Goals win games. So the old adage goes. Wolfe Tones U16’s have taken this adage, polished it up a little for 2010, so that now it reads ‘Goals win championships’. The 4 goals they scored in last nights 6 point win over Miltown put them at a grand total of 36 for & 11 against (4 clean sheets) in their 9 matches. It is that simple statistic that probably encapsulates more than other why this morning William Flynn was eating his Cornflakes from the cup while the Doc looked on approvingly. In truth, for once this season the Tones probably needed all 4 of their precious goals but more of that anon
At the start of the season there were certain niggly fears for the prospects of this team. Yes they were good. Of that there was no question. County Feile champions, All Ireland Feile runners up & county semi finalists from their 14’s days. Seven of them were strong enough to start last years 16 final. So there was no problem with the pedigree. The problem was whether or not we had enough players with the pedigree. Like everything these days we operated on a shoestring budget, except our budget was players. And 15 minutes before our first round game our budget was slashed further when only 12 players were available. Some desperate fire fighting ensued (who’d be a manager) & we started on time with a full complement. Better still we got the two points as well, beating Doora Barefield 3-6 to 0-4. We started with the Bridge man in goals as planned, except it wasn’t the right Bridge man. Mark Hehir turned up for the game, with a chest infection to lend his support. We asked him to stand in goals for the first half. He ended up there in 7 of our 9 games, conceding only 4 goals. The most fortunate chest infection that any of our players suffered for a while! Damien Casey kicked a point from a free that day also. Little did we know that he would turn into a one man scoring machine, ending up with a total of 5-34 in the championship.
Wins followed over Kilrush, Eire Og & Cooraclare before Miltown came to town. Both teams were on full points & realistically it was obvious that both would make the semi final. Tones came out on top winning 2-7 to 0-5. Both teams were to win the remainder of their games, thus ensuring they’d be on opposite sides of the draw for the semi finals. After a nervy opening against Cooraclare where Tones found themselves 1-3 to 0-0 down after 8 minutes (plus had picked up 2 yellow cards in that time), the side settled down well to reel in the deficit by half time. Similar to many games during the season, the Tones finished strongly & ended up 5-10 to 1-8 victors. It must be noted that this team had a particularly high number of full 16’s. Our first xv regularly featured 12 full 16’s & that extra year of growth added immensely to our strength & I believe to our ability to finish strongly while other teams weakened. When word came through that it was Miltown in the final, thoughts went back to that gloomy evening of our 8 point win. We well remembered the apathy of their blondie #11, the physicality of their centre back & the lack of movement from their management on the line. The conspiracy theorists ( aka lunatic fringe) amongst us didn’t like it. We were for once right to be concerned.
You can’t beat experience & we had buckets of it on the sideline with Mick Riordan & Ger Carrig who have been busy winning (& losing county finals) for 30 years. The rest of us had a few days out ourselves so we knew how to prepare for the big day. To reverse the usual trend we had our post match dinner 5 hours before the game. The golf club was the venue. Daniel Brennan looked like a school kid on detention while the rest of his friends are playing outside in the sun as he gazed out onto the fairways. We had turned the early season panel size problem (we finished with a panel of 20) to our advantage at this stage the team almost picked itself. Indeed 10 of our starting xv started every game for us. The long trip to Cooraclare passed quickly & quietly. We all did our private little rituals (what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room!) before heading onto the field for the more public warm up. A quick glance at the stand showed a very fine crowd with a lot of troopers having trekked from Shannon. This was without really being acknowledged much appreciated especially that so many senior players were there. We won the toss & played with the wind. Linesman Gerry Corry helpfully remarked that the wind tends to die down later in the evening. And all of a sudden, a minute early, Michael Fitzgerald threw in the ball & the game was on.
Did I say we were playing with the wind? Well it was making no difference. Miltown were running everything from their central diamond. The blondie #11 from the group game was now the blondie #13. He had also changed in to a master puppeteer and was pulling strings everywhere. 0-3 points came Milltown’s way & our slow start against Cooraclare was being replicated on Cooraclare's own rock hard pitch. The unforgiving surface was to prove too much for David Murphy’s shoulder & after 10 minutes David’s final was over (ironically similar though less serious injury that forced him off the All Ireland Feile final at much the same stage). Stephen Tuohy came on & Jack Kelly moved out to fill Murphs boots on the forty. All Tones needed was a score to settle us down & when it came it was to spark 6 minutes of madness tat scoring wise was the winning of the game. First of all, The Flying Flynn solos through twenty yards before planting the ball in the top corner. Then Dylan Birchall's through ball deceived the keeper. Daniel Brennan kicked his first point in a month & then Tuts marked his cameo role with a neat side step to the top of the net. As I said 6 minutes of madness, Tones 3-1 Milltown 0-3. Jack Kelly kicked a point, Casey added another & we lead by 9 at half time. So game over so?
Not on your life. It started slowly. We were defending well. Sean Reidy burst out with the ball a few times. Andrew Shanaher defied his man time after time. But Miltown were kicking a point here & there. We were defending so much from midfield back that we couldn’t get primary possession to our lethal forwards. Then Miltown started to up their scoring rate. Points were being kicked, kickouts won & kicked back over the bar. With 10 minutes to go the score now stood at 3-3 to 0-10. We were in trouble, if Miltown got a goal at this stage all the momentum was with them. I think all the supporters knew it too. Somewhere in the midst of all this tension the chance came, but Mark Hehir stood tall, & got a finger to the ball. Just the one, but it was enough to turn the ball onto the cross bar. As I said already the strength of our team led us to finish games strongly. Milltown had attacked us so much with their direct running that when we got the inevitable breakaway they were caught. Jason McNally was fouled as he waltzed away from a tackle and bore down on goals. Incredibly Michael Fitzgerald’s whistle blew to give us the free in. Howls of disgust came from the Miltown sideline & from behind us in the stand. This was compounded as Casey’s free tailed away wide. But in a strange way that wide was as good as a score as it broke Milltown’s momentum. They were now facing their own goal. Minutes later on another attack Jack Kelly swung the ball over the bar. Barely another minute passed when Jack Carrig's effort from much the same place dropped short & deceived the keeper. Game over, & it was two minutes later. Obvious delight for players & proud mothers squeezing their embarrassed sons. Lots of firm handshakes for the mentors, a few backslaps. More rituals in the dressing room, then home with the cup for only the fourth time in the clubs history. And for at least one night we can dream about what we hope to achieve safe in the knowledge that today we backed it up with a cup.
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