The Nire’s marvellous run in the Munster Club Senior Football Championship came to an end on Sunday when they were beaten by Austin Stacks in the final at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
The Waterford champions got off to a flying start.
The game was only three minutes old when Shane Ryan scored their opening goal and when outstanding teenager Conor Gleeson pointed in the 8th minute they led by 1-3 to no score.
Austin Stacks recovered from that lightning start and gained a foothold in the contest when Shane O’Callaghan scored a soft goal a minute later.
However the game then took another twist in The Nire’s favour when Austin Stacks centre forward Shane Carroll was sent off after picking up two yellow cards in the space of four minutes.
The Waterford champs had every chance of causing an upset in their second appearance in the provincial decider. But they did themselves few favours for the remainder of a hard-fought affair. They had just one score, a goal from Michael Moore, in the entire second half, a period of the game in which they wasted some decent chances and kicked eight wides.
Their short kick outs, identified as a tactic and targeted by the Kerry champions, also proved their undoing ten minutes before half time. That was when Shane O’Callaghan pounced on one and passed for David Mannix to shoot a goal.
The sides were level at the break, 1-4 to 2-1, but when Michael Moore found the net within ten minutes of the re-start, following great work by Craig Guiry and Seamus Lawlor, The Nire dared to dream again.
However that was as good as it got for them. They failed to make the best use of their extra man and two minutes after Moore’s goal they were on the receiving end themselves when goalkeeper Tom Wall fouled Greg Horan and Stacks wing-back Pat McCarthy converted the penalty.
From then on Austin Stacks, with Footballer of the Year Kieran Donaghy in control at midfield and Shane O’Callaghan, Fearghal MacNamara and Greg Horan also to the fore, tightened their grip on proceedings.
The Nire couldn’t be fauled for effort but once again they came up short against Kerry opposition, after Dr. Crokes had beaten them in the 2006 final.
The Nire manager Benji Whelan was left to ruefully reflect on the game.
“The amount of silly mistakes we made today was incredible after the run we’ve had, so I’d say when I sit down and watch it I’ll be sick”, he said.
Of particular regret were their eight second half wides.
“You can’t commit errors like that and expect to get away with it, but it’s a learning experience. They’ve stood up an awful lot this year and they’ve moved on.
Every time we’ve asked them to step up they’ve done it, and this was a big step up for them. Maybe it was a little bit too much on the day but I’d be disappointed with the errors.
I suppose with the start we got we should have kicked on but we invited them onto us a bit, which didn’t help. On the other side of it you couldn’t argue with Stacks - they were strong, they were running with force, there was power there. They’re a fine football outfit and they’ll take a little bit of stopping.
It’s just a learning curve but there’s always next year”.
He agreed that they failed to press home their numerical advantage.
“We didn’t put it to any use, our spare man was standing back in defence though at times he was going forward. We didn’t have a plan for that (playing against 14 men) and again that’s a learning experience we’ll take on board as management.
Back home they were all behind us and I’m disappointed for them too. It would have been a great step for everyone in Waterford, to come out of the county and do something strong”.
The Nire - T. Wall, M. O’Gorman (0-1), T. O’Gorman, J. Walsh, D. Wall, B. Wall (0-1 free), S. Lawlor, S. Walsh, C. Guiry, M. O’Gorman, M. Moore (1-0), J. Barron, S. Ryan (1-1, 0-1 free) L. Lawlor, C. Gleeson (0-1).
Substitutes - K. Guiry for Walsh (40 minutes), T. Cooney for Ryan (49 minutes), D. Ryan for S. Lawlor (temporary substitute, 55 minutes) and D. Ryan for C. Guiry (57 minutes).
Austin Stacks - D. O’Brien, F. McNamara, B. Shanahan, D. McElligot, P. McCarthy (1-0 penalty), C. Jordan, C. O’Connell, W. Guthrie, G. Horan, M. Collins (0-1), S. Carroll, D. Bohan, D. Mannix (1-2, 0-2 frees), K. Donaghy and S. O’Callaghan (1-1).
Substitutes - J. Dennis for O’Connell (half time), F. Mangan (0-1) for Collins (43 minutes), W. Kirby for Guthrie (47 minutes), D. Long for Mannix (55 minutes) and M. O’Donnell for Bohan (56 minutes).
Referee - Conor Lane (Cork).