Graham Tarmac Junior Football Championship Final
Friday 6th October
Report by Niall Kelly
Cardinal O’Donnells 0-14 St Mary’s Rasharkin 3-07
Rasharkin vanquished the demons of their Junior Final heartbreak two seasons previous with a narrow two-point victory over a valiant O’Donnells outfit at Dunsilly on Friday evening. This one was an absolute barnstormer played at a frantic and frenetic pace from Patrick Tumelty’s first whistle with both going hammer and tongs to bring the gold home. In a game which was littered with superb scores and huge hits, it was perhaps the two men between the sticks who shone the brightest with both Connor Murphy and Andrew Hasson putting in colossal performances in the number one shirt with an array of miraculous saves throughout the sixty.
ODs will reflect with frustration on a commanding first half performance which somehow still wasn’t enough to take a lead into the interval. Ahead by six and with five minutes remaining until the break, Sean Pat Donnelly had taken flight for the O’s, rampaging from his own half to bare down on the opposition goal only to see his low drive drag agonisingly wide of the post. A mere two minutes and two Rasharkin goals later, and the O’s were scratching their heads. Tiernan O’Boyle’s scorcher and a Ryan Lynch penalty had flipped the momentum on its head. Rasharkin’s seasoned performers then put in a composed second half performance to get the job done and kept the O’Donnell’s resistance at bay in the process.
The men from the Whiterock seized the early initiative. There was great intensity and vibrancy to their play and when Fergal McNerney split the posts on the fifth minute to open the scoring, it was well deserved. Slick interplay between Sean Pat Donnelly and Richard McAvoy doubled their lead before the former slotted over from range moments later as the gauntlet was laid down.
Rasharkin responded through the all too familiar right boot of full-forward Eamonn McNeill, a score which was badly needed to give the men from Dreen some sort of foothold in proceedings. However, O’Ds were not to be perturbed as they would not relent in their offensive pursuit, hitting the next three scores again. An audacious, curling effort from PJ Meenan had the umpire waving the white flag before Donnelly again applied his imprint on the game with two placed balls from the deck.
Shellshocked, Rasharkin needed a response and the industrious efforts of Conor ‘Wiggy’ Hasson paved the way for talisman Ryan Lynch to curl over from range to narrow the margin. But still the men in blue and yellow were struggling to cope with the pace of their opponent’s heavy artillery at the other end as Meenan was causing havoc in their rearguard. The fleet-footed number 13 doubled his tally, evading three consecutive challenges in the process, before popping up with another beauty from a tight angle.
The Belfast outfit continued to turn the screw and were probing Hasson’s goal mouth constantly with slick offensive play but lacked that little bit of composure in the final pass to create the perfect goal chance. With five remaining until the short whistle, SP Donnelly was inches away from changing that. A bustling, marauding run from his own half had the Rasharkin defence on their heels but his drilled effort just went the wrong side of the post.
Perhaps it was this close shave that brought the Dreen men to life as the game was about to turn on its head as momentum shifted in favour of the men from the country. Step forward, Tiernan O’Boyle, whose piledriver from range arrowed to the top right of the O’Donnell’s net and suddenly it was game on.
O’Ds nearly retaliated with a major of their own as Ciaran McKissock’s effort kissed the wrong side of the post but it was to be Rasharkin who would deal yet another hammer blow to their opponents. Donagh Quigg’s storming run was brought to an abrupt halt in the box with a penalty the outcome. Up stepped Ryan Lynch who despatched with aplomb sending Murphy the wrong way.
The O’Donnells shot stopper was called into action immediately after as he produced an outstanding save to deny Shane Hasson from close range. The whistle then sounded to give the sizable crowd in attendance a chance to catch their breath with the teams deadlocked.
The second period began with a bang as Rasharkin carried their momentum through. A goal straight from the throw in would prove to be pivotal in the outcome. A fluid move was finished off with ruthless aplomb as Lynch doubled his tally of majors to put his side into the lead for the first time. A lead they wouldn’t surrender. It was the Dreen side who now had a swagger and purpose about them as Shane Hasson bolstered the lead with a wicked, curling effort from range.
O’Donnells seemed somewhat rattled and gaffer Joe Herald sought about changing things from the bench. The introduction of John Rafferty proved to be an inspired choice as the towering midfielder brought a composure and ingenuity to the engine room. The Whiterock side sought about reducing arrears and did so through another McNerney monster from range before Donnelly increased his tally. With their tails up, O’Donnells continued to forage for openings and Andrew Hasson was called to action for St Mary’s as his point-blank save denied McAvoy a certain goal.
With the game now truly in the melting pot, it was Rasharkin who nosed further ahead as Donagh Quigg’s goal effort hit the wrong side of the bar as he had to settle for a point. Somehow, Rasharkin were denied a fourth goal as again Murphy proved to be their downfall producing a stunning save with his feet from Lynch. O’Boyle then caressed the resulting forty-five perfectly over the black spot to reinstate the four-point margin.
With the game now approaching its conclusion, O’Donnells needed to act fast and a fabulous score from tenacious wing back Kevin Kennedy was the perfect first step. Buoyed by this, the men in maroon and yellow had their opponents pinned back as they looked to capitalise. John Rafferty’s cleverly executed through pass opened the door for SP Donnelly to point to narrow the gap further.
Shane Hasson responded from a free to gain some respite, but it was all one-way traffic again as O’Donnells came forward in their droves in search of that all-elusive goal. It looked as though McNerney was on his way to achieving just that before an emphatic goal-saving block from Conor Hasson halted his path. The twin threat of Meenan and McAvoy was in full swing again as both landed points to cut the gap to a single point coming into added time as hearts were now in mouths in the camps of both sets of supporters.
Frantically, they searched but that levelling score would just not come for the O’s as their opponents stood resolute. Rasharkin’s know-how helped them to the finish line and how fitting it was that two-goal hero Ryan Lynch would have the last say with the clinching and final point of a superb game.
A huge congratulations to Rasharkin who capped off a wonderful year with promotion back to Division Two with a Championship medal in the back pocket. Only losing one game all year is a huge feat and one which will fill them with confidence for the rigours of Intermediate Football next year.
Although O’Donnells will be crestfallen, they can take great heart in their performance. Last year, they were beaten well by Pearses at the final hurdle. This year, it was anything but. There can be little doubt that they are on the right path and perhaps their day will soon come.
C Murphy; K Loughran, S Seawright, J McKenna; G McKernan, C Walsh, K Kennedy (0-01;) F McNerney (0-02,) J Wilson; R McAvoy (0-02,) SP Donnelly (0-05,) S Thompson; PJ Meenan (0-04,) C McKissock, M McKenna
A Hasson; P Kelly, E McFerrnan, F Quigg; F Kennedy, C Hasson, T O’Boyle (1-01;) T McMullan, R O’Boyle; D Quigg (0-01,) C Mooney, O McMullan; S Hasson (0-02,) E McNeill (0-01) R Lynch (2-02)