A tight and tempestuous Galway Senior Hurling Championship semi-final concluded in dramatic circumstances as teenager Neil Keary nudged over a last-gasp free to guide Loughrea into another decider with Portumna.
Two minutes into additional time referee Christy Helebert awarded Loughrea a free when Alan Gaynor was deemed to have thrown the sliotar, and Keary was ice cool under pressure.
This was a contest which sparked to life early on as Loughrea’s Nigel Shaughnessy and Mullagh’s Cathal Hardiman were both red carded after 10 minutes.
There was an edge to proceedings as the hurling was fierce and physical. Level a staggering 12 times over the hour, Loughrea were efficient in the opening period as Keary flashed his promise with a half dozen points.
Mullagh, though, were providing glimpses of the stylish hurling that had brought them to the penultimate stage of the championship as Cathal Dervan, Niall Cahalan, Alan Whyte, and Donal delivered important contributions.
Despite Mullagh’s clever touches Loughrea were able to prise the Mullagh defence open on a couple occasions as goalkeeper Eric Ward repelled efforts from Johnny O’Loughlin and Johnny Maher.
Mullagh actually led by two points seven minutes before the break, but Loughrea concluded the half with a real flourish, reeling off four points without reply to depart with a 0-9 to 0-7 interval cushion.
Unsurprisingly it was similarly hard fought after the restart as the game continued in an interesting manner. The third quarter again highlighted Mullagh’s craft as Cahalan, Kevin Briscoe, and Conor Dervan guided them ahead. But Loughrea, having proven adept at surviving in these kind of battles, went back in front with points from Keary and Maher.
In the 45th minute Mullagh were presented with a regal opportunity to reclaim the initiative when Helebert ruled against Loughrea full back Damien McClearn. Cathal Dervan unleashed a powerful shot, but Loughrea custodian Stephen Morgan made a brave save.
Despite that miss Mullagh still managed to claw level in a furious climax courtesy of points from Alan Whyte and Cahalan, and a draw seemed a distinct possibility. Eventually Loughrea summoned one last attack, but Gaynor made a smashing fetch in the air over Maher. He scampered into enough space to off load a hand pass, but Helebert blasted the whistle claiming Gaynor had thrown the thrown the sliotar.
Keary dealt with the heavy burden of Loughrea expectation, impressively splitting the uprights with a precise free.
Loughrea now motor on to a fourth Galway showpiece with Portumna in seven years, and the November 8 tussle is not expected to be short on incident either.
Loughrea: S Morgan; Eoin Mahony, D McClearn, D Melia; J Dooley, N Shaughnessy (0-1 ), T Regan; G Keary, B Mahony; B Dooley, V Maher, J Coen (0-1 ); J Maher (0-2 ), J O’Loughlin, N Keary (0-11, 9fs, 165 ). Subs: Emmett Mahony (0-1 ) for B Dooley (24 mins ), P Hoban for Eoin Mahony (52 mins ), R Regan for Emmett Mahony (54 mins ), S Cusack for J Dooley (59 mins ).
Mullagh: E Ward; D Clarke, A Gaynor, N Mannion; C Hardiman, Conor Dervan (0-2 ), J Rafferty; N Cahalan (0-5, 2fs ), K Briscoe (0-1 ); F Hardiman, Cathal Dervan (0-2 ), D Glennon; A Whyte (0-3 ), F Coone, D Reilly (0-2 ).
Referee: C Helebert.