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Cambridge Parnells suffer heartbreaking late defeat to Éire Óg of Oxford in Hertfordshire Senior Championship semi-final

Cambridge Parnells’ Championship odyssey came to a cruel end on Sunday afternoon in Waltham Cross.

John Hickey’s men were edged out by the Championship favourites, Éire Óg of Oxford, in the semi-finals of the premier Gaelic football tournament for the Hertfordshire area.

A match coloured by the elements, underdogs Cambridge took a healthy lead into the half-time interval before facing into a strong breeze and an even stronger Oxford side who laid siege to the Parnells’ goal.

Cambridge Parnells were narrowly beaten in the Hertfordshire Senior Championships semi-finals
Cambridge Parnells were narrowly beaten in the Hertfordshire Senior Championships semi-finals

In a high-quality 60 minutes of action, Cambridge battled throughout but the Éire Óg momentum eventually told and it took them over the winning line in the final exchanges to emerge victorious 3-10 (19) to 3-8 (17).

Parnells chairman Cormac Ryan said: “To lose a match like that obviously hurts but we’re not going to define the season on one match.

“The growth and improvement has been incredible, we’ve far exceeded everyone’s expectations, and the commitment, camaraderie and craic is something special.”

The first score of the game went to star Oxford midfielder Colin Forde, who drained a point from distance in the opening minute. Cormac Breen hit back with a point of his own from midfield before corner-forward Kevin Bohan restored the Éire Óg lead.

After this tense opening five minutes, a scoring frenzy ensued for Parnells. First, wing-forward Luke Duffy punched home a rebound from close range – his fourth goal in as many Championship games – then corner-forward Carl Reilly broke free to curl over a beautiful point.

Wing-forward Conor Egan fisted over a score after a melee near the Oxford goal before Robbie Fitzpatrick got in on the act – the diminutive centre-forward rising highest to slap a ball past ‘keeper Ryan Davies to increase the lead to seven.

Pacey Oxford wing-forward Alan Hayes tore through to slam home a goal and reduce the arrears at the midway point of the half but captain Barry Grogan kept the scoreboard ticking for the Parnells with a smart point from a tricky angle.

The moment of the half, though, came with 10 minutes to go when full-forward John O’Reilly was fed the ball and rifled a shot into the top corner from 20 yards for an instant goal of the season. However, at eight up points up, Cambridge were unable to capitalise and did not score for the rest of the half – a mixture of some bad decision-making and some inspired saves from Davies in the Oxford net from Breen and Reilly.

With the wind picking up and a wounded Éire Óg coming out firing, the second half could not have been more different. The introduction of Kevin Morrissey at full-forward threw the cat amongst the pigeons and the Oxford side clawed back five points in the opening five minutes.

First, influential wing-forward Declan Wade popped over a point right from the throw-in before Morrissey lashed one over the bar. Hayes continued to be a thorn in the Cambridge side and pounced quickest to sweep a loose ball home for his second of the match.

The Parnells were then given a slight reprieve as Éire Óg captain Éanna Connaughton was shown a black card and had to spend 10 minutes in the sin bin for a trip on Reilly. Facing 14 men, Cambridge still found themselves up against it but were finally able to get the ball up the pitch and Breen got their first score of the half with a long-range free.

Oxford hit back through Wade before Reilly scored his second stunning point of the day and Duffy knocked over a free from short range to restore the lead to five.

Back to a full complement, the Éire Óg assault resumed – orchestrated by the imperious Forde in midfield and clever centre-back Sean Black – and Morrissey forced a ball past Diarmuid McGowan in the Cambridge goal. The lead was then reduced to one as Wade grabbed another point.

Duffy scored a free from close range with 10 minutes to go but this would be the final Parnells score of the game. Marshalled by Hickey at full-back and with some heroic tackles and blocks from the likes of Benny Morgan and Colin Crowley, Cambridge tried their best to hang on but the Oxford flow could not be stemmed.

Points from Wade and Hayes levelled things and, with less than two minutes to go, Wade curled over a fantastic fifth point to give Éire Óg the lead. From the restart, Morrissey stabbed over another score and, as Cambridge chased, Fitzpatrick saw red in the dying seconds for a second bookable offence.

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