NAAS moved a step closer to the semi finals of the Kildare Senior Hurling Championship after recording a late, late win over Ardclough in Celbridge on Saturday.
Naas, who defeated Confey in the opening round, appeared on the brink of defeat when Martin Fitzgerald pointed a free three minutes into stoppage time that restored parity for the first time since the 43rd minute.
That Fitzgerald score was Ardclough’s fourth on the spin after they staged a late rally to turn the momentum in their favour.
However, even though they won the next puck out as they sought to shoot a dramatic winner of their own, it was Naas who turned over possession before the ball was eventually worked to midfielder, Paul Sullivan who managed to get his decisive shot away despite increased Ardclough pressure.
It was rough justice for an Ardclough side that took its time to find its feet in a game played in surprisingly glorious sunshine.
Although the opening ex-changes were crisp, Ardclough’s marking was loose early on and as they continued to give away cheap possession, they were duly punished by Naas, who laid down an early marker through successive points from Sean Gainey, Ross Kelly (2) and Mick Purcell inside the opening seven minutes.
Naas’ hurling during those opening minutes was crisp and quick and dominating the early possession in and around the middle third, it was indeed in complete contrast to everything about their opponents.
However, with the inspirational Richie Hoban driving them on from centre-back, Ardclough gradually clawed their way into the game and despite Gainey pointing twice (one free) to extend his side’s lead to 0-6 to 0-1 after 18 minutes, it was all Ardclough during the run up to half-time.
Throwing their weight around in an attempt to unsettle their more youthful opponents, Ardclough’s hopes received a timely boost when Paul Fitzgerald took a pass from his younger brother Martin, before flashing a 25 yard strike past ‘keeper, Cormac Gallagher and to the back of the Naas net after 19 minutes.
Further points from Tony Spain and Martin Fitzgerald (free), which levelled matters at 0-6 to 1-3 by the 24th minute, had the Ardclough contingent believing again, before a clearly rattled Naas outfit – without a score in 15 minutes – entered the break a point down after Martin Fitzgerald completed his side’s recovery when pointing a free four minutes into time added on for a 1-4 to 0-6 interval lead.
Ardclough’s lead though was wiped out inside three minutes of the restart when Philip Cocoman, moved from wing-forward to full-forward during the break, doubled on a huge Gallagher free to the square to send the sliotar to the net. A pointed free from Gainey made it a 1-7 to 1-4 game after 34 minutes.
Ardclough though, as one would expect, weren’t for turning that easily, and after Hoban, Martin Fitzgerald (free) and Paul Fitzgerald pointed between the 37th and 43rd minute to level matters once again, a fantastic 47th minute point from veteran Colm Buggy then gave Ardclough the lead for the second time.
As the tension rose even further as the game entered its most crucial period, Ardclough’s valiant efforts to get themselves into that position looked to be in vain when Naas substitute, Kevin Byrne – following in on a save from goalkeeper Aidan Buggle from Peadar Downey – scooped home for his side’s second goal of the game in the 50th minute.
A Gainey free and a point from play from Downey minutes later left four (2-9 to 1-8) between the sides with just a minute of normal time remaining.
In truth, most teams would have folded having suffered such a set-back, but with their championship hopes on the line, Ardclough dug deep once again and rallying brilliantly, they came up with points from Brian Coulston, Paul Fitzgerald, Spain and Martin Fitzgerald (free) to draw level.
There was though one twist in the tale as time ticked away and it came in the form of Sullivan, who punched the air in delight knowing the value of his strike.
Naas: Sean Gainey 0-5 (4f), Philip Cocoman 1-0, Kevin Byrne 1-0, Ross Kelly 0-2, Peadar Downey 0-1, Mick Purcell 0-1, Paul Sullivan 0-1;
Ardclough: Paul Fitzgerald 1-3, Martin Fitzgerald 0-4 (3f), Tony Spain 0-2, Richie Hoban 0-1, Brendan Byrne 0-1, Colm Buggy 0-1.
Cormac Gallagher; Andrew Doyle, Mark Carter, Donal McSweeney; Eamon Leamy, John O’Malley, John Dunne; Paul Sullivan, Kevin Whelan; Peadar Downey, Ross Kelly, Philip Cocoman; Sean Gainey, Mick Purcell, Stephen Piggott. Subs: Kevin Byrne for Piggott (h/t); Darrach MacDonnadh for Dunne (48 mins).
Aidan Buggle; Niall Coulston, Sean Buggle, Peter Coleman; Enda Hoey, Richie Hoban, Kailyn Domican; Martin Fitzgerald, Ronan O’Malley; Paul Fitzgerald, Brian Coulston, Tony Spain; Brendan Byrne, Colm Buggy, Sean Buggy. Subs: Johnny Reeves for Brian Coulston (blood-sub, 14-17 mins); Johnny Reeves for Sean Buggy (51 mins); Philip Fitzgerald for Hoey (inj, 58 mins).