Dean Slevin (St Joseph's) sidesteps the challenge of Ethan Browne, St Loman's, in last Sunday's Westmeath JFC semi-final at Rochfortbridge.

Heartbreak for St Joseph's as final dream slips away

St Loman's Mullingar 1-6 St Joseph's 0-9, AET (St Loman's win 7-6 on penalties)

There was drama with a capital ‘D’ in Rochfortbridge on Sunday as St Loman’s, Mullingar, overcame St Joseph’s on penalty kicks to reach this year’s Westmeath Junior Football Championship final.

The Streamstown side appeared to have done enough to win in normal time when leading by 0-8 to 1-3 after 55 minutes, but St Loman's conjured up two late scores.

And after extra-time failed to separate the sides, St Loman’s snatched victory in a dramatic penalty shootout which went to sudden death: the same five players had just taken their second round of penalty kicks before Christy Gilbert scored his third penalty of the shootout to eventually take his side through after an absorbing semi-final.

It was, perhaps, fitting that Gilbert emerged as the hero as it was his outrageous point from a free in extra-time that paved the way for a penalty shootout, the first ever at a semi-final stage of an adult championship in Westmeath. He scored one penalty in the actual game itself and then showed remarkable composure to slot home three times in the shootout.

It was heartbreak for St Joseph’s, who had a glorious chance to seal victory in the fourth minute of added time, after the St Loman’s ‘keeper was dispossessed in the opposite half of the pitch and a terrific opening presented itself to Dean Slevin, only for his effort to be cleared off the goal line by St Loman’s full back Nathan Lally. Even a point would have sealed victory at that stage, but there was still time for St Loman’s to earn a late free which David Morgan converted to set up extra-time.

What the game lacked in quality it more than made up for in drama and excitement and while it failed to match the scoring exploits of the Kilbeggan Shamrocks versus Ballycomoyle curtain raiser, it never failed to keep the big crowd engrossed.

It was St Joseph’s who led by 0-3 to 0-2 at the end of a dour first half: Jordan McDonnell (free) and Dean Slevin (two) were their score getters, after St Loman’s had twice led through Shane Mulderry and Adam Lynch, who scored a great point in the 15th minute.

The second half saw the Mullingar men grab a penalty goal (after Lynch was fouled) through Gilbert, whose excellent finish gave the ‘keeper no chance. Brian Keegan pulled a point back for St Joseph's then and with 1-1 after 90 seconds, a better second half was already in store.

Morgan had St Loman’s two clear (1-3 to 0-4) by the 36th minute, but Andrew Conway joined a fine move to point for an improving St Joseph’s, who were level when Jordan McDonnell shot over, punishing a very slack Mullingar defence.

After a throw-in, St Joseph’s went ahead when Aaron McDonnell slotted over, following Dylan McDonnell’s pass: they were two clear after 55 minutes as Dylan McDonnell set up Slevin for a neat point despite being off balance. In such a tight, low-scoring contest, that ought to have been enough, but St Loman’s hadn't read the script.

The Mullingar side managed things really well and their experience showed. When Adam Lynch scored a fine point in the third minute of added time, there was renewed hope. And once they survived that Slevin scare, one sensed they might get a final chance. So it proved as Morgan converted a free when Brian Fitzgerald fouled the ball, taking the game to extra-time.

There was no score in the first period, but St Joseph’s went ahead four minutes after the restart courtesy of Jordan McDonnell’s minor. However, in the final minute, St Loman’s won a free and Gilbert kicked a quite outstanding score with an audacious effort via the outside of the right boot.

That led on to penalty kicks and further drama, with the sides still level (4-4) after the first five penalty takers. It went 5-5 and 6-6, with the tension ratcheting up all the while and the pressure on players almost unbearable. Both goalkeepers, Daniel Fitzsimons and Mikey Lynam (who was switched between the posts by St Joseph's for penalty kicks) made some great saves and in the end Gilbert’s third penalty of the shootout proved the match winner.

Scorers - St Loman’s: C Gilbert 1-1 (1-0 pen., 0-1f), D Morgan (1f) and A Lynch 0-2 each, S Mulderry 0-1. St Joseph’s: D Slevin and J McDonnell (1f) 0-3 each, A McDonnell, A Conway and B Keegan 0-1 each.

St Loman’s Mullingar: Daniel Fitzsimons; Sean Kelly, Nathan Lally, Ethan Browne; Sean Bracken, Shane Flynn, Eoghan Kenny; Paddy Dowdall, Conor Regan; Adam Lynch, Eoghan O’Keeffe, Shane Mulderry; Christy Gilbert, David Morgan, Tadgh Kenny. Subs: Cian Daly for Mulderry (HT), Cillian Plunkett for E Kenny (39), Daniel McCann for Gilbert (48), Darren Kavanagh for T Kenny (54), C Gilbert for Morgan (8, ET), T Kenny for Lally (15, ET), D Morgan for O’Keefe (19, ET).

St Joseph’s: Steven Fennessy; Thomas Conlon, Daniel Keegan, Andrew Conway; Mikey Lynam, Jake Gannon, Andy Scally; Aaron McDonnell, Ross Elliffe; Pearse Weir Norris, Dylan McDonnell, Ben McDonnell; Dean Slevin, Jordan McDonnell, Brian Keegan. Subs: Alan Conlon for Weir Norris (38), Joe Cusack for Scally (52), Alan Farrell for A McDonnell (60+1), Brian Fitzgerald for J McDonnell (inj., 60+4), Niall Moran and J McDonnell for A Conlon and D Slevin (10, ET).

Referee: Sean Carroll (The Downs).