TWO handy enough goals from frees during the first half, allied to a dogged finish which earned a brace of points during the closing four minutes, were the central planks when St Lachtain’s (Freshford) dug out a battling win over talented Mullinavat in this high class under-21 Roinn A hurling final in St John’s Park, winning by 2-11 to 0-15, writes John Knox.
The game started in teeming rain and a chilly grey fog, but as if in reaction to the hot competition on the field, the skies dried and the day brightened as fans were treated to a super Sunday of hurling.
Mullinavat, big, strong and good movers of the ball, faced a 7-point deficit early in the closing half. Thanks to some powerful hurling by the likes of Simon Aylward, Thomas Aylward, Mark Mansfield, Pat Mulhearn and Ger Malone they pared that down to the minimum twice during the closing nine minutes.
In the 51st minute the divide was 2-9 to 0-14.
The game was finely balanced as the two sides put every last ounce into the drive for survival. The ’Vat missed a chance to equalise moments later when they registered their first wide of the half.
They were out-scored
Lachtain’s, who had been out-scored by 0-8 to 0-3 thus far in the half, needed a score, from any source or quarter, to put the brakes on a deadly Mullinavat drive that threatened to swallow them after the losers had put six scores together.
The moment of brilliance St Lachtain’s needed came from the combined efforts of midfielder, James Maher, a great winner and user of the ball, and speed merchant corner-forward, Shane Donnelly in the 56th minute. Maher won good possession in his patch before delivery a clever, low ball into the right corner where Donnelly danced his way into space before shooting a point.
St Lachtain’s were a priceless point better off, 2-10 to 0-14. They were back in the groove. The Mullinavat charged was, it not stopped, at least interrupted.
And still Mullinavat continued to pour forward. Pat Mulhearn cracked over a point after winning good possession from a long range free by driving and powerful central defender, Thomas Aylward.
It was the 57th minute. The divide was 2-10 to 0-15.
The losers might have claimed victory moments later when a forward turned a dropping ball from a free by Thomas Aylward into the net. Referee Paddy Neary whistled from an infringement of the square. A free out was the call.
St Lachtain’s made good their escape, and as the game drifted into injury-time, Donnelly posted a wide before team captain, Steven Farrell sealed what was their first Roinn A under-21 championship success since 1977. The skipper did so when picking up a wayward clearance from the opposing defence before shooting a point from around 40 metres in front of goal.
The win was Lachtain’s second in the championship.
Blur of activity
From the off, the game was a blur of activity; was brimful of fine touches and it produced some fantastic individual scores. Early on the teams shared equally in four points, Mark Mansfield and Ian Duggan (M) trading with Steven Farrell (free) and Denis Lennon, the latter one of those lovely individual efforts mentioned after he let fly from 45-metres virtually on the right sideline.
St Lachtain’s hit the front, and there they stayed, in the 13th minute. Donnelly chased a ball to the endline at the St Kieran’s cemetery end and turned it across goal. There it was fouled by a bemused defender. The 20-metre free by Steven Farrell wasn’t brilliantly struck, but the ball hit the net via a defender’s hurley (1-2 to 0-2).
That goal was still the difference as the half drifted towards a conclusion. Then on 28 minutes Donnelly was hit crudely as he received possession. Another 20-metre free was awarded to Lachtain’s right in front of the goal!
This time Farrell lost the grip with one hand on the hurley as he struck the ball. Yet the sliotar ended up in the net, again via a defender’s stick.
A late point from Shane Donnelly, with an assist from the wonderful Colin Corcoran, fired St Lachtain’s into a somewhat flattering interval lead of 2-6 to 0-6.
The early minutes of the new half produced a flurry of points, with Lachtain’s improving their lead to 2-9 to 0-8 by the 37th minute.
Slowly Mullinavat got a grip on the game. Liam Fennelly pointed. By the end of the quarter Mark Mansfield did likewise, and the hugely influential Simon Aylward repeated the act three times.
Continued to drive forward
The Southern run of scores was added to by Pat Mulhearn in the 51st minute, a great score from 50 metres on the turn, which left the minimum between the teams (2-9 to 0-14).
The Aylwards’, Mansfield, Mulhearn, Ian Duggan, Joe Fennelly and company continued to drive towards the finishing line, but the game got away on them.
The wonderful Brian Kennedy, Shane Donnelly, Simon Rafter and James Maher, along with the excellent Colin Corcoran, Philip Campion, Denis Lennon, Steven Farrell and company just did enough to edge them through. Hurling was the real winner, however.
Scorers: St Lachtain’s – Steven Farrell (2-2, 2-1 frees); Shane Donnelly, Denis Lennon (0-3 each); Philip Campion (0-2); Brian Kennedy (0-1, free). Mullinavat – Simon Aylward (0-5, frees); Mark Mansfield, Pat Mulhearn (0-3 each); Thomas Aylward, Paudie Gahan, Ian Duggan, Liam Fennelly (0-1 each).
St Lachtain’s – Darren Brennan, Paul White, Lachtain Kennedy, Criomthann Bergin, Brendan Quinn, Brian Kennedy, Simon Rafter, Fintan White, James Maher, Philip Campion, Steven Farrell (capt), Jack Boland, Denis Lennon, Colin Corcoran, Shane Donnelly. Subs – Liam Hickey, Alexander Rafter.
Mullinavat – James Culleton, Mikie Jones, Joe Fennelly (capt), Darren Kenneally, Brian Phelan, Thomas Aylward, Robbie Malone, Simon Aylward, Paudie Gahan, Mark Mansfield, Ian Duggan, Pat Mulhearn, Liam Fennelly, Ger Malone, John Walsh.
Referee – Paddy Neary (James Stephens).