THERE was heartbreak for Dunedin Connollys as the club came unstuck against some first class opposition in the All-Ireland Junior Football Championship at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh.
Their opponents on the day, Rock St Patricks, had already emerged as Ulster Champions—usually a serious indicator of quality—and could call on the services of one of Tyrone’s three-time All-Ireland champions in the form of Ciaran Gourley. Though Gourley added the experience that comes from tasting success at the very highest level of the sport, there was strength throughout the Rock all the way to the bench and Dunedin knew straight from the off that they were in for a tough day.
That didn’t mean the men from Edinburgh didn’t go in with some serious form of their own, however, and straight from the start Connollys showed they are a side to be reckoned with. Two early scores from Francis Molloy and Stephen Mulvihill drove them into the lead and could have caused lesser sides than the Tyrone outfit to question themselves.
However, knowing they had the experience and quality to call on Rock stayed calm and stuck to their task. Chipping away through Aidan McGarrity, Eamon Ward and the impressive Conor McCreesh Rock were able to steady the ship and regain the lead. Once in front they made Connollys pay, and in the 19th minute Ward found the net to push the Tyrone men even further in front.
However, Connollys were not to be so easily shaken off, and by the break they had demonstrated their resolve. A goal by Molloy sent Connollys in at the break trailing by 1-8 to 1-4, but still with some hope that their danger men could trouble Rock.
That hope was not to be realised, however, and sadly the second half became a procession as point after point sailed between the posts and increasingly demoralised the hard-working Connollys. A late cheer was raised by captain Brian McAteer with a consolation goal, and at the final whistle the scores stood 1-18 to 2-6.
The level of opponent was not lost on anyone at Connollys, but there was little to soften the blow of bowing out at the semi-final stage with a All-Ireland Final appearance at Croke Park within touching distance.
Rock St Patricks will now go into the final full of confidence that they can become All-Ireland champions, but their manager, Adrian Nugent, was quick to acknowledge that despite their scoreline they had to rely on their full panel and star men in order to ensure they made no mistake against Connollys.
“Look at the work of Ciaran Gourley, he has achieved everything in Gaelic football as a club and as a county player, but his work-rate from the first minute to the 60th minute was incredible,” Nugent said. “And we said at half-time that there want enough of that all over the field. We had to get earlier ball into Conor and Aidan, they are the scoring men.
“Sometimes the scoring men get all the credit, but Aidan Girvan, Niall McWilliams, Enda McWilliams, Diarmuid Carroll were putting their head in where you wouldn’t put your foot. And that’s what you need on a day like that.
“You have to run a bench. It’s not about 15 any more, it’s about 15-plus, and we fortunately have that now. In the past it maybe wasn’t there, but you can take any man from the subs, and you know he’ll do a job for you.”
Rock St Patricks
S Donaghy; M McAleer, N Mullan, N McWilliams; A Girvan, S Mullan, C Gourley (0-2); E McWilliams (0-1), D Carroll (0-2); T Bloomer, E Ward (1-1), P Ward; R Crilly (0-1), A McGarrity (0-8, 0-5 frees), C McCreesh (0-2). Subs: L Nugent for Paudie Ward, Peter Ward (0-1) for S Mullan, S Litter for Crilly, M Corrigan for E Ward, C McWilliams for McCreesh
J McAleavy; C Horan (0-1), S Powell, A Moore; R McGurk, M Hanna, B Russell; R Howe, B McAteer (1-0); E Newton, D Keating (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 45), B Parsons; S Mulvihill (0-2), F Molloy (1-1), D Loftus. Subs: S Malee for Loftus, V Moriarty for Howe, A Ward for Mulvihill Black card: Malee replaced by D Keane
S Lonergan (Tipperary)