This was a classic smash-and-grab effort on the part of the Éire Óg men after Avondale had pushed level and then ahead thanks to points from Dean Gahan and Ross Ward with time almost up.
But then the hard-working Stephen ‘Chester’ Kelly dropped a bomb from deep into the dressing room end. Anto Byrne gathered and flicked it on to Browne who had the instinct and ability to play the ball in the air and finish past Tom Finn for what would be the match winner.
Before that sweet final whistle from Max Molloy, however, there would be a moment of serious danger at the other end as Avondale manager Ray Nolan, who entered the fray in the first half and contributed handsomely to the ’Dales’ cause, fired in a wicked shot for goal only to see it saved by the alert Dan O’Neill.
Seconds later the three shrill blasts would sound and a wave of relief washed over the Éire Óg outfit while it would be heartbreak for Avondale who came so close to snatching a win.
However, Ray Nolan’s side will be left wondering if this was a game where a single controversial moment proved to be their undoing long before Leon Browne swung sweetly in the dying moments, but with no match video, the debate over whether a Torna Mulconry rocket in the 51st minute actually crossed the line of Dan O’Neill’s goal can never truly be settled.
The move began when Eoin Baker robbed Éire Óg of possession out the field. He fed Shane Byrne who was fouled. The very impressive Zach Cullen found Mulconry with the free and the tasty hurler weaved his magic through the Greystones defence before unleashing a sizzler towards O’Neill’s goal. The ball smashed off the crossbar, came down and headed out towards the corner flag. Max Molloy had been playing advantage and called the play back for the free. However, Ray Nolan who had followed the play in, and his colleagues close by, began immediately pointing at the side netting, saying that the ball had gone behind the line and through the side netting behind the post.
After consultation with the umpire, referee Max Molloy ruled that the ball hadn’t crossed the line and the free to Mulconry stood. This was a huge moment in the game. A goal here would have made it 1-12 to 1-12 with nine of normal to go and the momentum swinging significantly in favour of Avondale.
This was a vastly improved performance from both sides following on from their opening day defeats to Bray Emmets and Carnew Emmets with Anto Byrne’s return giving Éire Óg a more potent threat up front while Avondale had a healthy spread of scorers and played some impressive hurling in parts.
Their tally of 15 wides would prove costly by the end as would their lack of a major, with Mick Walsh and Leon Browne grabbing the vitalthree-pointers for Greystones at key moments.
A low-scoring opening quarter allowed the small but vocal crowd to get settled in for a fierce battle in the County Grounds. They first had to try deciphering the complete mess that was the match programme but once that headache had been sorted it was all about the action. It does seem so strange that clubs can’t supply two accurate team and sub lists ahead of a Senior hurling championship game, indeed any game when all is said and done. Such errors scream a lack of organisation.
It was 0-3 to 0-3 after 17 minutes. The lively James Cranley opened the scoring for Éire Óg after three with Shane Nolan bringing an early save out of the superb Tom Finn and Cranley going wide from play prior to the sweet score.
Avondale had a wide from Eamonn Kearns, wearing 9 but listed as 8, and another from Zach Cullen (free) before Jack Manley replied with a peach for the ’Dales to level matters.
Cullen fired Avondale in front shortly afterwards with a missile from inside his own 65 but a storming run from Stephen Kelly released Nathan Unwin who fired over to level after 10.
A clever ball from Torna Mulconry to Zach Cullen ended with the midfielder pushed Avondale back in front but four wides would follow for the Rathdrum men before James Cranley leveled from half-way after 17.
Class pilfering from Ross Ward on James Cranley afforded the Avondale attacker to split the posts but Shane Nolan supplied Cranley with a pass that resulted in a fine score to make it 0-4 to 0-4 after 21. Low scoring but entertaining and honest fare.
Into the fray
Avondale manager Ray Nolan sensed a change was needed and he deployed himself into the middle of the field with Wesley O’Toole making way. Eamonn Kearns pushed on to centre-forward.
Seconds later the ’Dales were almost in for a goal when Dan Owens put Mulconry through, but his shot was saved by Dan O’Neill while a free won by Eugene Dunne moments later would be wayward of the posts in what was an expensive spell for Avondale.
Greystones had their wasteful spells as well, hitting nine wides overall, two of them at this point, but a foul by Billy Cuddihy on Dan Owens gave Zach Cullen a decent chance and he took it to make it 0-5 to 0-4.
Éire Óg looked impressive at times and their next score was a perfect example of that. O’Neill’s restart was gathered by Anto Byrne, he fed Cranley and the white flag was waving after 27 minutes.
However, Avondale finished the half the stronger with points from Mulconry, Eamonn Kearns and Dan Owens to leave it 0-8 to 0-5 at the break.
Anto Byrne started the second half perfectly for Éire Óg, driving over a dreamy score from the sideline on the stand side but Jack Manley replied with a lovely score of his own as Avondale settled in to playing against the fairly strong breeze blowing down the field.
Two more Avondale wides would follow before more expressive hurling from Éire Óg ended with a Cranley point and the same man would bag a free to pull Éire Óg to within one at 0-9 to 0-8, five gone in the second half.
They were level 60 seconds later. Cranley, after a long ball had found Anto Byrne who fed Shane Nolan who slipped it to Cranley, 0-9 to 0-9.
Tom Finn gathered smartly from a Cranley free seconds later before a bomb from Eugene Dunne gave Avondale back the slender lead.
The same man coughed up a free in the next move when Max Molloy deemed him to have held Mick Walsh’s hurl. Cranley obliged with the score while Dunne’s protests in relation to his innocence were vocal and lengthy.
A beautiful passage of play gave Avondale their next free, with Ray Nolan central to the fluid passing movement up the field. Zach Cullen made it 0-11 to 0-10 after 12.
Eamonn Kearns had his shot for goal blocked by Billy Cuddihy, but Zach Cullen swung over a free after a foul on himself and things were looking very positive for the ’Dales.
Things would have changed drastically 120 seconds later with a point from Andy Walsh and a wicked goal from the brother, Mick, who rifled home to the bottom corner of Finn’s net with 17 gone to push Éire Óg 1-11 to 0-12 ahead.
Avondale reacted superbly on the field but couldn’t register it on the scoreboard. They added two wides and then watched as what they felt was a goal from the hurl of Torna Mulconry was brought back for a free which Zach Cullen duly converted.
The same man leveled the game again after 24 (free) and points from Cranley and Dean Gahan left us heading for a thrilling end after 28 minutes with the sides level at 1-12 to 0-15.
The Avondale faithful had plenty to shout about when Eugene Dunne found Ray Nolan and the wizard picked out Ross Ward who sent them ahead with the clock ticking close to full-time.
Back came Éire Óg. Chester, long to Anto, a flick to Browne, the pull, the magic wand, the strike, the goal! 32 on the clock.
One more play. Dan Owens plays a long ball to Ray Nolan. The ‘Fiddler’ gathers, turns, strikes, the rocket is on its way. The headlines are writing themselves. Manager springs himself from the bench and scores the winning goal. But Dan O’Neill, like a giant human eraser, rubbed out all those headlines and replaced them with his own by stopping the shot and ensuring that Éire Óg’s championship dreams survived.
Heartbreak for Avondale but what improvement, what hurling! It’s there. The potential is there. The ingredients are there. The manager is there. The passion is there. No doubt about it.
Éire Óg now face Carnew Emmets in a do-or-die battle. That has the potential to be a cracking game.