U21A Football Championship final
St. Brigid’s 3-15 Tir na nOg 1-9
By Patrick McIlwaine
Goals from James Smith and John Blaney in the opening five minutes of the second half turned this game on its head as St. Brigid’s pushed on to retain their U21A Championship title at a cold but sunny Colaiste Feirste this afternoon.
Their opponents Tir na nOg, Randalstown had looked the better side for most of the opening half and led by two at the half way stage but that lead could have been much greater had the Whitehill side taken a bigger proportion of the opportunities they created during the opening 30 minutes.
The Randalstown lads dominated possession during that opening period and spurred on by a goal from their outstanding performer, Darren McCormick in the 25th minute they looked to be taking control.
Significantly though, they had a goal ruled out for a ‘square ball’ infringement soon after while they will surely reflect on the number of silly frees they conceded which kept the Musgrave Park side in touch with Peter Henvey punishing them with his accurate place kicking off the ground.
It was Tir na nOg who made the brighter opening and Eamon Og McAllister pointed them in front after five minutes but St. Brigid’s responded and Peter Henvey squared the contest with six minutes on the clock.
Tir na nOg pushed forward again but Rory Griffin shot wide after a promising build up and the Whitehill Blues then breathed a sigh of relief as St. Brigid’s countered but James Smith’s palmed effort sailed wide of the target with the goal at his mercy.
The South West side were certainly enjoying a lot of possession at this stage of the game with Declan Mallon playing deep in a sweeper’s role as Darren McCormick pointed them ahead again in the 7th minute but Ciaran O’Neill and Ciaran Dobbin both shot wide as they took control around mid-field.
St. Brigid’s rode the early storm but slowly came more and more into the game with Peter Henvey levelling the contest for the second time from a close range free in the 17th minute and the same player gave them the lead for the first time from another free with 18 minutes gone.
Ethan Carleton increased that lead to two as he got his fist to the ball in a challenge with Ricardo Conceicao and the favourites appeared to be getting on top for the first time but Tir na nOg were quick to find a response.
Spurred on by the excellent Darren McCormick they began to take the game to the opposition once more and Rory Griffin cut the gap to one again before McCormick got on the end of an excellent move to fire to the net in the 25th minute.
The Whitehill side were in full swing as Dobbin sent over an excellent point to put them three in front and a minute later the Randalstown side looked to have put themselves in the driving seat when a long searching delivery from a sideline finished in the net.
However the score was ruled out for square ball and in the closing minute Ethan Carleton pointed at the other end to close the gap to two at the break and as the sides headed to the dressing room there was little indication of what was to come in the second half.
The big Tir na nOg support would have been looking for more of the same as the second half got under way but whatever was said in the St. Brigid’s dressing room certainly worked as the Musgrave Park side came storming out of the starting blocks.
John Blaney fired over an early point and James Smith finished to the net from close range and before Tir na nOg could regroup Blaney got in for a second goal and a two point deficit had been turned into a five point lead and the holders were flying.
Patrick Finnegan increased that lead to six with a well worked point before Ciaran O’Neill replied with Tir na nOg’s first point of the half with ten minutes gone. As the Whitehill side battled to get back into contention they became increasingly vulnerable to the counter attack and Henvy punished a late tackle to restore St. Brigid’s six point advantage.
Tir na nOg continued to battle and enjoy plenty of possession with McCormick and Darragh Fegan driving them forward and Fegan took a smart pass from Emmet Murray to keep his side in touch with a good point in the 13th minute.
Even at this stage it was becoming clear that Tir na nOg would need a goal if they were to turn this one around but the St. Brigid’s defence was standing strong and turning over a lot of possession and Patrick Finnegan edged his side further ahead with a point at the other end.
Tir na nOg were still giving it everything but were hit with a killer blow on the break as Henvey’s cross was palmed to the net by James Smith and the same player followed with a point to leave ten in it with 14 minutes remaining.
Patrick Finnegan increased the gap to eleven before Ciaran O’Neill pulled one back for the Randalstown side but the goal they so badly needed quite simply wouldn’t come with Emmet Murray’s attempt turned for a ‘45’ that came to nothing.
Peter Henvey increased the St. Brigid’s lead with five minutes remaining but still Tir na nOg continued to battle but when Eamon Og McAllister’s well struck effort came back of the crossbar and the ball was cleared to safety in the scramble that followed it was clear it wasn’t going to be their day.
Substitute Ryan Tweety and Joe Finnegan added late points for an excellent St. Brigid’s with Jack O’Mahoney tagging on a consolation point for the gallant losers.
In the end the better side won though the margin of victory flatters them and doesn’t do justice to the efforts of the Tir na nOg side who gave it everything but lacked the guile and knowhow of their opponents.
St. Brigid’s: Ryan Murtagh, Brogan Austin, Daniel Foster, Daire McGarvey, John Morgan, Oran Boyle, Ryan Tweedy, Peter King, John Toner, John Blaney, Joe Finnegan, Patrick Finnegan, Ethan Carleton, James Smith, Peter Henvey. Subs: Brian McCarthy for Daire McGarvey, Rory Brolly for Ethan Carleton, Ryan Tweety for John Morgan, Peter Heaney for Oran O’Boyle
Tir na nOg: Ricardo Conceicao, Mark Porter, Peter Cullen, Oliver McAtamney, Rory Griffin, Darren McCormick, Aaron McNeilly, Darragh Fegan, Ciaran O’Neill, Eamon Og McAllister, Aodhan Tolan, Ciaran Dobbin, Declan Mallon, Joseph Webb, Emmet Murray. Subs: Jack O’Mahoney for Aodhan Tolan, Daniel Hastings for Emmet Murray, Stephen Carey for Joe Webb.
Referee: Karol Doherty (Rasharkin)