Knockbeg College 3-10
Marist College, Athlone 4-6
By Kieran Murphy
KNOCKBEG College are the Leinster schools junior football A champions. On the outside pitch of O’Moore Park, Portlaoise last Wednesday they may have made life a little bit hard on themselves, but they were deserving winners.
A one-point winning margin at the end was sufficient to see them crowned but it shouldn’t have come down to this. Six points up going into the last six minutes plus a lengthy period of injury time, they had chances to pick off further scores but failed to do so.
It nearly came back to bite them but that is all in the past now. The scenes at the end where their supporters mobbed the players and teachers hugged showed how much this meant to all concerned.
The eventual winners got off to the worst possible start. Playing with the wind they conceded an early goal when Ben O’Carroll passed to Senan Baker who found the net from close range for the Westmeath boys. Before that, Eamon Martin and Oisin Hooney exchanged points.
The wind helped as Knockbeg slowly and methodically built up some momentum. Coming to the end of the first quarter they hit 1-2 in a two-minute spell as Fionn Bergin converted a free, Colin Dunne bagged a goal and Ciaran Burke hoisted over a long-range point.
In reply, Marist corner forward Ben O’Carroll ran down the Knockbeg goal line and from a narrow angle levelled the game with a good goal.
Again Knockbeg hit back and dominated the next 10 minutes of the half. Bryan McMahon pointed and Colin Dunne flicked a dropping ball over the Marist line. Bergin and Martin added points and now Knockbeg led 2-6 to 2-2 at the interval.
The eventual winners always looked the better side and even though the cold breeze blew into their faces they added points through Bergin and Dunne. On 35 minutes Dunne scored his second goal and it looked as if his side were going to win easily. Especially when Knockbeg keeper Sean Dollard produced a super diving save to turn Chulainn Dowd’s shot around his right-hand upright.
Eventually the Marist prersistence yielded results. After a period of sustained pressure O’Carroll scored his second goal for the Athlone school and it was all to play for. Ruaidhri Fallon picked off another point but Bergin’s free suggested Knockbeg could hit back at will.
Another point had them six clear and they tried to seal the game when producing some nice passing movements. That next score wouldn’t come. Twice Knockbeg players in possession slipped as they turned on the soft pitch. Marist drew errors from their rivals who conceded a combination of frees for over-carrying and handling the ball on the ground.
That all told as Sean Claffey came forward, used his height and found the Knockbeg net once more. Fallon’s second point left only the bare margin between them as the game went into injury time.
A series of stoppages denied Marist the momentum they craved. Knockbeg did well in defence but dodged a bullet when the referee was unsighted as an attacker was tripped.
It was tense. When it mattered, Knockbeg players won dirty ball, retained possession and saw out the final seconds in confident fashion. One point is as good as 10 but maybe not for the nerves of their supporters and management team who prayed for the long whistle.
Knockbeg College: Sean Dollard (Killeshin); Jamie Kelly (St Joseph’s), Orrie Doran (Killeshin), Brendan McDonald (Killeshin); Tomas Byrne (St Joseph’s), Shane Buggy (Éire Óg), Jesse McEvoy (Ballylinan); Ciaran Burke (0-1, Crettyard), Ian Shanahan (St Joseph’s); Oisin Hooney (0-1, St Joseph’s), Colin Dunne (2-1, Arles-Killeen), Oisin Doyle (Clonmore); Bryan McMahon (0-1, Palatine), Oisin Byrne (1-1, Arles Killeen), Fionn Bergin (0-5 frees, Grangenolvin). Subs: Ben Crotty (Éire Óg) for T Byrne (37 mins), Oisin Nolan (Castledermot) for McEvoy (56 mins).
Marist College: Hugh Cunniffe; Cathal Redmond, Tom Kelleher, Brian Nestor; Sean Claffey (1-0), Tom Shine, Philip Temple; Eamon Martin (0-3, 0-1 free), Ruaidhri Fallon (0-2); Conor Hand, Martin O’Grady, Neil Kenny; Benn O’Carroll (2-1, 0-1 free), Senan Baker (1-0), Olan Healy. Subs: Chulainn Dowd for Kelly (h/t), Matthew Whittaker for O’Grady (37 mins), Paddy Higgins for Baker (51 mins), Thomas O’Brien for Temple (64 mins).
Referee: Eamon O’Connor (Offaly).