Eoghan Rua Coleraine literally broke new ground last weekend when they made the long journey to Pairc na hÉireann in Birmingham.
They were taking on Fullen Gaels of Manchester and came back with a fine 1-11 to 0-6 victory, to reach the semi-finals of the All-Ireland Junior hurling championship.
It was a long way to go for the Eoghan Rua club but it proved to be a hugely successful journey for the hurlers, taking them one step closer to emulating the club’s footballers of 2007 in reaching an All-Ireland final in Croke Park.
Conditions were not conducive to free flowing hurling as the Pairc Na hÉireann pitch was very heavy following sustained overnight rain, it made for a real physical scrap, no quarter was asked and none given throughout an intense battle. Neither side took a step back in the physical exchanges with referee John O’Brien of Tipperary handling the game in a very sensible way given the stae of the pitch.
The early exchanges were tight, Eoghan Rua’s midfielder Ruari Mooney opening the scoring with a point in their first attack but points from Darragh O’Brien and Damien O’Grady had Fullen Gaels ahead by the 4th minute.
However, the All-Britain champions would not score again in the first half as the Eoghan Rua defence, marshalled by centre back Barry McGoldrick, held firm while the accurate Ciaran Gaile punished Gaels from frees and open play hitting an impressive five points in a row, four from frees. A superb long range Niall Holly point levelled matters in the 10th minute before Gaile’s unanswered salvo which seen Eoghan Rua go in 0-7- to 0-2 ahead at half-time.
However it was not all one way traffic in that period in the second quarter when the Gaels failed to score. They did create a number of chances but some brilliant defending, getting bodies in the way, blocking and hooking from Eoghan Rua kept them at bay.
The Gaels were denied a goal in the 11th minute by a brilliant Paddy Mullan save, the sliothar cleared for a ‘65’ which was miseed. Just before half-time, when they were just four points adrift, the Gaels had a goal chalked off for a ‘square ball’ the referee calling it after Reamonn McEntee’s long range free was bundled to the net, a bit of a let-off for Eoghan Rua.
Following that scare Ciaran Gaile punished a foul on midfielder Ruari Leonard to fire over his fifth point of the half to send Eoghan Rua in to the break ahead 0-7 to 0-2. The leaders had been playing with a stiff wind in the first half and that five point advantage was just a little shaky looking.
Playing against the stiff wind in the second half Eoghan Rua needed to consolidate their position and they did with another brace from Ciaran Gaile before Padraig O’Duagain pulled one back in the 37th minute. With Sean Leo McGoldrick playing in a sweeping role the Eoghan Rua defence looked solid as the experience of Barry McGoldrick, Niall Holly and Anton Rafferty was brought to bear. Indeed it was Barry McGoldrick that replied to O’Duagain’s score that had brought the deficit to six just seven minutes into the second half. A couple of Declan Mullan efforts had dropped short into the Gaels keeper before McGoldrick launched a huge effort that sailed over the bar from all of 70m. in the 39th minute.
Just a couple of minutes later came the score that broke Fullen Gaels’ resistance for good. On the left side Eoghan Rua’s county minor captain Thomas Magee cut in before unleashing a cross shot which hit the roof of the net, a simply sublime strike that put the eventual winners 1-10 to 0-3 ahead midway through the second half.
The All-Britain champions kept battling though and fired over the next three points, Nathan Unwin with a fine solo effort, big full forward Darragh O’Brien converting and then Padraig O’Duagain from a free reducing the gap to seven points.
It was still a tense battle and a brief flare-up involving a number of players was sensibly dealt with by the referee as the teams got back to the business of seeing out the game in the remaining ten minutes or so. Even though Gaels had hit that three in a row with a period of pressure they never really looked like breaching an Eoghan Rua defence that was just scrapping for everything, there was no way the Manchester side were getting a late goal that might have upset the Derry men.
While the experienced heads had kept everything tight and controlled for Eoghan Rua their younger players all stepped up, Paddy Mullan in goals, Pearse Dallas and Connor Boyle at the back, the two Ruari’s, Mooney and Leonard, in midfield, Ciaran Gaile brilliantly accurate, while Thomas Magee embellished his goal with the last score of the game,
In the closing minutes Fullen Gaels shot three long range wides but in truth they never really looked like they would reel in Eoghan Rua in in the closing stages.
The Coleraine men now look forward to an All-Ireland semi-final agains the Connacht champions, Syal from Galway early next year.