Graham Tarmac Junior Football Championship Semi-Final
Saturday 24th September
Report by Niall Kelly
Cardinal O’Donnells 0-18 Éire Óg 1-10 (After Extra Time)
O’Donnell’s have sealed their spot in the Junior showpiece for the first time in nearly ten years overcoming a stubborn Éire Óg side in a captivating encounter. It took extra time to settle this one with both teams battling hammer and tongs in classic Championship fashion. The sizable crowd at Pairc MacRuari were treated to an engrossing and pulsating eighty minutes of football full of thrills and spills as both these titans duelled for a place in the final.
Many were perhaps expecting a facile victory for O’Donnell’s but it proved to be anything but. The Derriaghy natives ripped up that script and their pragmatic and efficient style of play saw them hold a two-point lead at half-time and with Kevin Clarke spearheading their attack, they looked a constant threat every time they ventured forward. They didn’t leave an inch on the field and their trojan-like work ethic caused constant headaches for the O’s and can take great pride in their efforts.
Nevertheless, with an array of heavy attacking artillery in their arsenal and in reserve, O’Donnell’s produced when it mattered most and demonstrated their genuine Championship credentials in extra time as they romped home in the second period of extra time. Switching the commanding presence of full forward Ciaran Ferran to midfield proved to be a master stroke from O’D’s boss Joe Herald as Ferran proved to be the difference maker in the engine room and was the fulcrum of the host’s offence.
Éire Óg opened up a two-point gap in the opening five minutes with talisman Kevin Clarke providing the finishing touches to patient approach play. His opposite number-sake Padraig McKissock got the scoreboard moving for the hosts as he despatched a trademark free off the carpet three minutes later. Cailean Walsh levelled matters with a succulent effort off the outside of the boot before centre back Scott Thompson unleashed a drilled effort from distance to take the lead midway through the half.
O’D’s looked to be well in the ascendancy with further scores from Walsh and Richard McAvoy but a resurgent Éire Óg answered back as momentum swayed once again in their favour. Darragh Doonan’s improvised finish from close range was followed by yet another Clarke effort to reduce the margin to the minimum. In the closing five minutes of the half, the visitors hit a purple patch and reinstated their earlier two point lead with their number thirteen at the forefront. James Toal started the revival. Moments later, Clarke split the posts in style off the outside of his cultured right boot with Doonan striking again on the stroke of half-time. Their productivity in front of the posts was a constant theme as they accumulated very little wides.
The visitors then started the second period as they’d finished the first with an all too familiar source forcing the umpire to raise the white flag with Clarke’s tally increasing again. The dual sweeper system was causing O’D’s problems as they enjoyed large periods of possession without the killer finish as Éire Óg stifled their creativity and frustrated their Belfast counterparts.
However, when O’D’s began to pop the ball off the shoulder with more fluidity and purpose, they had established the winning formula to mount their fightback. Ciaran Ferran and Padraig McKissock steered their efforts between the posts before the former equalised on the forty-fifth minute finishing off a calculated move.
Kieran Ryan then made a vital clearance off the line for the visitors minutes later. Fergal McNerney’s goal-bound effort was stopped in its tracks but the signs looked ominous for the visitors as the O’s continued to pile on the pressure.
With the game approaching its climax, the drama kept on coming. Two spectacular efforts from Padraig McKissock helped open up a two-point lead for the O’s now with less than seven minutes remaining. It looked as though they may just have done enough if they could retain the ball and take the sting out of proceedings. It was not to be. James Toal’s lofted ball into the square from a free caused havoc in the O’Donnell’s rear-guard and when they failed to clear their lines, substitute Oran McMenamin fired to the net with a predator’s instinct to hush the home faithful.
With the clock against them, the hosts sought to pursue any penetrative avenues of attack but were frustrated by the resolute Éire Óg defence. Thankfully for the hosts, the enviable talents of PJ Meenan came to their rescue as his composed finish under pressure two minutes from the end took the game into extra time.
Both teams emptied the benches for the twenty minutes which followed. Fresh legs proved to be of vital importance for O’D’s as well as a positional change which saw Ciaran Ferran deployed at midfield.
Éire Óg forged a 0-02 0-01 lead half-way through the first period thanks to Stephen Mullin and Kevin Clarke efforts either side of a Ferran point from range. However, that was to be as good as it got for them as a rejuvenated O’D’s buoyed on by their raucous home fans, produced some slick and fluent football to break the hearts of their opponents.
Padraig McKissock, who had a storming game, soared over yet another effort off the carpet before Ciaran Ferran steered an audacious, long-range effort between the posts to retake the lead. Richard McAvoy stroked over to double the deficit just before the interval.
The hosts then managed to keep Éire Óg scoreless in the second period and their constant movement in attack caused major problems. Géaroid McKernan and that man Ferran split the posts before Keely Loughran finished matters off as he slotted over from close range to trigger a deafening roar from the raucous home support. Éire Óg can certainly keep their heads high.
Although they’re no doubt devastated, they played out of their skins and battled tirelessly throughout. Their tenacity and industry will serve them well next year and they possess a lethal weapon in their attack with the prowess of Kevin Clarke.
A huge win for O’D’s who have impressed throughout this campaign and remain undefeated in the Junior grade. Winning is a hard habit to break and with the strength in depth Joe Herald has at his disposal, the Whiterock side will go into the final against familiar foes Pearses brimming with confidence in what should be an intriguing game.
C Murphy; C Doherty, S Seaswright, J McKenna; G McKernan (0-01,) S Thompson (0-01,) K Kennedy; J Rafferty, Conor Walsh; PJ Meenan (0-01,) C Walsh (0-02,) F McNerney; P McKissock (0-05,) C Ferran (0-05,) R McAvoy (0-02)
K Loughran (0-01)
J George; P Loughran, K Ryan, J Devine; C Rice, R Donnelly, A McKnight; D Murray, T Malone; C McKenna, J Toal (0-01) S Erskine; K Clarke (0-06,) D Doonan (0-02,) B Shannon
O McMenamin (1-00)
S Mullin (0-01)
Referee: Colin Mallon (Aghagallon)