St Vincent’s cap a memorable year for Dublin football in fitting style

Northside club mark the year of Heffo’s passing with thrillling provincial final win over plucky Portlaoise

Eamon Fennell of St Vincent’s evades the challenge from Portlaoise’s Kieran Lillis during yesterday’s Leinster football senior club championship final at  O’Connor Park, Tullamore, Co Offaly. Photograph: Inpho

Eamon Fennell of St Vincent’s evades the challenge from Portlaoise’s Kieran Lillis during yesterday’s Leinster football senior club championship final at O’Connor Park, Tullamore, Co Offaly. Photograph: Inpho

Mon, Dec 9, 2013, 01:00

St Vincent’s 3-12 Portlaoise 3-9

The curtain came down on a memorable year for Dublin with football champions St Vincent’s adding the Leinster title after a most entertaining provincial final in Tullamore.

Both teams had demonstrated extreme resilience in their campaigns to date so it was fascinating to see them heading into the home straight of the final 10 minutes neck and neck, knowing one of them probably wouldn’t make it by the long whistle.

For a while they threw punches at each other – metaphorically – a bit like exhausted fighters, turning over ball and launching long, arduous attacks before having to turn around and defend. But in the end game Vincent’s were stronger and better able to maintain the punishing tempo necessary to see out the match and eventually make the second-half wind advantage pay.

The winners had actually established control earlier in the match, leading by six, 2-4 to 0-4 by the 24th minute. But as Tomás Quinn – another fine display under his belt – reflected afterwards, uncomplicated successes haven’t been the team’s way and within three minutes they’d handed back both goals.

“Yeah that’s kind of the way we’ve played this year. We’ve let teams back into it or we’ve given them head starts. It was probably a bit sloppy from our point of view, maybe we mentally switched off after getting the two goals and these are a good team in fairness to them.

Incredible resolve
“They showed incredible resolve all year and we knew it was going to come down to the last 10 minutes and we trusted ourselves all year to make the big plays in the last 10 minutes.

“The guys who have the ball are going to do the right thing with the ball and we got that in the end and I think that probably was the difference.”

Diarmuid Connolly’s and captain Ger Brennan’s return to the team after suspension had been the focus of much attention and it’s even possible to detect some irritation amongst the rest of the team about this overemphasis on the Dublin players but without transforming the team they both made a contribution.

Connolly’s ability on the ball and apparently effortless acceleration was a major threat throughout and, despite close supervision, he had a role in two of the goals and kicked one of the crucial three points in the closing minutes, which established the margin of victory.

Brennan made most impact when the pressure was on in the second half, taking one great catch near his own goal towards the end when Portlaoise were throwing the kitchen sink at it.

It was however Quinn who made the difference. Although he too was a on a tight rein, his mercurial ability to win even the trickiest of ball, control it and make something happen was again on display.

He kicked a super score to push the winners into the lead with five minutes left and added the final point of the match, soloing deliberately in on goal after Vincent’s had broken down another attack and sprung the counter, to made it safe for his team.

Goals erupted in the first half – four in eight minutes – with Vincent’s drawing first blood in the 19th minute when Ciarán Dorney slipped David Seale in the goalmouth at the end of a sustained move and slid the ball into the net. Four minutes later Eamon Fennell gave the scoring pass to Dublin hurler Ruairí Trainor, who finished expertly.

Within a few second Gavin Burke pointed after Michael Nolan’s diving punch on the ball failed to find safety and Portlaoise, having started the better, trailed by six, 0-4 to 2-4.

But Craig Rogers was a real thorn in the Dubliners’ side and he retrieved both goals.

Team captain Brian McCormack gave a tremendous display, moving authoritatively around the attack and it was he who sent a long ball in to Rogers for the first goal though the scorer had plenty to do before firing in from an acute angle. The same player was brought down by Jarlath Curley for a 27th-minute penalty and converted expertly himself to radically changed the momentum of the match.

“We were six points up and playing very well,” said Vincent’s manager Tommy Conroy. “We conceded two soft goals. We were playing well even when we went in at half-time; we were doing the basics very well. The wind wasn’t going to win it for us in the second-half. The guys, they knew, they sorted that out themselves, they knew what had to be done in the second half and it was just sheer hard work that got us there in the end.”

Penetrative pass
The outcome was uncertain for the Dublin champions when a point from Brian Smith, a goal rammed in by Brian Glynn after the scoring pass from Barry Fitzgerald and a Rogers free left them trailing by four. But within a minute Connolly’s penetrative pass into Shane Carthy set up the goal that restored the balance of the contest.

Vincent’s defence, having taken something of a pounding in the second and third quarters took a firmer grip with Michael Concarr and Hugh Gill the chief tighteners. Centrefield was evenly contested: Fennell and Daithi Murphy for the winners did better on the high bal whereas Portlaoise were superior on the breaks. Fennell made one crucial catch two minutes from the end after a throw-up in the Vincent’s defence but ultimately it was the sharper edge of the winners’ attack that settled this.

Portlaoise manager Mick Lillis said: “The one thing about giving away two early goals is you have time if you are good enough and we were good enough but just came up that little bit short. . . .

“They ran at us and we knew they were going to do that and, it’s gas, sometimes you know it is going to happen but are powerless to prevent it. It’s effective and they have pace and . . . we didn’t counteract it as well as we thought we were going to.”

St Vincent’s will face Ulster champions Ballinderry in the All-Ireland semi-final.

*There was a minute’s silence held before the match for 1982 Offaly All-Ireland football winner Liam Connor, who also won a Leinster club medal with Walsh Island in 1980.
ST VINCENT’S: M Savage; M Concarr, J Curley, H Gill; C Diamond, G Brennan (capt.), B Egan; E Fennell, D Murphy; G Burke (0-1), D Connolly (0-1), S Carthy (1-0); R Trainor (1-1), C Dorney (1-1), T Quinn (0-8, four frees). Subs: T Diamond forTrainor (41 mins), K Bonnie for C Diamond (45 mins), K Golden for Dorney (56 mins), N Mullins for Burke (59 mins).
PORTLAOISE: M Nolan; D Seale, C Healy, T Fitzgerald; K Lillis, P Cotter, B Mulligan; C Boyle, S Nerney; B Smith (0-1), P Cahillane (0-3, one free), B Glynn (1-1); C Rogers (2-3, goal penalty, points frees), B McCormack (capt; 0-1), B Fitzgerald. Subs: E Whelan for Mulligan (42 mins), A Kelly for Glynn (56 mins), K Fitzpatrick for Cahillane (59 mins).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford).