McCormack points to victory

 

There's something mystical about Meath football, a conundrum that outsiders just can't fathom. Through it all though lies an ability to combine strength with flair and, almost inevitably, victory.

Perhaps it's a trait of that county's psyche, but we witnessed it again in Cusack Park, Mullingar, yesterday. St Patrick's Classical School, Navan, could be termed the "nouveau riche" of Leinster Colleges football: this was their fourth provincial title, but all have been collected in the past 10 years and it amounts to a quite remarkable statistic.

Yet it is one that mirrors the strength of Meath football over a similar time-span and the only mildly ostentatious thing about them is a capacity to garner unlikely scores from seemingly impossible positions.

In truth, St Patrick's should have had this match in the bag without having to resort to the type of backs-to-the wall defence that was forced on them for much of the final 10 minutes. However St Patrick's finally - and deservedly - escaped the clutches of a St Mel's, Longford team who made a gallant attempt to add to the school's 28 titles in this particular championship but who didn't possess the all-round strength of their opponents.

St Patrick's never trailed in the match and, for the most part, were in control of their own destiny. By half-time, they had moved into a four-point lead, 0-8 to 0-4, but that cushion was only guaranteed in the final three minutes of that half when Ivan McCormack reeled off three successive points (two from frees) to provide the platform for ultimate success, their first in the competition since 1997.

Ironically enough, McCormack suffered a nervous start and had kicked three wides before finding his range with a 24th minute free. After that, however, there was no stopping him and he finished the game with a personal total of eight points, five of which came from frees.

If McCormack was the scoring talisman, then Shane McKeigue - operating at centre forward but prone to surface anywhere - was the on-field inspiration. McKeigue made some prodigious leaps to field the ball, was untiring in his running, and used the ball sensibly.

Still, it was to the credit of his marker, Thomas Nolan, that he was limited to a single point and it can be truly said that the pair had a battle royal. Both, in fact, were yellow-carded early on in the second-half by referee Mick Monahan as their duel overheated briefly but, all in all, it was good, honest fare.

McKeigue's only score came in the fourth minute and was the launchpad for the early St Patrick's flurry of scores which yielded three unanswered points. However, David Barden, who had an enormous impact around the middle of the field, dragged Mel's back into the game by winning some precious possession and William Murray's free-taking was out of the top drawer.

Mel's had reduced the deficit to a single point approaching the halftime whistle, until some indiscipline in the backs cost them frees which were converted by McCormack.

The best move of the game came in the 44th minute when five different players - Brian McCormack, Stephen Bray, Ivan McCormack, Paddy O'Brien and Christy Blake - were all involved before Blake pointed and, by the 54th minute, Pat's had moved into a six-point lead, 0-13 to 0-7, after Bray kicked the second of his two points.

The writing, it seemed, was on the wall, and when the St Mel's supporter with the megaphone urged his cohorts to encourage the team, he was met with scepticism. Then, it all changed. A cross from the touchline by Murray seemed destined to find the chest of St Patrick's goalkeeper Ronan Kenny until Barden nipped in ahead of him to punch to the net. Within a further three minutes, Barden and Murray had both kicked points to leave a mere point between the sides.

St Patrick's had to endure some fierce pressure but, ultimately, their class told, and a fine point from McCormack, after he was set up by Bray, and another from Blake copperfastened their fourth Leinster title.

ST PATRICK'S: R Kenny; I Matthews, K Slattery, S Gough; R Reynolds, B McCormack, R Conaty; C Blake (0-2), S McGabhain; M O'Rourke, S McKeigue (0-1), P O'Brien (0-1); S Bray (0-1), P Tracey (0-2), I McCormack (0-8, five frees). Subs: D Sheridan for McGabhain (54 mins), D O'Toole for O'Rourke (54 mins).

ST MEL'S: D Fay; D Brady, M Magan, A Gannon; S Harrington, T Nolan, F Lennon; D Barden (1-4, two frees), I Shannon; G Kenny (0- 1, free), W Murray (0-3, frees), J Kiernan; E Williams, S Lynch, K Smith. Subs: J Quinn for Brady (30 mins), C McKenna (0-1) for Smith (30 mins), D Duignan for Kenny (50 mins).

Referee: M Monahan (Kildare).