Diarmuid Connolly plays key role as St Vincent’s rise to occasion

Rhode’s Leinster club final heartache continues with fifth loss in 11 years

St Vincent’s 1-16 Rhode 0-12

On the sort of afternoon we'd all be pleased to have in spring, sunny and mild, Dublin champions St Vincent's claimed a seventh AIB Leinster football title with a polished performance to move level with Portlaoise at the top of the roll of honour.

It is also the club's third success in four years and sets up a shot at a second All-Ireland in the same period of time.

Before a crowd of about 3,000 at O'Moore Park they were comfortably better than their Offaly opponents, who were fielding without two of their best players, Anton Sullivan and Jake Kavanagh – both on army duty overseas.

One of the many benefits of experience though is the ability to rise to the occasion and Vincent’s put in what was arguably their best display of the season. It’s not that Rhode lack familiarity with Leinster finals but their experience is hard-wired with an 11-year assemblage of five defeats.

On Sunday afternoon the underdogs fought hard to contain their opponents but they were hit too easily on the break whereas their attacks were, at times, ponderous and too slow to build up.

It might be stretching it to describe the seconds before half-time as a turning point but the sequence of events certainly made Rhode’s prospects bleaker and more remote.

Dangerous ball

The opportunity was there when Cormac McNamee cut a dangerous ball from the end-line across the Vincent’s goalmouth.

Niall McNamee was coming in on the ball when he was tripped up by Ger Brennan, who received a black card.

Ruairí McNamee took the penalty but his shot was too close to Michael Savage who stopped the kick and initiated a sweeping move, which culminated in Gavin Burke adding a point in the last action of the half.

The four-point turnaround took the scoreboard from a potential 1-7 to 1-6 to the actual interval position of 1-8 to 0-6.

Afterwards Vincent's manager Tommy Conroy acknowledged the impact.

“If Rhode had scored the penalty – if Michael Savage hadn’t made that great save – we would have been in a much different place at half-time.

“Our early goal was very important too – it settled us down and we built on it. We have a very experienced team and that was important. Some of them were there in 2007/’08, the likes of Tomás (Quinn) and Diarmuid (Connolly), but the younger lads have been there around five years.

“That’s a help. It helps with belief, gives lads a sense that they work their way through whatever situation they find themselves in.”

Connolly played a key role in the outcome. His goal in the sixth minute after a smart intervention by Enda Varley sent the winners on their way.

Rhode goalkeeper Kenny Garry may be a bit unhappy with how it happened but the precision and opportunism with which the ball was drilled into the corner of the net, when a point looked the more obvious target, was a typical touch of class by the Vincent's captain.

He also added two points, one from a pass from Quinn and the other a great point on the counter-attack, weaving in and out of hesitant defenders distracted by Quinn’s decoy running before pointing from 40 metres.

"They got 1-4 in the first half from us giving them the ball. You can't do that at this level," said Rhode manager Pascal Kelleghan. "We worked so hard on it over the past number of weeks. It didn't look like it but we just knew that Vincent's thrive on punishing our mistakes.

“We identified that but it’s easier said than done, I suppose. We weren’t as patient as we’d hoped to be but, in terms of effort, the boys left everything out there.”

After half-time Rhode tried to get a scoring run going but although they responded immediately through Niall Darby and Darren Garry to Vincent's scores and cut the margin back to four with points from Ciarán Heaney and Niall McNamee.

Stretched away

The eventual winners stretched away again with Quinn converting a couple of frees and replacement Joe Feeney and Ruairí Trainor adding scores.

The Dublin side had to replace substitute Albert Martin after five minutes when he was injured but the contest was effectively over by this stage, half-way through the second half.

Garry and Niall McNamee – drop kicking fiercely from a 20-metre free – had goal chances in the dying minutes but nothing more than a point from the latter opportunity was produced.

Niall McNamee said: “We were trying hard to get the balance right between pushing up and leaving holes at the back and keeping it tight defensively.

“One area we’d be disappointed in: we turned over a lot of ball especially in the first half and also we kicked some balls away when there was no need to. They have loads of pace and they’ll always punish those types of mistakes. They were very good on the counter-attack.”

Vincent's will now play Ulster champions Slaughtneil in the All-Ireland semi-final in February.

"I know Mickey Moran has done a great job with them," said Conroy. "They were in an All-Ireland final and now they are back in the semi-final. They have lots of self-believe and will be well prepared for us.

“We’ll have to step up again. That’s the way it is – you have to up your performance all the time and, come February, we’ll have to be even better than we were today.”

ST VINCENT'S: M Savage; M Concarr, J Curley, C Wilson; Cameron Diamond, G Brennan, N Mullins; D Murphy, S Carthy (0-2); G Burke (0-3), D Connolly (capt; 1-2), Cormac Diamond (0-1); E Varley (0-2), R Trainor (0-1), T Quinn (0-4, two frees).

Subs: F Breathnach for Brennan (bc, 31 mins), A Martin for Murphy (40 mins), J Feeney (0-1) for Martin (45 mins), J McCusker for Cormac Diamond (58 mins), for K Bonnie Varley (64 mins). RHODE: K Garry; E Rigney, C Heavey (0-1), J McPadden; B Darby, S Sullivan, N Darby (0-1); A McNamee, C McNamee (0-1); P Sullivan, N McNamee (0-6, five frees), D Garry (0-2); S Hannon, R McNamee, P McPadden (0-1).

Subs: G O'Connell for P Sullivan (40 mins), D Kavanagh for Heavey (53 mins), G McNamee for S Sullivan (56 mins), S Lowry for J McPadden (64 mins), E Byrne for C McNamee (bc, 64 mins). Referee: B Cawley (Kildare).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times