A glorious night for Ardfinnan as the club’s under 21 footballers bridged a gap of almost twenty years to capture the county A football title, deservedly edging out holders, Loughnmore-Castleiney in a fine contest at Boherlahan on Saturday evening.
The South champions last success at this level was won in the boardroom back in the nineties, against the same opposition, following a dispute over the timing of the game, but there was no question about the merit of this victory as Ardfinnan looked the more accomplished all through and should have been further clear at the finish.
Facing the holders, who had overcome a fancied Arravale Rovers in their semi-final, Ardfinnan needed to be at their best, and they were, with their “top guns” leading by example, Billy Hewitt, and Michael O’Sullivan in particular having a huge influence on the game.
It was an energetic contest with some excellent football and two controversial penalty incidents. The first was awarded to Ardfinnan in the 13th minute when Daniel O’Regan was fouled but referee David Grogan, after consulting with the umpire and booking two players, changed his mind and opted for a throw-in, much to the dismay of the Ardfinnan contingent.
The second incident came in the 24th minute, after Loughmore had scored their goal. Liam McGrath was bearing down on goal and appeared to be “hooked” as he was about to get his shot away, but to the disappointment of the Loughmore fans, the referee appeared to play the advantage which came to nought as McGrath’s effort spun wide .
In effect the incidents cancelled each other out, but each had the potential, at the time they occurred, to greatly change the course of the game. At the end however, no one disputed that the best team won, with Ardfinnan outscoring their opponents in both halves for a memorable win.
From the outset it was apparent that a humdinger was in store. Daniel O’Regan, having a capital game in attack for Ardfinnan, opened the scoring with a point but Liam McGrath’s pointed free for Loughmore levelled by the 7th minute.
O’Regan and Gerry Cronin added further Ardfinnan points by the 16th minute reflecting their superiority at that point. Had they got their penalty and converted it, it would have given them a real grip on the game.
Loughmore’s great tradition in this grade ensured that they never go under easily. Liam McGrath pointed a free and in the 21st minute, John McGrath, a hugely influential figure for them in the period, set up Benny Harkin who took his goal with great aplomb to put them ahead.
Advantage Loughmore, it seemed, but Shane Fagan pointed a free for Ardfinnan before the Liam McGrath penalty claim. The let off inspired Ardfinnan who turned up the heat in the closing minutes of the half, shooting three points through Hewitt (2) and O’Regan to go two clear but in injury time Brian McGrath pointed for Loughmore to leave Ardfinnan ahead 0-7 to 1-3 at the interval.
Though Bill O’Connell levelled for Loughmore inside a minute of resuming, the second half was dominated by Ardfinnan. O’Regan’s fourth point of the day, restored their advantage but in a very competitive period, scores came slowly, with Ardfinnan shooting seven wides. Pointed frees by Billy Hewitt in the 43rd and 49th minutes had Ardfinnan pushing for home. Liam McGrath pointed a free in the 56th minute to signal an all-out drive by Loughmore for a winning goal. In a break, Gerry Cronin restored Ardfinnan’s three point lead but as the game drifted into injury time Benny Harkin had a blast for goal for Loughmore scrambled off the line, and seconds later, fullback Joe Hennessy’s piledriver skidded wide, leaving Ardfinnan relieved but delighted champions.
The euphoria in the Ardfinnan camp after the game reflected how much the title meant to the club. To their followers, all sixteen who played were heroes, but Oisin Flynn, Darren Bray, Daniel O’Regan, Philip Murphy, Billy Hewitt, Tom Kirwan and Michael O’Sullivan stood out head and shoulders above the others. This crop of young players have the potential to bring back the glory days for Ardfinnan at senior level and their progresss will be followed with interest.
Loughmore-Castleiney will feel they did not do themselves justice by this performance. They were not helped by second half injuries to John Meagher and John McGrath, two of the powerhouses of the team, with Meagher having to retire before the finish. Had they been able to play to their potential for the full hour, who knows how things might have gone. Liam McGrath was as busy as ever, with Bill O’Connell, Tomas McGrath, and Benny Harkin also to the fore.
Ardfinnan – Colin Nugent; Sean Nagle, Jonathan Ryan, Oisin Flynn; Stephen Lambert, Michael O’Sullivan, Darren Bray; Philip Murphy, Aaron Cowan; James O’Mahoney, Billy Hewitt (0-4, 3fs) Gerry Cronin (0-2); Daniel O’Regan (0-4, 1f), Tom Kirwan, Shane Fagan (0-1); Sub – Michael Goonan for Fagan;
Loughmore-Castleiney – Richie Maher; Denis Brereton, Joseph Hennessy, Martin Meagher; Tommy Maher, Tomas McGrath, Joe Nyland; John McGrath, Lorcan Egan; Brian McGrath (0-1), Liam McGrath (0-3,3fs), John Meagher; Bill O’Connell (0-1), Liam Treacy, Benny Harkin (1-0); Subs- Padraig Egan for M Meagher; Kevin O’Connell for J Meagher;
Referee – David Grogan.