Eire Og kill off Crokes in first half hour

 

Transformed from the resilient but limited formation which clawed two draws out of the muck before Christmas, Eire Og deservedly took a remarkable fifth Leinster title in seven years after yesterday's AIB provincial football final second replay at St Conleth's Park, Newbridge.

The victory over a deeply disappointing Kilmacud Crokes was built on a first-half display which featured the Carlow champions' best football at this level since the Leinster final of five years ago.

Weather was much improved in the absence of the pre-Christmas downpours but the pitch remained heavy and difficult to play on. But as in the replay, Eire Og adapted a lot better to conditions and demolished the Dublin champions in the first half hour.

At the heart of the winners' improvement was a sustained increase in the amount of possession won. Although the team lost its way a little in the second half when Kilmacud made strenuous but unavailing attempts to reel in the deficit, Eire Og controlled the game for most of the duration. If the drawn matches had indicated anything, it was that the Carlow side were capable of doing better with less of the ball. With their share of possession up sharply yesterday, their forwards didn't disappoint.

For Kilmacud it was more of the same up front. Once more their wides came in a multiple of their opponents'. The final margin may have been only three points but two of the losers' scores came too late to influence the result significantly.

In bald terms the chances-to-scores ratio made Eire Og likely winners once they won more ball but all around the pitch the team was putting in an improved display. Aside from the ball-winning of Jody Morrissey and Tom Nolan at midfield Garvan Ware - who started in the middle but reverted to the 40 almost immediately - also gave a fine display in helping out with the aerial battles.

Half backs, Joe Murphy - the winners' captain and best player - Paul Doyle and Alan Callinan were in commanding form, mobile on the flanks and solid in the centre. They coped well with Kilmacud's admittedly laborious work in the area and in addition to intelligent marking of man and space, were noticeably adept at turning defence into attack in a flash.

The effect was that instead of isolating their corner forwards, Mick O'Keeffe and Ray Cosgrove, Kilmacud crowded them out with the result that neither managed to reproduce the better days they had enjoyed in the first game and replay, respectively.

Consequently, the Eire Og defence might as well have received notice in writing any time the corner forwards got the ball.

Lively covering by Brendan Hayden and Jimmy Dooley combined with some poor shooting to take care of what chances arose. (Hayden's clearance of a Cosgrove shot behind for a 45 was very important shortly before half-time.)

At full forward Robbie Brennan, brought in by Robbie Kelleher and his selectors, justified his recall by playing a direct game and kicking three points from play. Otherwise, no forward managed more than a point from play.

After early points had been swapped, the final's only goal came in the fifth minute. Tom Nolan's line ball from about 60 metres was broken over the Kilmacud defence and Willie Quinlan - whose roving game lost Con Cleary a couple of times - was alone inside. He clipped the chance into the net and Eire Og were on their way.

So overwhelming was their early superiority that not alone Kilmacud but the match itself never recovered and there was a curious lack of tension for most of the hour as the big lead - 1-5 to 0-2 after 15 minutes; 1-8 to 0-2 at half-time - never looked really endangered.

The Dubliners moved Conor Deegan from full back to midfield in an attempt to stem the tide and although the move eventually had some impact, it wasn't until too late. By then the Down All-Ireland medallist was sailing very close to the wind after a warning and a booking from referee Brian White.

Such second-half improvement as Kilmacud managed was still blighted by poor finishing and a failure to open up the opposing defence. Slalom runs at the markers failed to prise open any avenues and O'Keeffe's snap at a good goal chance on 40 minutes which flew wide was as close as they came.

Although the winners added only three points to their interval total after the break, the timing was impeccable with each coming quickly after Kilmacud had scored a point - most strikingly in the 43rd minute after prodigious work by Callinan in breaking up an attack, carrying the clearance downfield and setting up the ebullient Muckle Keating for a fine point.

There were still 10 minutes left when Joe Murphy floated over his team's final score to push the lead to 1-11 to 0-9, but despite Kilmacud's huffing and puffing and two late points, there were few alarms left for Eire Og who now meet Crossmaglen Rangers in the All-Ireland semi-final in three weeks.

Eire Og: J Kearns; B Hayden, A Corcoran, J Dooley; J Murphy, capt (0-1), P Doyle, A Callinan; G Ware, J Morrissey (0-2); B Carbery (0-2, one free), T Nolan, K Haughney; W Quinlan (1-1), L Turley (0-1), A Keating (0- 4, one 45, one free). Subs: P Kingston for Haughney (40 mins); H Brennan for Nolan (50 mins); J Hayden for Carbery (54 mins).

Kilmacud Crokes: M Pender; C O'Dwyer, C Deegan (0-1), C Cleary, capt; J O'Callaghan, J McGee (0-1), R Leahy; J Costello (0-2), M Leahy; P Ward, M Dillon, C Redmond; R Cosgrove (0-1), R Brennan (0-3), M O'Keeffe (0-3, all frees). Subs: C Kelleher for Redmond (20 mins); P Burke for Dillon (50 mins).

Referee: B White (Wexford).