Fianna fall to Carlow's new kings

 

Yet again the AIB Leinster football final served up what might be termed a seasonal cracker in the most unpromising conditions. Carlow's remarkable litany of achievement was extended to the blue side of town as O'Hanrahan's won their first provincial title to add to Eire Og's five in the past eight years. Holders Na Fianna had no solution to their energetic, hardworking and at times stunningly-skilful opponents.

"I think we took them on," was the reaction of victorious manager Mick Dempsey. "If we had gone out to try and contain Na Fianna it would have been the wrong approach. At all times we took the game to them."

There was a slight wobble in the final quarter when the winners failed to score and their lead was trimmed from six to two, but they were comfortably shutting down the frantic efforts of the Dublin champions as time ran out.

Afterwards Na Fianna centre forward Dessie Farrell regretted the lost opportunities of the first half when his team was playing with a gusting wind. "We should have made more of it. Two points at halftime was never enough," he said.

He might have added that they were lucky to have that two-point lead, 0-4 to 02, as O'Hanrahan's did virtually all the attacking. Manager Paul Caffrey conceded that his side had been out of sorts. "We didn't play well. In the first half, we didn't get a decent supply into the forwards. O'Hanrahan's were superior. It's one of the reasons bookies are the ones with the money."

The Dublin club did responded to adversity and the wipe-out that threatened in the third quarter. Yet they never looked as cohesive or hungry as their opponents whose defence, where centre back Ken Walker and right wing Breffni Hannon excelled, devoured the breaks.

Conditions militated against good football, as the wind was exacerbated by blasts of freezing rain, but both teams managed to move the ball well. There were handling difficulties which cost O'Hanrahan's, in particular, in the first half.

Na Fianna had to replace Karl Donnelly with Sean Forde before the throw-in. The Dubliners never established their expected grip on centrefield although Kieran McGeeney worked hard. Philip Nolan and Alan Bowe more than worked their passage until a patched-up Donnelly was introduced after 25 minutes.

The Carlow champions looked by far the more threatening, with wing forwards David Birmingham - an uncontentious choice for man of the match after a monumental second half - and Gavin Walker complementing each other. Birmingham's robust industry gave his defenders a constant target and Walker sniped away, nearly setting up a goal with an incisive 22nd-minute run. Instead Tomo Lynch was on hand to clear after Seamus Farrell had almost finished the move.

Full forward Anthony Kavanagh was also having a stormer, showing for ball and winning a few lost causes to the consternation of his marker Brian McManus, who was replaced in the 22nd minute. Na Fianna's bench responded quickly to their predicament. As well swapping his full back, Caffrey introduced Donnelly to centrefield with immediate effect.

Within a minute of coming on, the Superleague basketballer involved himself in a point for Senan Connell, and he kicked one himself before half-time. This contribution was the basis of Na Fianna's interval lead. Just how important the wind advantage had been was quickly seen on the restart.

It took O'Hanrahan's only five minutes to hit the front. Birmingham, twice, and Pa Kavanagh with a free kicked the points. By the 45th minute, that lead had been extended to three, 0-7 to 0-4. Then with Na Fianna pressing, O'Hanrahan's - admirably holding their shape up front - hit on the break.

Gavin Walker latched onto a clearance, scythed through the scattered cover and laid off the ball to the other Walker, Brian, who crashed home a super goal. Leading 1-7 to 0-4, O'Hanrahan's looked set for a convincing win. In fact they weren't to score again.

Within four minutes Na Fianna had clawed back 1-1. Mick Galvin kicked the point and then Aaron Shearer struck. A free from Senan Connell broke for Jason Sherlock. Starved of decent possession for much of the match, he somehow battled through the crowded square and his angled shot ran for Shearer to finish.

Victorious manager Mick Dempsey said afterwards that he had been more concerned by the point that followed his team's goal than by Shearer's goal. Like Walker's goal for the Blues, this turned out to be Na Fianna's last score. As the remaining 14 minutes ran out, O'Hanrahan's displayed all the coolness and nerve that saw them through even tighter conclusions in this year's championship.

O'Hanrahan's: J Brennan; N English (capt.), A Corden, B English; B Hannon, K Walker, K Kavanagh; P Nolan, A Bowe; G Walker, P Kavanagh (0-4, three frees), D Birmingham (0-2); B Walker (1-1), A Kavanagh, S Farrell. Subs: B Quigley for Farrell (55 mins).

Na Fianna: S Gray; N O Murchu, B McManus, T Lynch; S McGlinchey, N Clancy, S Connell (0-1); S Forde, K McGeeney; M Galvin (0-2), D Farrell, A Shearer (1-0); I Foley (0-1), J Sherlock, D Mackin. Subs: P McCarthy for McManus (23 mins); K Donnelly (0-1) for Forde (25 mins); D Keegan for Clarke (47 mins).

Referee: J Bannon (Longford).