Clinical response by Eire Og
IT WAS the least suitable of days at Navan yesterday to attempt any evaluation of the true merits of a football team. The persistent rain-sodden pitch and strong winds successfully contrived to sabotage that particular task, but during a four-minute spell in the last quarter Carlow champions Eire Og demonstrated their worth as All-Ireland Club finalists for a second time this decade.
Eire Og's insatiable desire to impress in the appalling conditions and reassure their loyal supporters in the 10,000 crowd reached its zenith almost 23 minutes into the second half. The motivation had been supplied by an improving Mullaghbawn challenge that saw the Armagh champions creep back to within three points of their rivals.
The Eire Og response was clinically applied however. Four points in as many minutes reflected an exhilarating spell of resilience, combined skills and determination that ultimately wiped out the Ulstermens challenge.
Those four scores, put together like valuable pearls on a string by Colm Hayden, Anthony Keating (free) Garvan Ware and Hayden again, proved the most satisfying aspect of an absorbing hour's play for Carlow and Eire Og manager Bobby Miller. "For me it was the most pleasing aspect of the match," said Miller of his team's only second half scores.
Afterwards he appealed to his players to look for improvement: "We are one of the last two teams left in the competition. We may never pass this way again."
Another match feature that must have provided Miller with almost equal satisfaction was Mullaghbawn's failure to score from play. His team led from start to finish and only great saves by Armagh goalkeeper Brendan Tierney enabled Mullaghbawn to entertain possible hopes of success for so long.
Tierney denied Colm Hayden with a great save in the first quarter and Willie Quinlan discovered Tierney's exceptional talent when his shot was turned away for a 45 early in the second half.
Mullaghbawn deserved a better return for their first half endeavours against the wind. Still, the rate of Eire Og scoring in that opening 30 minutes was not exactly frightening for the Ulster champions with the Carlow men having scored only three points before Declan Crawley got the losers off the mark with a pointed free in 14 minutes.
Anthony Keating and Brendan Hayden squandered similar chances for Eire Og whose six points halftime cushion - 0-8 to 0-2 - looked precarious enough.
When Eire Og had not improved on their lead, despite good opportunities for Colm Hayden and Willie Quinlan, they had real cause for concern when the first score of the second half only fell to Mullaghbawn's Fergal McDonnell 17 minutes into the period.
It was McDonnell's accuracy that hauled Mullaghbawn back to within three points of the winners with eight minutes remaining.
Then, the roof caved in on the Ulster challenge. Brendan Hayden made a determined run up the middle and passed to Colm Hayden who restored the insurance point. Almost immediately Joe Hayden, the team captain, first-timed a clever flick into the path of Paul McCarthy and Mullaghbawn defenders were resorted to the foul. Anthony Keating pointed the free.
The barnstorming and memorable match-winning spell continued with Jody Morrissey sending Garvan Ware away for another point and moments later, Colm Hayden hit his team's 12th point.