Kerrymen the better finishers
The sporting gods don't always dispense justice fairly. So it was in Kilmallock yesterday. But then, it could also be argued that St Flannan's hardly helped their own cause with a succession of wides - and a penalty miss - in a Corn Ui Mhuiri final that finished with Tralee CBS retaining the Munster Colleges senior football championship.
It's an old cliche, and one that St Flannan's won't need to be reminded about, but only a thin line separates the victors and the vanquished. In attempting to secure the hurling-football provincial double, St Flannan's, Ennis did so much right that the referee's final whistle broke many hearts in their ranks.
In truth, it was a match Flannan's could, and probably should, have won. Yet Tralee, who secured their 14th Munster success, demonstrated a trait that has been a hallmark of Kerry football so often in the past, a stubborn refusal to lie down. Any time Flannan's edged ahead, Tralee hit back straight away and such persistence, allied to a number of fine individual performances, resulted in the Kerry students defeating their Clare opponents in the final for the second successive year.
Statistics aren't always a true reflection of a match. However, the fact that Flannan's kicked 11 wides (to just three from Tralee, and two of them coming in the last minute), is adequate testimony to the amount of possession which they had. At midfield, Robert Forde was a colossus and, around him, he had players well able to feed off him until the vital art of finishing.
When it came to finishing off moves, Tralee were the clear masters and their most potent weapon was Declan Quill, who had been wrapped in cotton wool since damaging ankle ligaments in the semi-final. Although named among the substitutes in the official programme, Quill started the match and he mixed his talents between the half-forward and full-forward lines with great effect.
There was some irony to the start of the match. With effectively their first attack, Flannan's showed a clinical finish that was to desert them as the game progressed. Daragh Blake, who had a fine game, outfielded a couple of Tralee players and supplied Sean McKeogh. The wing forward glided through the Tralee defence and finished superbly to the net.
Two minutes later, Tralee nullified the goal. Quill outjumped half a dozen friends and foes to flick the ball on to Michael Collins and he firsttimed it past the advancing Joe Hayes. By the 18th minute, Tralee had edged into a 1-3 to 1-1 lead but they weren't to score again for the rest of the half. In contrast, Flannan's created chance after chance - the best falling to Darragh Shannon who fired across the goal and wide - but their return was a solitary point, from a free by Owen Curtis.
That one-point interval deficit was wiped out within seconds of the restart when Curtis slotted over a close-range free after he had been fouled by Niall Clifford and tit-for-tat combat ensued for the next 10 minutes.
Critically, it was after a Forde free in the 48th minute had put Flannan's into a 1-6 to 1-5 lead that Tralee inflicted what could have been a mortal blow. Quill fired home from close range for Tralee's second goal. And, from the kick-out, Tommy Farrell pointed to leave Tralee a clear goal ahead for the first time in the game.
Flannan's refused to lie down, and a Curtis point reduced the gap before even richer pickings seemed likely when he was fouled in the square by Richie Houlihan in the 55th minute. Referee Niall Barrett immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Stephen Hickey sent goalkeeper David Hennebery the wrong way but, agonisingly, he also sent the ball inches wide of the post.
Galvanised by the let-off, Tralee showed a flair that had been well contained until then by Flannan's and which resulted in Stephen Enright and Collins kicking good points from play. The only Flannan's response was a late free from Curtis but it was Tralee who finished with fire in their stomachs to hold onto the lead and the cup.
Tralee CBS: D Hennebery; N Clifford, T McGrath, J O'Sullivan; G Molloy, R Houlihan, B Dennehy; T Sugrue, B O'Flaherty; D Quill (1-3, two frees), S Enright (0-1), G Brasil; M Collins (1-1), M O'Connor (0-1), T Farrell (0-2, one free). Subs: K Walsh for Brasil (29 mins), S Griffin for Clifford (46 mins), B O'Driscoll for Farrell (58 mins).
St Flannan's: J Hayes; A Quinn, T Madigan, D Blake; R Conlon, J Culkin, D McKeogh; R Forde (0-2, one free), F Lynch; D Shannon, T Ryan, S McKeogh (1-0); S Hickey (0-1), G O'Grady, O Curtin (0-5, all frees). Subs: R O'Brien for Ryan (half-time), P Darcy for Lynch (45 mins).
Referee: N Barrett (Cork).