At the risk of oversimplifying things, it is claimed that climate change is a bad thing. Not too many supporters or spectators attending the Under 16 County Hurling final at Lámh Dhearg on Sunday afternoon would have been of the same opinion, as the sun shone and the wind calmed to a whisper. It was perfect Hurling conditions, at the end of September for the two best teams in the county to compete for the cup. Everything was set up for a great match.
The failure of the P.A system did not hinder the singing of Amhráin na bhfiann, as local musician Eamonn Ó Faogaoin sang beautifully from the sideline before the game.
Goosebumps all over, the teams lined out and the referee got the game underway without delay. The opening minute was intense with both teams battlingto gain a foothold on the game as the sliothar whizzed about the field. It wasn’t long before Naomh Eoin wing half forward, Michael Hanna put an early blue and white marker down on the game as he drove the ball to the back of the Dunloy net after some tenacious tackling and terrific teamwork by the Johnnies men.
Dunloy had brought a sweeper back which they tried to exploit for short puckouts facing into the slight wind that was blowing. The Naomh Eoin men worked hard to nullify this and won possession on more occasions than not throughout the game. This great teamwork lead to several scoring opportunities for the Johnnies, who had a few narrow misses before Aidan McMahon split the posts with a beautiful strike, which was expertly assisted over the bar with the guidance of the breeze. Dunloy kept in touch with points from open play from Coby and a few from frees, but Naomh Eoin kept the pressure on.
Another well worked Johnnies goal was created through the smart play of johnnies corner forward Colly Longair and was finished off by Michael Hanna in no uncertain fashion. Dunloy scored a couple of more points from placedballs, before Sharp shooter Shea Shannon scored three points from frees. Two of these were from very acute angles and came at the right time of the game for the Johnnies, as they kept the scoreboard alive. The energetic C J McKenna, Naomh Eoin’s centre half forward who had worked well throughout the half to create scores along with the other forwards, was rewarded with a point of his own in between Shea’s pinpoint frees.
Play until this point had been fast, skilful and furious however, the score of the half was to come just before the half time whistle when C J latched onto a great pass from the ever industrious Peter McCallin to run from 40 yards out like a steam train to rifle the ball into the roof of the net to make it 3 – 5 to 0 – 6 at the half time interval.
The second half began as the first had, with possession being contested hotly by both sets of players. Dunloy’s attack was constantly repelled by the strong, cohesive Naomh eoin defence. A turnover of possession was to lead to the first score of the second half as Johnnies hit man full forward Peter McCallin buried the ball into the Dunloy net after a sublime piece of play on the edge of the square. C J McKenna again took a lovely point from distance after a great piece of play from Johnnies midfield maestro John Darragh, who was immense throughout the game.
John then cancelled out a Dunloy free with a long distance free of his own which went straight over the black spot. Eoin ‘Obo’ Connolly marshalled the full back line with authority and fed the half back line with turnover possession to set up several Naomh Eoin attacks. Niall McCann, Odhran McKenna and Conor Carson held the half back line expertly and provided the platform for numerous johnnies attacks. Sean ‘Clash’ McKinley was exceptional attacking the oncoming sliothar and playing at a high tempo throughout the game. He hit a purple patch during the period when Dunloy were pressing for a goal, catching ball and feeding the midfielders and forwards with quality ball to work with. He was a contender for man of the match. The game was beginning to slip from Dunloy’s grip at this stage, when Shea Shannon again fed Peter who raised the noise level of the crowd and the umpire’s green flag simultaneously for the fifth Johnnies goal of the day.
Dunloy kept at it despite the scoreline and were now focused on getting goals themselves as time began to run out. Johnnies ‘keeper Paddy Carlin was on hand to make several vital saves and clearances and he was well assisted by the hard work of ‘Concrete’ Conor Carson and corner back Lorcan Heenan. Lorcan defended resolutely throughout the game and was rewarded with a fantastic point of his own in the closing stages of the game as Dunloy left gaps in their own defence. Anton Lidster’s pace created havock in the Dunloy defence when he replaced Colly Longair, who had run himself all over the field. The hard working Joe Clifford was unlucky not to get a goal himself as he was closed down by the Dunloy defenders as he bore in on the Dunloy goalkeeper. Joe’s tacking and teamwork let to many chances throughout the game.
It wasn’t long before the Dunloy goal was again breached by the effervescent Aidan McMahon, when he sliclky skipped through several defenders before driving the sliothar into the top corner of the net. Odhrán Carleton replaced Joe Clifford and had an immediate impact taking a point from a tight angle after a great passage of passing and movement from the Johnnies. Gavin Hughes came on to replace John Darragh and he was immediately called into action to shore up the midfield as Peter McCallin was on the recieveing end of a thumping tackle from the Dunloy defence. Space opened up all over the field as Dunloy pushed hard to get a goal. Shea Shannon dropped back in the closing stages, won plenty of possession and set up play after play for the men in blue and white to stem the Dunloy attack. Niall McCann hassled and harried throughout the game, especially the late wave of attack from Dunloy.
The introduction of Sean Wilson provided the impetus for another successful Johnnies goal as Sean bravely won possession and smartly fed Michael Hanna who sealed the victory with a fine strike to complete his hat trick on a great day for him and Naomh Eoin. With a hat trick in a county final it would be hard not to get at least nominated for man of the match, the truth is there were many contenders, all in blue and white. When the referee sounded the final whistle the scoreline stood Naomh Eoin 7 – 6 Dunloy 0 – 13 to the delight of the Naomh Eoin players, mentors and supporters alike.
Congratulations to the Naomh Eoin squad who were deserved winners on the day and have, evidently, reached this high standard due to their dedication to developing their game and fitness over the year. Commiserations to Dunloy who battled throughout the game and may have won, had they not come up against such a strong St John’s team. Many thanks to the supporters who attended the game and to the parents and families for your continued support throughout the year.
Enjoy the success and look forward to next year with great anticipation as we continue on the pathway of continual development – Naomh Eoin Abú!