INTERMEDIATE MEN’S FOOTBALL: The sign of a team with the potential to go places is being able to suffer relegation and then bounce back to the top table the following season.
Éire Óg Greystones did just that, with their victory over a superbly dogged and excellently managed Annacurra side the icing on the cake in a year that has seen them gain league promotion and answer all questions asked of them following their championship defeat to Hollywood earlier in the campaign.
Their season could have taken one of two routes following that loss, but Chris Traynor and his management team ensured that it would be the path that led Dan Keane to the steps of the stand in Aughrim and Éire Óg straight back to Senior championship football.
As Annacurra showed in the semi-final, this was never going to be a landslide victory for Éire Óg. It just wasn’t going to happen.
This championship final would have to be won in the trenches. There was no hiding place here. A momentary lapse in defensive duties and Frank Clune or Conor Byrne could inflict fatal blows in seconds.
Notions of easy scores off a defence marshalled by the granite-strong Alan Byrne and Paul McDonald would be quickly dispersed. This was man’s football. This was warrior territory. And let the best man win!
If Annacurra were to win then they would need to score relatively heavily but the performance of Stephen ‘Chester’ Kelly and his defensive colleagues ensured that that wouldn’t be the case.
Time after time the Éire Óg full-back repelled the Annacurra raiders, either breaking long ball or coming out with possession while Peter Keane, James Wood, Fintan O’Shea, Fionn O’Carroll and Dave Rooney all put in massive shifts.
And for Éire Óg to win they would need to be patient. Rash decisions in attack against a determined and disciplined defence would yield nothing but frustration. They delivered.
The eternally class Darren Hayden got Chris Traynor’s side off the mark with a super score, but they would be rocked eight minutes in when Annacurra would convert a penalty through Frank Clune and Fionn O’Carroll would be lost for 10 minutes on a black card.
Goalkeeper Billy Norman would save the initial effort from Clune, but the Annacurra sharpshooter would pounce on the rebound.
Probably the most telling stat from the first half from an Annacurra point of view is that they failed to score from play, registering only a single point, that from a Clune free after 19. Granted they were shooting into the breeze, but it showed the effectiveness of the Éire Óg defence nonetheless.
Éire Óg found their scores that bit easier it has to be said. Joe Prendergast collected from Gavin O’Shea, named instead of the injured Sam Thompson from the start, to fire over their second and a Hayden free had them level after 14. The former county star missed one free in the first half but given the pressure and occasion, he certainly rose to the challenge in this melting pot of a game.
A savage score off the left boot from man of the match Fintan O’Shea pushed Éire Óg back in front after 17 but Clune’s lonely converted free levelled matters for the last time on 19.
A Fionn O’Carroll wonder score shortly afterwards following good work from Gavin O’Shea, Danny Wood and Darren Hayden was followed by another Hayden free following a handling error from a short Annacurra kick-out and another unforced error – being too close to receive a free – gave Hayden the opportunity to push Éire Óg 0-7 to 1-1 clear at the break.
It could have been a healthier advantage but for a super save from Bob Fitzgerald from Joe Prendergast and a second block, this time from Alan Byrne from the rebound while the Greystones men also coughed up two scoring chances.
Annacurra did have a half chance of a significant blow at the death of the first half when Frank Clune robbed possession in front of the Éire Óg goal, but the shot was wide, and the chance lost.
Could Éire Óg hold this Annacurra attack against the wind and could the midfield contain the dynamic Martin O’Brien, the hard-working Evan Doyle and the busy Dylan Doyle?
Frank Clune tested that resolve with an early converted free following a pick-up from Cillian Keane 40 seconds into the second half but the first long ball to Conor Byrne was won by Stephen Kelly and the tone was set.
Things seemed destined to go against Joe Murphy’s men. They struck the post at one end and Stephen Kelly set a move in motion that ended with Shaun Cranley swinging over a peach in what was a goal chance by anyone’s standard.
Pressure on the Annacurra restart led to Bob Fitzgerald having to make another fine save but as advantage was being played the play was brought back for a free but Darren Hayden fired wide.
Joe Murphy had made one change near the end of the first half, bringing in Stephen Murphy, and he introduced Kevin Healy after seven of the second as he looked to bring more energy into the Annacurra attack.
Healy sent a long ball to John Moran shortly after his introduction, but Peter Keane was on hand to clean up for Éire Og and a short free from Darrren Hayden to Cillian Keane saw the midfielder pick out Fionn O’Carroll and Éire Óg were looking good at 0-9 to 1-2 ahead with 12 gone.
Another long ball to the Annacurra inside line was repelled by Stephen Kelly but his colleagues at the other end registered another wide at the end of that move.
With 44 gone the game took a drastic and devastating turn for Annacurra when a rash reaction cost Martin O’Brien his place on the field when the midfielder was shown a red card for an incident with Dan Keane.
Although Annacurra would answer this with a class score from Dylan Doyle, the game now opened up somewhat and a Darren Hayden free after 49 pushed Éire Og four clear with Annacurra not looking likely to score a goal or looking capable of scoring the five points needed to win.
They pulled one back through a Frank Clune free after 51 but Éire Óg now had the time and space to keep possession.
A fine pass from Fintan O’Shea to Cillian Keane saw the midfielder split the sticks for the final score of the game and although Annacurra had several chances in the remaining minutes of the game it was Éire Óg who would see this one out and make a welcome return to Senior football.
