Shattered after conceding goals at crucial stages of the game, Cnoc Mhuire Granard showed a lot of character in battling back to launch a determined late comeback in a most entertaining North Leinster Post-Primary Schools Senior ‘B’ Football Championship Final but eventually lost out by four points against Colaiste Choilm, Tullamore.
Played in difficult windy conditions on the excellent astro turf pitch at the St. Loman’s GAA grounds in Mullingar on Saturday last, Cnoc Mhuire were under pressure from the moment Colaiste Choilm corner-forward Liam Langton fired home a well-taken goal with 12 minutes gone in the game and the physically stronger Offaly outfit ended up leading by 1-7 to 0-4 at the break.
Having said that, the Granard school enjoyed a lot of possession when playing against the strong wind in the first half and created a number of goal chances but none were taken. Rian Brady had a point-blank shot well saved by the opposing keeper Joe Smyth as early as the 4th minute and nothing really went right for Cnoc Mhuire who gradually became frustrated.
Wing back Cian Brady was narrowly off target with a fine strike in the 18th minute; Aaron Earley shot badly wide when a goal was very much on in the 23rd minute while three other goal attempts were squandered in the closing stages of the first half as Conor Brady, Mark Kiernan and Aaron Brady all had close range efforts blocked down by a resolute Tullamore defence when points were there for the taking.
Although Cnoc Mhuire had a lucky escape in the 24th minute when their keeper Gary Carroll came to the rescue to keep out a goalbound shot from Paul Norton, the north Longford school certainly did not deserve to be six points down at half-time with their four scores coming from Rian Brady (8 mins), Nigel Rabbitte (10 mins), Mark Kiernan (26 mins) and Jayson Matthews (30 mins).
The main difference between the sides was the sheer quality of deadly accurate Colaiste Choilm full-forward Shane Dolan, who fired over six points (three frees) in the first half while also on target for Tullamore was substitute David Buckley who was brought on to take the place of the black carded PJ Daly in the 28th minute.
Cnoc Mhuire suffered a setback when full-back Diarmuid Fitzsimons was forced to retire injured in the 25th minute, with Eoin Higgins the replacement, and they fell further behind in the early stages of the second half when Paul Norton landed a vital point for Colaiste Choilm.
The Granard school continued to press the self destruct button, shooting four wides in a row, and it was completely against the run of play when Shane Dolan grabbed the second goal for the Tullamore team in the 39th minute to leave them in a commanding 2-8 to 0-4 lead.
But with the strong wind now in their favour, Cnoc Mhuire came storming back to shoot four points on the trot between the 39th and 47th minutes, the badly needed scores coming from Nigel Rabbitte, Aaron Brady, Rian Brady and centre-half-back Sean McKeogh.
However, the killer blow was struck when a rare mistake by the Cnoc Mhuire keeper Gary Carroll was punished as his wayward pass in a frantic attempt to clear the danger went straight to Colaiste Choilm player David Buckley who planted the ball in the back of the net.
Conceding that gift goal in the 51st minute was demoralising, to say the least, and a point apiece were then exchanged between the always prominent Cnoc Mhuire forward Rian Brady and overlapping Colaiste Choilm defender Conor Finlay.
Ryan Plunkett’s side looked dead and buried at this late stage but they never gave up the fight and were thrown a lifeline in the 55th minute when Eoin Higgins scoring a cracking goal after collecting a quickly taken free from Nigel Rabbitte.
And soon after a glorious goal chance fell to Jayson Matthews but he blasted the ball over the bar from a few yards out. While the gap was cut to four points when Rian Brady slotted over a close range free in the 59th minute, time ran out for Cnoc Mhuire as their Leinster Championship title hopes were dashed.
After their wonderful feat in winning the 2013 All-Ireland Vocational Schools Senior ‘A’ Championship title, it was always going to be a hard act to follow this season but Cnoc Mhuire have enjoyed great success in recent years and should be very proud of what they have achieved in schools football.
CNOC MHUIRE GRANARD: Gary Carroll (Granard/Ballymore); Tadhg McGahern (Mullahoran), Diarmuid Fitzsimons (Mullahoran), Isreal Ilunga (Castletown/Finea/Coole/Whitehall); Cian Brady (Northern Gaels), Sean McKeogh (Mullahoran, 0-1), Russell Brady (Northern Gaels); Aaron Brady (Gowna, 0-1), Barry McKiernan (Northern Gaels); Conor Brady (Gowna), Nigel Rabbitte (Northern Gaels, 0-2), Aaron Earley (Northern Gaels); Rian Brady (Northern Gaels, 0-4, one free), Mark Kiernan (Ballymacugh, 0-1), Jayson Matthews (Northern Gaels, 0-2).
Subs:- Eoin Higgins (Granard/Ballymore, 1-0) for D Fitzsimons (injured, 25 mins); Luke Kelly (Mostrim) for A Earley (57 mins).
COLAISTE CHOILM TULLAMORE: Joe Smyth; Conor Finlay (0-1), Mel Rowland, Kevin Beirne; Cathal Mangan, James Lalor, Paul O’Toole; Declan Byrne, Adam Mangan; PJ Daly, Paul Norton (0-1), Eoin Martin; Liam Langton (1-0), Shane Dolan (1-6, three points from frees), David Dempsey.
Subs:- David Buckley (1-1) for PJ Daly (black card, 28 mins); Ian Scally for E Martin (47 mins); Ben Dunne for C Finlay (53 mins); Jerome Scully for I Scally (57 mins).
Referee: Alan Lagrue