A beautiful Spring day in Dublin for the first round of the Championship against St. Catherines. The sun is out but there’s a cool breeze whipping across St. Catherines park ensuring that woolly hats are the order of the day. The teams are warming up and on the sideline we’re sizing up the opposition. They appear to be a big, powerful side and the customary one-liners are being bandied about – the bigger they come etc…… Throw-in approaches and bizarrely a drone hovers over the pitch. Are Sky Sports secretly covering the game ? Will Jeff Stelling and Chris Kamara leap from the bushes at any moment ?
Throw-in and O’Tooles start well, three points to the good in under three minutes. The sideline breathes a sigh of relief, our pre-match worries we’re ill founded – or so we thought !!! Catherines are stung into life, they surge forward and scramble a goal. O’Tooles are creating chances but are wasteful in front of the posts, whereas Catherines seem to be scoring with every attack. Half-time approaches and the O’Tooles midfield is creaking, the tackles are becoming more desperate, and the inevitable black card ensues (albeit a bit harsh) – but at least we’ve the luxury of a substitute to bring on. The half time whistle sounds, O’Tooles are downbeat and second best.
The second half begins, the RAJ (Ray-Andy-John triumvirate) team talk seems to be having a positive effect. O’Tooles are starting to get a foothold in midfield and begin to stifle the Catherines attack. The scales begin to tilt in the Larriers favour. Even another black card cannot halt this resurgent O’Tooles team. A couple of minutes to go and O’Tooles have clawed back to within a goal. Then comes the pivotal moment of the match. A looping ball cannons off the outside of the Catherines post and trundles along the end line where it’s gathered by an O’Tooles forward. He jinks and dummys and then squeezes the ball into the bottom corner of the net from the narrowest of angles. However the celebrations are cut short by an umpire with outstretched arms signalling a wide. But wait, the other umpire is signalling a goal !!! Both teams surround the referee pleading their case. He seems like the Pied Piper with twenty children in tow as he approaches the umpires. From our diagonal vantage point, fifty yards away, we could clearly see that the ball had not crossed the end-line by at least a centimetre or two 😉 After much deliberation the goal stands and extra time looms, but from the kick out Catherines mount one last desperate attack. They move effortlessly past the forty-five and are about twenty yards from goal when some desperate defending gifts them a free, and surely the win, with the last kick of the game. The Catherines free taker has been faultless all game, he gets a good strike on the ball and we all inhale sharply accepting our fate. But hang on, the ball is drifting post-ward, it clips the outside of the upright and goes wide, the whistle sounds, extra time it is !!!
Extra time, ten minutes each way, and there’s only one team in it. O’Tooles race into a four point lead and from there they never look back. The free kick miss at the end of normal time seems to have sucked the very life out of the St. Catherines players. The game peters out and O’Tooles coast home to victory (4-15 to 2-16). What a battle, what heart, what courage, from both teams. On to the next round, who can tell what will happen, but one thing’s for sure, we’re guaranteed drama and excitement in spades !!!