Anyone who watched Annacurra in their opening championship game will understand the improvement and development which that team has undergone in the proceeding weeks. Behind them is coming a small army of quality footballers through their underage ranks and there is no doubting that in the not-too-distant future they’ll be the ones winning an IFC final.
But this final was all about Éire Og. It was about the quality of Stephen Kelly, the class of Fionn O’Carroll and Fintan O’Shea, the energy of Cillian Keane and Darragh Shiel, the leadership of Dan Keane, the power of Danny Wood, the talent of Gavin O’Shea and Shaun Cranley and the tenacity and skill of Darren Hayden as well as the collective quality allowed to shine through by Chris Traynor.
Éire Óg are back. Big time!
Éire Óg Greystones: Billy Norman; James Wood, Stephen Kelly, Peter Keane; Fintan O’Shea (0-1), Fionn O’Carroll (0-2), Dave Rooney; Cillian Keane (0-1), Darragh Shiel; Joe Prendergast (0-1), Dan Keane, Danny Wood; Gavin O’Shea, Darren Hayden (0-5, 4f), Shaun Cranley (0-1). Subs: Thade Shanahan for J Cranley (47). Mick Cannon for J Prendergast (37), James Cranley for D Wood (44), David Dunne for D Rooney (52), Daire Devine for P Keane (58).
JUNIOR B CAMOGIE: Éire Óg defeated Ballinacor by a decisive 17-point margin at Pearse’s Park Arklow on Sunday to claim Wicklow Camogie’s Junior ‘B’ championship title for 2022.
They had the more skillful hurlers in both defence and attack with the result that Ballinacor were on the back foot all over the field throughout.
The Greystones girls had the questionable assistance of a tricky cross-field wind in the first half and they went on to lead 2-4 to 0-2 at the break
The goals were delivered in rapid succession in the 26th and 27th minutes.
Éire Óg’s full-forward Helen O’Regan pouncing on the sliotar after a good save by Ballinacor’s keeper Mary Holt, and then winger Florence Fogarty followed up with the second goal immediately after the restart.
At the other end Ballinacor were finding it difficult to penetrate against a solid Éire Óg defence, their return restricted to two points from Michelle Fitzgerald and Emma Maher.
Clodagh Kinasewitz was effective and on song for Eire Og and wing-back Ciara Patrick was making a name for herself on the scoreboard.
The miserable conditions, which escalated into rain in the second half, did not help the girls with their hurling and they are to be commended for serving up a competitive match in the circumstances.
Éire Óg were in control in all phases of this match, solid in defence, an excellent shot-stopper in Ellie O’Neill, and sharp-shooting forwards. They doubled their tally on the change-over, the goals supplied by Joellen Hanley and Ciara Patrick.
Éire Óg Greystones: Ellie O’Neill; Camilla Robinson, Helen O’Driscoll, Charlotte Norton; Siobhan Darcy, Lucy Daly, Ciara Patrick (1-2); Sarah Hayes, Isobel O’Sullivan; Michelle LeMay, Clodagh Kinasewitz (0-3), Florence Fogarty (1-2); Angela O’Leary, Helen O’Regan (1-0), Graine Magannety. Subs: Christine Earls for H O’Driscoll, Joellen Hanley (1-0) for H O’Regan, Jean Andrew’s for F Fogarty, Kate Burns for H O’Regan.
U16 LADIES FOOTBALL: A solitary point was the difference between the two sides in Laragh on Sunday as they produced a great game of football in what was horrendous conditions in this under-16 ‘B’ football final.
The north Wicklow side took control of this encounter early on when centre-forward Meabh Guerrin’s free dropped into the opposition net with the aid of what was a swirling breeze.
Valleymount’s response was immediate as they took the lead with their main woman Sarah McDonald who gave her side the lead with a point before adding a long-range goal minutes later along with another minor from Katie Broe.
This was the end of the west Wicklow side’s scoring in the half as Éire Óg took control of the final, adding an impressive 2-2. Holly Sheehy levelled the tie by raising a white flag before her teammate Nicole Maxwell fired in her side’s second goal.
With the game heading towards the break Guerrin goaled again for her side along with a final point of the half from the boot of Caoimhe Davis.
The second half of this tie was the battle of the full-forwards as Sheehy slotted a free and in response Betty Murray drilled a low free into the net for Valleymount.
Éire Óg extend their lead through midfielder Lauren O’Leary as she split the posts with a free.
It was that woman Davis who fired in her side’s fourth major of the day as it looked like her team had done enough early in the second half.
This wasn’t the case though as the opposition chipped away at the lead with three points in a row from McDonald and Murray with efforts from play and another goal from Murray.
With eight minutes left in the pulsating final, Allen goaled for the third time to level the tie.
As conditions worsened it was difficult for both sides to take the lead, this was until Beth Murray stepped up for the Greystones side to fire an effort between the posts in the final minute to give her side the victory.
Éire Óg: Rebecca O’Connor; Maisie Gray, Leah Fallon, Ciara O’Farrell; Anna O’Reilly, Naomi Wall, Emila Somers; Thea Sterritt, Lauren O’Leary (0-1, f); Beth Murray (0-1), Meabh Guerrin (2-0), Caoimhe Davis (1-1); Ella Hanlon, Holly Sheehy (0-1), Lucy O’Leary. Subs: Nicole Maxwell (1-0), Lilly Oldham, Isabella O’Farrell, Chloe Eyre.