and Dean Gahan. David Baker gave Avondale the lead for the first time in 28 minutes, before Rathnew enjoyed their strongest period in the game.
Mernagh charged past three men to equalise, before Danny Staunton took advantage of James Stafford doing well to keep the ball in play to give Murphy’s men the lead once again. Rathnew had started to gain a foothold in the game, and were beginning to play at their own, methodical pace. Stafford did well to split the posts twice in quick succession, with 12 minutes left to play, to give Rathnew a 1-10 to 0-10 advantage.
Unfortunately for the Village, they once again fell victim to the heart and determination of Avondale. Within three minutes of the final 10, Avondale were level through a pair of Ross Ward frees, and another from Oisin McGraynor. Two more traded scores later, and the teams were headed to extra-time.
Both sides exhibited terrific endeavour and heart throughout the regulation period, to the point that everything done in extra-time was hampered by the weight of pure fatigue. Ultimately, Avondale would have that little bit more left in the tank when compared to Rathnew, as Conor Byrne somehow found the energy to win the day.
Byrne gave Avondale the first score of extra-time inside 20 seconds, when he collected a Conor McGraynor pass, turned, and pointed off his left peg, only for Nicky Mernagh to cancel it out.
Both sides traded wides as tired legs made for fatigue shots at goal, before, with five minutes left to play. Dean Gahan made yet another surging run up the right side. Gahan then moved the ball onto Oisin McGraynor, who lifted the ball towards goal, where Conor Byrne pounced to put the ball into the back of the net.
Cue euphoria on the Avondale bench, and panic on the Rathnew one as the Villagement frantically tried to fight their way back into the game that they were now losing 1-15 to 1-12.
Gary Byrne had a strike saved by Brian Burke in the Avondale goal, before having another strike spectacularly saved by the ‘keeper, as Rathnew weren’t able to break Avondale down enough to save proceedings, leaving the Dales with thrilling passage to the senior semi-finals.
WicklowNews Player of the Match: Conor Byrne (Avondale).
Avondale scorers: C. Byrne (1-05), R. Ward (0-04; 0-03f), E. Baker (0-02), C. McGraynor (0-01), D. Baker (0-01), D. Gahan (0-01), O. McGraynor (0-01f).
Rathnew scorers: N. Mernagh (1-03), E. Doyle (0-03f), J. Stafford (0-02), T. Smyth (0-02 45′), D. Staunton (0-01), G. Merrigan (0-01), L. Glynn (0-01), P. Ellis (0-01).