Remarkable Tralee make their mark
Whatever happened in yesterday's Amstel Sigerson Cup final, a bit of history was going to be made. Instead of a first victory for the Garda College Templemore, it was the Institute of Technology Tralee who made their mark on the record books with the first Sigerson three-in-a-row since UCD managed the feat 25 years ago.
Victory meant that the remarkable Kerry college has won the trophy for all but one of the years since they first contested it in 1996. This success was all the more commendable because seldom has the venerable silverware been as hard-won.
Since last year's victory, ITT had lost four All-Ireland medallists: Seamus Moynihan and Michael Donnellan who had finished in the college. Of those left, Michael Francis Russell was injured and Padraig Joyce suspended just before the tournament started.
Then during Friday's quarterfinal, Laois minor All-Ireland medallist and Ireland panellist Colm Parkinson picked up an injury and Kenneth Leen was sent off and suspended. To cap it all, full forward Jack Dennehy was given the line for a second bookable offence after 40 minutes of the final.
Opponents Garda College were no slouches either at making things hard for themselves. The Templemore side won an astonishing semi-final on Saturday despite trailing by 1-8 to 0-3 six minutes into the second half against what looked like a well-drilled Queens team.
Assisted by two preventable goals, the Guards came back into the match and as if paralysed by the weight of expectation and favouritism, favourites Queens buckled and could only add two points to their total.
It was possible to feel sorry for the hosts who had mounted a high-powered organisation for the whole weekend. Their Malone Road grounds are a splendid facility.
Tralee effectively wrapped up the final in the first half and what merits it possessed were due to the fluid movement and intelligence of the winners' football, particularly going forward in the opening half-hour. After 25 minutes they led 1-6 to 0-1.
Afterwards, ITT coach Vinnie O'Shea said that the team was so self-sufficient and self-motivating that he had virtually nothing to do in managing them. It showed. As the clock ran down, Tralee slung the ball around like a basketball team. At one stage in the closing minutes, they short-passed away a minute without the Guards touching the ball.
If this sounds somewhat unappetising, it's only fair to record that during their phase of mastery Tralee's football was mesmerising. Using short-ball tactics to work possession out of defence, they were happy to let it go quickly into the forwards.
Up front the quality of their use of the ball was striking with corner forward Jack Ferriter particularly impressive as he used his precise kick-passes to change the direction of attacks, move the ball wide and suddenly activate players on the other wing.
Furthermore, the team as a unit was hard-working and fluid. Wing forwards Tim Kennelly and James Fleming frequently popped up in defence to clear ball and initiate counter-attacks whereas captain Jimmy McGuinness moved up and down the field with apparent effortlessness - until tiring late in the match.
While McGuinness did his nomadic work, centre-field partner Noel Garvan contested the high ball and played an anchoring role to such effect that he was named Player of the Tournament -- an adjudication which aroused little argument.
The die was cast as early as the second minute when Ferriter unzipped the Guards' cover with a burst along the end-line to set up the onrushing Kennelly for a smartly-taken goal. This was complemented by a flow of well-worked points from Pa O'Sullivan, the live-wire Michael Liddane in the right corner and Ferriter.
Liddane could have had more. He was brilliantly dispossessed by Anton McNulty in the 27th minute and four minutes later, armed by another sweet pass from Ferriter, misjudged his attempt at a yawning net and the ball rolled wide. Tralee's finishing in general could have been better and they finished the half with seven wides to Garda's two.
The second half was low-scoring and initially absorbing. Ten minutes after the restart, the Guards looked in with a chance. They had cut the deficit by two points from Cathal Sheridan and Declan Lynch and then Dennehy was given the line.
Essentially, Tralee were equal to the challenge and the Guards weren't. A succession of mis-hit passes sailed over the despairing heads of Sheridan, Colin Crowley and Lynch. What landed was tightly marshalled by Tralee's defence in which Niall Sheehy was outstanding at centre back.
ITT managed only one point in the whole half but it was well-timed, coming a few minutes after Dennehy's dismissal and, also importantly, a near-miss from Kennelly who was coming through on goal.
In the end, the excitement drained from the match and you could only admire Tralee's composure in taming adversity and protecting the fruits of their earlier mastery.
ITT: N Hobbert; S Hegarty, E Reddan, D Hendy; N Griffin, N Sheehy, W Harmon; N Garvan, J McGuinness; N Kennelly (1-0), P O'Sullivan (0-2), J Fleming; M Liddane (0-2), J Dennehy (0-1), J Ferriter (0-3, all frees).
Garda: J McCallion; A McNulty, M O'Donoghue, R Doyle; C White, C Daly, M Ryan; J Whelan, D Connellan; A Hoey, C Crowley, D Early; D Lynch (0-3, two frees), T Bowe, C Sheridan (0-2, one free and one sideline). Subs: M Moynihan (0-1) for Hoey (18 mins); R McGrath for Bowe (half-time); S McDaid (0-1) for Early (48 mins).
Referee: J Bannon (Longford).
IT Tralee - 0-14 Sligo IT - 0-11
ITT: N Hobbert; S Hegarty, E Reddan, D Hendy; N Sheehy, N Griffin, M McGauran (0-1); N Garvan, J McGuinness; W Harmon, P O'Sullivan (0-5, two frees), N Kennelly; M Liddane (0-3), J Dennehy (0-1), J Ferriter (0-4, two frees). Subs: J Fleming for McGauran (half-time); P McCarthy for Harmon (63 mins).
Sligo IT: S Smith; A McDermott, C Reilly, G O'Connor; J Curley (0-1), P Carroll, S O'Neill; B Murphy, B Burke (0-2); D Sloyane (0-2, one free), R O'Callaghan (0-1), A Higgins; S Flannery (0-4, three frees), J McPartland (0-1), D Brennan. J Carr for Brennan (47 mins); J Phelan for Reilly (52 mins); D O'Callaghan for O'Neill (61 mins).
Referee: J Bannon (Longford).
Garda College - 2-9 Queen's - 1-10
Garda: J McCallion; C White, M O'Donoghue, A Lyons; R Doyle, C Daly, M Ryan; J Whelan (0-1), D Connellan (0-2); C Crowley (0-1), E Grogan, D Early; D Lynch (1-0), T Bowe (0-1), C Sheridan (1- 2, one point from a free). Subs: M Moynihan for Grogan (half-time); A Hoey (0-2) for Early (half-time); A McNulty for Lyons (45 mins)
Queens: C Rafferty; Paddy Campbell, P Quinn, E McGilloway; E McNulty, C Holmes, A O'Rourke; J McNulty, A Molloy; T Brewster (0-3, one free, one 45), C McAnallen (0-1), B Ward (1-3); D Wilson (0-2), C Coleman, C Hanratty (0-1). Subs: Peter Campbell for Coleman (half-time); J Quinn for Molloy (45 mins);
Referee: M McGrath (Donegal).
Trench Cup: Semi-finals - Magee College, Derry 1-5, Cadet College, Curragh 0-5; Limerick IT 2-6, John Moores University, Liverpool 0-8. Final - Limerick IT 2-7, Magee College 1-7.