Cortoon Shamrocks 0-8
Salthill-Knocknacarra exited the Claregalway Hotel Galway SFC on Saturday evening in Tuam Stadium following a one-point defeat to a resilient Cortoon Shamrocks side. In the end perhaps, the north Galway side possessed more clinical finishers, however in truth, a replay would not have been undeserved as Salthill-Knocknacarra had ample possession and created the greater number of scoring opportunities over the hour. While this game never developed into a free-flowing contest, it was a gripping championship encounter nonetheless, as both teams displayed ferocious intensity and huge commitment with the prize of a semi-final berth at stake.
Tactically both sides opted for a two-man full-forward line at the outset and withdrew players into the midfield sector. The end result was a congested middle third in what turned into a scrappy but extremely competitive encounter. Similiar to their defeat over county champions Killererin last time out, Cortoon began brightly.
Barry Downey's side had three unanswered points on the board by the eighth minute through David Warde and a brace of frees from Derek Savage, who was to prove the game's dominant personality. Salthill-Knocknacarra almost received the boost of an early goal when Marty O'Connell, after a trademark attacking foray, saw his punched effort for a point rebound off the crossbar into his arms. However, the danger was quickly averted by covering Cortoon defenders, who forced the wing-back into over-carrying.
Salthill-Knocknacarra started with their impressive All-Ireland club final winning defence from 2006 and began to close off the supply to Cortoon's strike forwards. PJ Kelly's side grew into the game. Seamie Crowe struck a superb right-footed score before Maurice Sheridan reduced the deficit further. Displaying high levels of intensity in their play throughout, both sides were fiercely committed in applying pressure on opposition ball-carriers. Cortoon were rewarded with a further Savage free after Sheridan was penalised in possession. Fergal Heverin, who excelled at midfield, then claimed a kick-out and the resulting move was finished by Michael Martin as the north Galway side established a 0-5 to 0-2 lead after 25 minutes.
Salthill-Knocknacarra finished the half strongly, however. Fouls on the extremely lively Seamie Rabbitte and Breen Geraghty, after an incisive surge into the heart of the Cortoon defence, resulted in two further Sheridan pointed frees. Given that Cortoon had played with wind assistance, the seasiders appeared in a more favourable position at the break, despite being a point in arrears.
Salthill-Knocknacarra dominated the possession battle in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. John Boylan, earlier introduced for the injured Barry Dooney, made an immediate impact by striking a superb equalising score from 35 metres. Along with David Gilmartin, Boylan was a key figure in their period of midfield dominance while Maurice Sheridan's distribution was central to their best attacking moves. Crucially however, Salthill-Knocknacarra failed to turn possession into points, registering five wides during this spell. Such inaccuracy was soon punished.
Donal O'Neill and David Finnegan, who were a constant source of defiance in Cortoon's defence, then made vital interventions that stoked their crowd into more involvement. Emphasising their greater economy in attack, Savage and Warde both slotted difficult frees in the space of a minute to push Cortoon ahead.
Having failed to capitalise on wind advantage in the second half, Salthill-Knocknacarra were now two points adrift. In a match where creativity was largely smothered and each scoring opportunity was hard-earned, it represented a valuable lead entering the final quarter.
Another Boylan strike reduced the margin to a solitary point before the impressive Warde, following a one-two with the ever-influential Savage, blazed over when a goal looked on. A scoreless 10 minutes ensued though the intensity levels never dipped. The Salthill management attempted to enliven their forward division by sending Finian Hanley forward into the attack. Cortoon were putting huge energy into their defending at this point while Savage was calling on all his experience as they sought to preserve their lead.
Declan Burke reduced the margin to a single point before Salthill desperately went in search of an equalising score during three frantic injury-time minutes. Impressively, Cortoon held their nerve and displayed admirable discipline and resilience in defence to record a prized victory.
While their attacking display was not up to the quality that dethroned Killererin so emphatically in the last round, Cortoon's battling qualities were to the fore. PJ Kelly's side will reflect on spurned scoring opportunities and also injuries to key forwards in both this match and the season overall.
How they missed the attacking threat of Seán Armstrong and Conor Healy. Salthill-Knocknacarra will come again - they possess too many quality players not to - but for now the moment belongs to Cortoon who advance to a semi-final meeting with NUIG, the side that ended their championship aspirations last season.
Cortoon Shamrocks: A Ansbro; D O'Neill, D Finnegan, B Roache; D Gilmore, B Gilmore, J Martin; F Heverin, P Gilmore; A Tierney, M Costello, M Martin (0-1 ); D Savage (0-4f ), D Warde (0-3, 0-1f ), S Gilmore. Subs: N Connolly (for Roache, 23 mins ); B Walshe (for Tierney, 43 mins ); G Gilmore (for P Gilmore, 47 mins ).
Salthill-Knocknacarra: C McGinley; R McTiernan, F Hanley, C Begley; M O'Connell, G Morley, B Geraghty; D Gilmartin, M Sheridan (0-3f ); A Callinan, D Burke (0-1 ), D Healy; S Crowe (0-1 ), B Dooney, S Rabbitte. Subs: J Boylan (0-2, for Dooney inj. 27 mins ); G O'Leidhinn (for Crowe, HT ); G Begley (for Morley, HT ); T Burke (for Rabitte, 57 mins )
Referee: G Kinneavy.