Graham Tarmac Junior Football Championship Semifinals
Saturday 24th September
Report by Niall Kelly
Cardinal O’Donnells 0-18 Éire Óg 1-10 (after extension)
O’Donnell’s have secured their place in the youth flagship for the first time in almost a decade, defeating a stubborn Éire Óg side in a gripping encounter. It took extra time to resolve this issue as both teams fought with hammer and tongs in classic Championship fashion. The sizable crowd at Pairc MacRuari were treated to a gripping and pulsating eighty minutes of thrill-packed and thrill-filled football as these two titans dueled for a place in the final.
Many might have expected an easy win for O’Donnell’s, but it turned out to be anything but. The Derriaghy natives ripped that script open and their pragmatic and efficient play ensured they had a two-point advantage at half-time and with Kevin Clarke at the forefront of their attack they looked every time they ventured forward , as a constant threat. They never left an inch and their Trojan work ethic was a constant headache for the O’s and they can be very proud of their efforts.
However, with a number of heavy attack guns in their arsenal and in reserve, O’Donnell’s produced when it mattered most and demonstrated their true champion credentials in overtime as they stormed home in the second overtime period. Shifting forward Ciaran Ferran’s commanding presence into midfield proved to be a masterstroke on the part of O’D boss Joe Herald, as Ferran proved to be the crucial factor in engineering and the lynchpin of the hosts’ offense.
Éire Óg built up a two-point lead in the first five minutes, with talisman Kevin Clarke putting the finishing touches on the patient approach play. His opponent Padraig McKissock got the scoreboard moving for the hosts when he sent a trademark free off the carpet three minutes later. Cailean Walsh leveled the game with a juicy shot from the outside of the boot before centre-back Scott Thompson unleashed a piercing shot from distance to take the lead mid-half.
O’D’s appeared to be on the mend with more goals from Walsh and Richard McAvoy, but a resurgent Éire Óg answered as the momentum swung in their favor again. Darragh Doonan’s impromptu finish from close range was followed by another attempt by Clarke to reduce the lead to a minimum. In the final five minutes of the half, the visitors hit a purple spot, restoring their former two-point lead with their number thirteen at the top. James Toal started the revival. Moments later, Clarke split the posts in style from the outside of his cultured right boot and Doonan struck again at half-time. Their productivity off the post was a constant issue as they accumulated very few wides.
The visitors then began the second third after finishing the first, with an all too familiar source forcing the referee to raise the white flag, with Clarke’s tally picking up again. The dual sweeper system caused problems for O’Ds as they enjoyed long periods of possession without the killer finish, while Éire Óg stifled their creativity and frustrated their Belfast counterparts.
However, by the time O’D’s began to slam the ball off their shoulders with more fluidity and accuracy, they had developed the winning formula for their comeback. Ciaran Ferran and Padraig McKissock channeled their efforts between the posts before the former completed a calculated move in the forty-fifth minute.
Kieran Ryan then made an important clearance for the visitors off the line minutes later. Fergal McNerney’s shot on goal was stopped but the signs looked ominous for the visitors as the O’s continued to press.
As the game neared its climax, the drama continued. Two spectacular attempts from Padraig McKissock helped the O’s extend a two-point lead with less than seven minutes to go. It looked like they might have done just enough if they could keep the ball and take the sting out of proceedings. It should not be. James Toal’s ball, flicked onto the field from a free-kick, caused chaos in the O’Donnells’ rearguard and when they failed to clear their lines substitute Oran McMenamin smashed into the net with predatory instinct to snare home loyalty to silence.
With time against them, the hosts tried to capitalize on all penetrating attacking opportunities but were frustrated by Éire Óg’s determined defence. Luckily for the hosts, the enviable talent of PJ Meenan came to their rescue as his commanding finish under pressure sent the game into overtime with two minutes remaining.
In the following twenty minutes both teams emptied the benches. Fresh legs proved crucial for O’D’s as well as a position change that saw Ciaran Ferran deployed in midfield.
Éire Óg forged a 0-02, 0-01 lead midway through the first period thanks to the efforts of Stephen Mullin and Kevin Clarke on either side of a Ferran point from long range. That was to be as good as it could be for them, however, as rejuvenated O’D’s, spurred on by their raucous home fans, produced smooth and fluid football to break their opponents’ hearts.
Padraig McKissock, who had a stormy game, fired from the carpet via another try before Ciaran Ferran steered a daring long shot between the posts to retake the lead. Richard McAvoy swung to double the deficit just before the break.
The hosts then managed to keep Éire Óg goalless in the second period and their constant movement in attack caused major problems. Géaroid McKernan and that man Ferran parted the posts before Keely Loughran ended matters when he shoved over from close range to trigger a deafening roar from the rough home support. Éire Óg can certainly hold their heads high.
While undoubtedly devastated, they played out of their skins and fought tirelessly throughout. Their tenacity and diligence will serve them well over the next year, and they possess a deadly weapon for their attack in the skill of Kevin Clarke.
A big win for O’D’s who have impressed throughout this campaign and remain undefeated in the junior class. Winning is a tough habit and with the strength that Joe Herald has at his disposal, the Whiterock side will go into the final against familiar opponent Pearses, who oozes confidence, in what should be an intriguing match.
C Murphy; Doherty C, Seaswright S, McKenna J; G McKernan (0-01) S Thompson (0-01) K Kennedy; J Rafferty, Conor Walsh; PJ Meenan (0-01,) C Walsh (0-02,) F McNerney; P McKissock (0:05), C Ferran (0:05,) R McAvoy (0:02)
K Loughran (0-01)
JGeorge; P Loughran, K Ryan, J Devine; Rice C, Donnelly R, McKnight A; D Murray, T Malone; C McKenna, J Toal (0-01) S Erskine; K Clarke (0-06,) D Doonan (0-02,) B Shannon
O McMenamine (1-00)
S Mullin (0-01)
Referee: Colin Mallon (Agagallon)