Ferns St Aidan’s 1-20 St Martin’s 0-22
The supporters of Ferns St Aidan’s made up for the intermittent power cuts in Chadwicks Wexford Park on Sunday, as they urged on their team to a first-ever county title.
After an at-times nervy performance, especially in the first half, the new champions kept their nerve – and crucially the lead – in an exciting second half and finale in the face of a persistent challenge from St Martin’s, the 2019 winners.
It was a deserved victory and could have been more emphatic but when it comes to making history, a point is all you need.
They had vital scoring inputs from their forwards: three second-half points from Corey Dunbar and a good leadership turn by Paul Morris in the second half after the forced withdrawal of Ian Byrne, plus a fine overall display from Jonny Dwyer, culminating in the point that ultimately won the title – a 64th-minute side-line cut to put Ferns two ahead, a lead that was trimmed by the final whistle.
Joe Coleman had the last score for Martin’s but looked as if he may have intended to drop the ball in given that referee Eugene Furlong blew the end almost immediately on the puck-out.
Coleman had kept his team ticking over with a succession of frees whereas Kyle Firman at full-forward weighed in with another significant haul, 0-5 from play – just one fewer that his match-winning total in the semi-final – despite not having things all his own way against Niall Murphy.
To their credit, Martin’s made no bones about the loss of the O’Connors, Rory and Jack, who was brought in for the last 10 minutes, but the absence of two fully functioning intercounty forwards was a considerable loss.
There was a lot of nervous play in the opening stages before a decent attendance of about 7,500 before Ferns looked to have taken the initiative, opening up a four-point lead, 0-8 to 0-4 by the 18th minute.
That peculiarly appeared to force a pause in their efforts and they wouldn’t score for another 12 minutes by which point they were two behind. Kyle Firman came into the match, scored a point and made another. The scale of the comeback looked important – six unanswered points – but the hard-won initiative came unstuck.
There didn’t look to be any immediate danger when Ferns wing-back Patrick Breen ran on to a ball in the congested district within the Martin’s 45 but his burst carried him clear and he scooted in for the goal that changed the match, rescuing his team’s freefall and giving them a half-time lead.
Ferns stayed in control, hitting back immediately from the concession of points to keep and extend the lead. Byrne’s point in the 34th minute could have been a goal but he struck his shot slightly high, not too long after – picking up an injury and having to go off after a lively tussle with his marker Conor Firman, who had done such a good job on Conor McDonald in the semi-final.
Paul Morris dropped out the field and made an impact, although bringing marker Joe Barrett with him nearly proved costly when the Martin’s defender had a goal opportunity in the 53rd minute but Ciarán Roberts saved the day at the cost of a 65.
Martin’s didn’t let go and veteran Daithi Watters came in and caused trouble for Ferns, getting pulled down for a free, which cut the margin to one, 1-18 to 0-20.
With the excitement rising, Ferns held on and hit a couple of points to keep the victory safe – just about.
FERNS ST AIDAN’S: 1 J Lawlor; 21 J Tonks (0-1), 3 N Murphy, 4 D Byrne (capt.); 5 P Breen (1-0), 6 E Murphy, 7 C Roberts; 8 R Scallan, 10 T Dwyer; 11 C Turner, 9 I Byrne (0-5, three frees, one 65), 12 C Byrne Dunbar (0-3); 14 P Morris (0-3, one free), 15 J Dwyer (0-4, 1 s/l), 13 D Doyle (0-2).
Subs: 26 B Jordan (0-1) for I Byrne (38 mins), 22 J Breen for Turner (42), 20 C O’Connor (0-1) for Doyle (57), 2 R Nolan for Scallan (65).
ST MARTIN’S: 1 D Byrne; 2 J Barrett (0-1), 3 P Dempsey, 4 P O’Connor; 5 D Codd, 6 C Firman (capt), 7 D O’Leary; 8 M Maloney, 13 J Firman (0-1); 17 A Maddock (0-1), 9 L Kavanagh (0-1), 10 J Coleman (0-10, seven frees, one 65); 12 M Coleman (0-1), 14 K Firman (0-5), 15 J Devereux (0-2).
Subs: 19 D Codd for J Devereux (41 mins), 20 W Devereux for Kavanagh (48), 11 J O’Connor for M Coleman (53), 18. D Watters for M Maloney (54).
Referee: E Furlong (Rapparees-Starlights).