While they were in front throughout the Minor ‘A’ Football Championship Final at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday last, Northern Gaels were hard pressed to come out on top in the finish and it might have been a different story had Killoe Og not conceded a soft goal in the second half.
Just a solitary point (0-4 to 0-3) separated the sides before the Abbeylara/Mullinalaghta amalgamation got the crucial score after a tame effort from Ultan O’Hara was saved by the opposing keeper Micheal Hughes.
But the danger was not cleared as the ball broke loose to O’Hara who shot to the back of the net and that proved to be the major difference as Northern Gaels went on to achieve another Harte Cup triumph, watched by an attendance in the region of 500.
Thus a tremendous three-in-a-row of county minor titles was completed and while Conor Berry (who excelled for Abbeylara in the senior final the previous week) was not at his best on this occasion he still made a significant contribution to the success.
The right choice was made in selecting commanding centre-half-back Cian Brady as the winner of the man-of-the-match award in the minor final and others to figure prominently for Northern Gaels were Cathal Lynch at centrefield along with corner-forward Ultan O’Hara who registered 1-2 to emerge as the chief marksman.
Russell Brady was also to the fore around the middle of the field and while Northern Gaels were the better team it took a terrific save by their keeper Killian Gallagher to stop a goalbound shot from Philip Kiernan in stoppage time.
That would have been a dramatic end had Killoe succeeded in snatching a matchwinning goal and they were left to rue some poor finishing in the second half, kicking a total of five wides.
Northern Gaels done likewise (five wides) in a poor first half but were still good enough to lead by 0-4 to 0-1 at the break as Killoe squandered a number of other chances, including three shots that dropped short into the arms of the opposing keeper.
The Gaels fired over the first two points through well struck efforts from Cathal Lynch and Ultan O’Hara before Killoe eventually got their opening score when Eamon Keogh landed a fine effort in the 13th minute.
Back came Northern Gaels with a brace of points (free and ‘45’) from Conor Berry but Killoe made a great start to the second half that yielded two scores in quick succession through Shane Mahon and David McCarthy - only for the gallant losers to suffer a severe setback when key player Oisin Bennett was forced to retire injured in the 38th minute.
Moments later the Northern Gaels goal materialised and a Killoe point quickly followed from Aaron Clyne who blasted a rasping shot just over the bar.
Conor Berry converted a free in the 44th minute to leave his side 1-5 to 0-4 ahead and there was then an exchange of further scores (frees) between Aaron Clyne and Jayson Matthews (who had a quiet game by his high standards) before Killoe enjoyed a great spell.
Three points in a row (all from play) through David McCarthy, Shane Mahon and Ryan Moffett between the 54th and 57th minutes left just the minimum of margins (1-6 to 0-8) in it and Moffett, in particular, was proving to be a real driving force in the determined late comeback.
But Northern Gaels refused to panic in launching an immediate counter-attack and Ultan O’Hara fired over a fine point under pressure for what turned out to be the last score of the entertaining second half.
Conor Berry then struck a free against the upright and while Killoe battled it out to the bitter end they were unable to salvage the situation with the absence of the injured Shane Thompson a big blow to their hopes of winning the minor title.
Northern Gaels were reduced to 14 players when Jayson Matthews (who was just after getting booked) received a black card, followed by a red, in getting sent-off for a cynical foul on Ryan Moffett in the third minute of stoppage time.
And the resulting Killoe free came to nothing as the final whistle sounded seconds later.
NORTHERN GAELS: Killian Gallagher; Aaron Dalton, Tom Meehan, Aidan Brady; PJ Masterson, Cian Brady, Ronan Callaghan; Russell Brady, Cathal Lynch (0-1); Fergal Lynch, Cian McElligott, Mel Brady; Jayson Matthews (0-1, free), Conor Berry (0-3, two frees, one ‘45’), Ultan O’Hara (1-2).
Subs:- Aiden Brady for C McElligott (43 mins); Ronan Lynch for M Brady (49 mins); Paul Leonard for F Lynch (52 mins).
KILLOE OG: Micheal Hughes; Philip Kiernan, Oisin Bennett, Niall Farrelly; Conor Moran, Ryan Moffett (0-1), Liam Harte; Gavin Hughes, Brian Harte; Aaron Clyne (0-2, one free), Shane Mahon (0-2), Eamon Keogh (0-1); James Bracken, David McCarthy (0-2), Shane McManus.
Subs:- Ronan Moffett for O Bennett (injured, 38 mins); Paul Brady for S McManus (50 mins); Stephen Gilna for G Hughes (56 mins).
Referee: Michael Farrell