Graham Tarmac Junior Football Championship Final
Friday 7th October
Report by Niall Kelly
Cardinal O’Donnells 0-07 Na Piarsaigh 1-15
A goal on the rebound from the predatory Naoise O’Cuilin seven minutes from the final whistle added the extra gloss on a composed performance from Pearses to put the game beyond the reach of a despondent O’Donnells side. The North Belfast natives reversed an early one-point deficit after five minutes and refused to relinquish their advantage for the remainder.
In truth, with the exception of the opening ten minutes of the second half, the men in green and yellow seemed to constantly exert a measure of control over proceedings and were ruthlessly efficient in front of the posts. Piaras Donaghy was certainly the conductor of their symphony. The number twenty-two starred on the evening and was the fulcrum of nearly every Pearses’ attack. His ability to dictate and link play was pivotal in their success and the prolificity of their full forward line, assisted well by top scorer Stephen Fitzsimmons, proved to be too much firepower for the O’D’s rear-guard to thwart.
To their credit, O’Donnell’s wouldn’t go down without a fight and battled tooth and nail for each other right till the end. Trailing by five at the interval, the Whiterock side emerged a resurgent outfit and reduced the margin to three. Slick, fluent offensive play was causing problems for Pearses but they failed to capitalise further on the scoresheet which ultimately led to their demise. Their squandering of chances proved to be their Achille’s heel and they were made to pay as their Belfast counterparts seemed to ruthlessly despatch each chance that fell in their favour.
It was O’D’s who drew first blood with a mere forty seconds played as Ciaran Ferran’s caressed effort off the outside of the boot found its mark. Pearses responded well though and O’D’s shot-stopper sprung into early action as he denied Liam Campbell from close range. Campbell slotted the resulting forty-five over effortlessly before another trio of scores from Fionn Grew, Stephen Fitzsimmons and Campbell again.
Pearses were now well in the ascendancy and were asking all the questions. Despite a McKissock reply to reduce the gap, they bolstered their lead further with Piaras Donaghy instrumental, dominating in midfield. The MacRory park side’s goal was living a charmed life as again Pearses threatened to raise the green flag. Johnny O’Donnell was forced into an outstanding block to deny Pearses before Fionn Grew rattled the cross bar from close range. Naoise O’Cuillin was alert to pop over the rebound before Stephen Fitzsimmons steered over two well-taken efforts to leave the score 0-02 to 0-07 in favour of the men in green and yellow at the break.
The interval seemed to have a galvanising effect on the O’s as their play was brimming with intensity and vigour in the early exchanges of the second period. Despite Campbell increasing the lead to six, O’Donnell’s seemed to have more purpose and flair to their play. Padraig McKissock slotted over from a close range free and it seemed things were beginning to click.
All their promising play though threatened to be undone when Pearses were awarded a penalty on the thirty fifth minute on the counter. However, Murphy telegraphed Grew’s effort expertly to parry away and it seemed momentum was firmly in favour of the O’Donnells camp. The men in maroon and yellow seemed to have more swagger about them and composed two scintillating passages of play with Géaroid McKernan and Richard McAvoy adding the finishing touches.
With a kick of the ball in it now, it was game on and when James Begley had the black card brandished in his direction, O’Donnells could go for the jugular. However, their inability to make their efforts stick on the scoreboard proved a frustrating theme for their raucous travelling support and they were limited to two points from McKissock and McAvoy, yet still they stormed forward in their droves looking to capitalise on their numerical advantage.
Pearses though had other ideas and yet again Donaghy was at the forefront. His driving run from the engine room presented Fionn Grew to make some amends for his earlier miss from the spot, which he duly obliged. Grew was on target yet again on the fiftieth minute following some excellent work from corner back, Aidan Bannon.
The death knell for O’Donnells was to sound five minutes later though as O’Cuilin blasted home emphatically from close range on the rebound despite Murphy’s heroics to deny Liam Campbell from the initial effort.
A seven-point lead with minutes remaining would prove insurmountable for the West Belfast side and despite battling valiantly, Pearses would continue to punish them on the scoresheet. Grew increased his ever-growing tally with a monster effort from range before Stephen Fitzsimmons expertly despatched three frees as the game approached its climax before Danny O’Neill’s final whistle sparked emotional and jubilant scenes for the North Belfast travelling faithful.
O’Donnells can certainly hold their heads high. The score line doesn’t perhaps fully reflect their efforts. The game slipped away in the closing ten minutes, but they were in contention for the majority. Their inability to convert promising play and scorable frees into points was certainly their downfall but it just seemed to be one of those nights. Nevertheless, they will be a stronger team in the future with the talent at their disposal and can use this as a learning curve to strengthen going forward.
A huge win for Pearses who have been knocking on the Junior Championship door for years. This will be a vindication and redemption for their efforts over recent years as they finally got over the line under the lights at Dunsilly. They produced a polished performance when it mattered most and were unfazed by the occasion. There were fitting Champions on the night and congratulations to their players and coaches alike. Enjoy the celebrations and we wish them every success in their upcoming Ulster campaign.
C Murphy; C Doherty, J O’Donnell, J McKenna; G McKernan (0-01,) S Seawright, K Kennedy; S Thompson, C Walsh, PJ Meenan, F McNerney, J Rafferty; P McKissock (0-03,) C Ferran (0-01,) K Loughran
Substitute scorers: R McAvoy (0-02)
N Largey; D O’Neill, C O’Neill, A Bannon; T McFarlane, A McCavana, N Gorman; R Bannon, P Donaghy; P Murray, S Fitzsimmons (0-07,) S Moreland; F Grew (0-04,) L Campbell (0-03,) N O’Cuilin (1-01)