AT the end of the second water break of Sunday’s county final, Glen Rovers were exactly where they wanted to be, while the precariousness of Midleton’s position was even more of a concern, considering how much it belied their dominance of the match.
Midleton led by one point, but the Glen appeared to have seized the initiative at just the right time and were now entering territory they’d become comfortable negotiating their way through. They’d shown huge composure down the home straight of tight quarter- and semi-finals, while the hurt of losing the last two finals propelled the Glen.
The doubts were bound to be rattling around Midleton heads, but as soon as that fourth quarter began, they scored four points from four shots in six minutes. Midleton didn’t score again, missing their last seven shots at the target, but the game had become so frenetic that they just had to ensure they didn’t concede a goal. They didn’t, but Midleton only staved off that doomsday scenario by a couple of inches, after Conor Dorris’s whipped effort went wide.
It was testament to the Glen’s battling spirit that they were so close in a game that Midleton dominated for large periods.
Midleton had 13 more shots at the target (43-30), but their conversion rate of 69% in the first half dropped to 40% in the second half. Much of that was down to the increased intensity of the Glen, allied to a swirling breeze, but scoring 24 points with just a 55% conversion rate was reflective of how much possession Midleton had.
The Glen ended with a 63% conversion rate, but their goal, from Patrick Horgan, at the end of the first half, gave the Glen a foothold in a match that was already threatening to run away from them, even despite having played against the breeze.
The Glen were well below par in that first half, while Midleton had come out firing from the first whistle. Five of their six forwards had scored from play by the first water-break, while the Midleton half-forward line’s haul of 11 points from play in the first half was even better considering how much Conor Lehane, Ross O’Regan, and Seán O’Meara were destabilising the Glen half-back line, both with their movement and incisive shooting.
The ball was coming out too easily from the Midleton defence, but most of the Glen’s problems in the first half were stemming from their own puck-out; Midleton won 12 of the Glen’s restarts in that period.
Even when the Glen went short with their puck-out on four occasions in that half, they lost each one on the second ball.
The Glen did arrest that decline in the second quarter, with Midleton only winning two of the Glen’s restarts in that period. The Glen only won seven Midleton puck-outs over the 60-plus minutes, but the Glen were still able to equalise those struggles in the puckout battle by being more efficient with the possession they won from restarts, both for and against; the Glen mined 1-7 off puck-outs, with Midleton bagging 0-9.
Midleton coughed up 0-8 from turnovers. while the Glen gave up 0-7 from possession lost. The Glen only turned the ball over marginally more than their opponents (29-26), but they really damaged themselves in the last quarter, with nine turnovers.
Scoring 14 points from play was a phenomenal return in the opening 30 minutes, but the biggest question for Midleton was whether they could keep it going. They couldn’t, but the Glen couldn’t get the scoreboard moving either like they needed to; the Glen only manufactured 14 shots in the second half, two less than what they’d created in the opening 30 minutes.
Midleton had better performers, but the game was always likely to be decided by the displays of Horgan and Lehane. From 11 plays, Horgan scored 1-2 from play and was fouled for three converted frees. From 20 plays, Lehane scored five points and had four assists. Winning four puck-outs and turning three of them into points reflected Lehan’s work-rate as much as his class.
His genius was stamped all over one of O’Regan’s first-half points, which was created by a reverse over-head pass that only someone like Lehane would try. He was a fitting man-of-the-match.
The Glen will be devastated at losing a third successive final, but the hurt will be all the more acute given how they finished the game, failing to convert any of their last four scoring attempts. The Glen’s struggles were exacerbated by turning over so much of their own possession, but Midleton’s profligacy kept them in the hunt until the final play.
The better team won, but the pre-match scoring trends also held up: Midleton had hit 23 or more scores in five of their six games; the Glen hadn’t totaled that number of scores in any of their five matches. The Glen had only scored more than one goal in one of their five previous matches, but, from an early stage on Sunday, they always looked like needing at least two goals. The Glen nearly raised that second green flag with the final play, but then the curtain came down and agony and ecstasy only separated both teams by a handful of inches.