‘Belling­ham boys defy the odds to bounce back

CTI BUSI­NESS SO­LU­TIONS IFC FI­NAL Old boys are go­ing nowhere in­sists Agnew

The Argus - - SPORT -

CON­VINC­ING the ‘old heads’ to post­pone their re­tire­ment func­tions proved to be key to O’Con­nell’s suc­cess this year and if man-of-the-match Jackie Agnew has his way, there’ll be no-one hang­ing up the boots this win­ter ei­ther.

Cap­tain Stu­art Reynolds called it a day, and even took up a se­lec­tor po­si­tion with Louth mi­nors, but when the SOS call came he didn’t hes­i­tate, and Agnew paid trib­ute to his cap­tain and fel­low re­tirees, Keith Woods and Paul McKeever.

‘I watched Snitchy [Reynolds] here in 99 in the ju­nior fi­nal when he scored two penal­ties and I was only 10 at the time. In 2006 I played with him and he’s one of my best mates and I told him this year that if we win the cham­pi­onship, he’s not go­ing any­where. And Syd­ney [McKeever] and Keith [Woods], won’t be go­ing any­where. We’re build­ing again in 2018.’

With so many ab­sen­tees, O’Con­nell’s found them­selves scratch­ing around for a team at the start of this sea­son, which made Sun­day’s vic­tory all the more re­mark­able.

‘Amaz­ing,’ Agnew con­tin­ued. ‘To win any sort of a fi­nal with the club you came up with is amaz­ing but es­pe­cially this year af­ter com­ing down. No one give us a shot at all.

‘We knew it was go­ing to be hard com­ing down in the league and cham­pi­onship. The league was tough go­ing at the start, but we got a few faces back and next year we’ll push on even more. We’ll have the two Shields back and Con­nor Byrne back from Sin­ga­pore. So, we’ll se­nior again next year and hope­fully push­ing on into the quar­ter fi­nals or semi fi­nals.’

O’Con­nell’s know bet­ter than any­one how hard it can be to break out of the in­ter­me­di­ate grade and Agnew felt that made it all the more im­por­tant to take their big chance on Sun­day.

‘We found it very tough [to get out of in­ter­me­di­ate]. We had the brides­maid tags for a long time. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to go go straight back up, but we got our­selves out of the group and through the quar­ter fi­nal and semi fi­nal. We never stopped all year and just the rub of the green too,’ he added. THE dif­fer­ence a year makes.

From the agony of dou­ble rel­e­ga­tion in league and cham­pi­onship to the eu­pho­ria of a shock In­ter­me­di­ate suc­cess, it’s been a hec­tic 12 months down at The Grove.

In­stead of re-group­ing and tak­ing stock over the win­ter, the travel bug and re­tire­ments made a bad sit­u­a­tion worse, and by the time the cham­pi­onship came around O’Con­nell’s were fight­ing for their lives in Divi­sion 2.

But a stun­ning derby win over Naomh Fionnbarra jump-started an un­likely jour­ney back to the big time for the ‘Belling­ham boys.

Writ­ten off from the out­set, O’Con­nell’s found them­selves in fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory in Dun­leer on Sun­day against a Clan Na Gael side hotly tipped to fi­nally shake their brides­maid tag.

But the un­der­dog role seemed to suit Paddy Bates’ men nicely and they couldn’t have penned a bet­ter script if

Man-of-the-Match O’Con­nells Clan Na Gael 1-11 0-8

they tried.

Their big names were su­perb as Niall Con­lon and Jackie Agnew seemed to be locked in a per­sonal man-of-the-match duel, fol­lowed closely by Rob­bie Quigley and Sean Cairns.

But all over the pitch the men in ma­roon won their in­di­vid­ual bat­tles con­vinc­ingly.

They made one sub­sti­tute - for­mer goal­keeper Sean Connolly - who net­ted the only goal of the game just be­fore the break.

But per­haps most cru­cially of all, they came up against a Clans team that just didn’t per­form, and even if O’Con­nell’s had taken their foot off the gas, it’s doubt­ful their op­po­nents were equipped to take ad­van- It was the clos­est of calls be­tween Agnew and Niall Con­lon, who kicked five points, in­clud­ing four from play. But when Clans fi­nally star ted to press Agnew was su­perb, driv­ing his team for­ward and kick­ing the two de­ci­sive scores that put the is­sue beyond and any doubt. Sean Cairns, Rob­bie Quigley and Keith Woods de­serve a men­tion too, over­all O’Con­nells won most of the one-on-one du­els.

Stats

WIDES: O’Con­nells 6 (4 in first-half); Clans 6 (2 in first-half)

FREES: O’Con­nells 15; Clans 14

45: O’Con­nells 1; Clans 1

YEL­LOW: P McKeever (25), JJ Quigley (30+), R McCabe (30+)

BLACK: None

RED: None

Talk­ing point

like So where do the Clans go now? They’ve in­tro­duced some crack­ing young tal­ent may Micheal Mc­Don­nell and Donal Boyle in re­cent years, but the chang­ing of the guard have to con­tinue as some of their old cam­paign­ers as­sess their op­tions this win­ter. Strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence and giv­ing youth a fling will be cru­cial next sea­son and beyond. tage.

It was clear Mark Mc­Cann’s men were off-colour from the open­ing min­utes.

O’Con­nell’s punched holes in a nor­mally tight de­fen­sive unit from the throw-in and were it not for some way­ward shoot­ing they would have been four or five points to the good in as many min­utes.

But Clans hung in there in the open­ing quar­ter as a cou­ple of Billy Smith frees can­celled out points from Dean Stan­field and they ac­tu­ally took the lead briefly when Con­all McKeever fin­ished off a trade­mark run with a well­struck point - his side’s first from play.

But from there to the in­ter­val it was all O’Con­nell’s - and this time they did make it count.

Con­lon and Quigley were wreak­ing havoc in­side, but Clans’ prob­lems were many and wide­spread.

Quigley lev­elled it up with a ‘45’ and the deadly duo added one each from play to make it 0-5 to 0-3.

Connolly - sum­moned on the 20-minute mark - added an ex­tra di­men­sion to an al­ready ram­pant O’Con­nell’s at­tack and while Lady Luck played a big part in his 26th minute goal, they all count!

Clans’ ‘keeper Sean Smyth ini­tially ap­peared to have done a good job of in­ter­cept­ing a dan­ger­ous at­tack, but he dropped the ball into Connolly’s path and he drove a fierce shot to the roof of the net from 13 me­tres.

Quigley fol­lowed up with a point and Con­lon con­verted a free in in­jury-time as O’Con­nell’s re­tired with a fully-mer­ited 1-7 to 0-3 lead.

Clans tried to shake things up at the break, call­ing on Stephen Cole­man and Leo Mar­tin and the for­mer got his name on the score­board early along with Mark Newell.

But while Clans were bet­ter af­ter the break, O’Con­nell’s still had the con­test on a tight leash and by the end of the third quar­ter they re­stored their seven-point cush­ion with a brace from the classy Con­lon. Stu­art Reynolds leads the O’Con­nell’s vic­tory dance.

Clans did en­joy more pos­ses­sion in the se­cond pe­riod and they pressed their op­po­nents a lot higher up the pitch, but they never re­ally looked ca­pa­ble of clos­ing the deficit.

Smith, with a free, and McGe­own cut it to five, but al­most im­me­di­ately the bril­liant Agnew fired over a quick­fire dou­ble.

And that was pretty much that.

Smith did tag on a free, but the clos­ing stages were as frus­trat­ing and fruitless as the rest of the con­test for the Dun­dalk men.

They’ve now lost four fi­nals in seven sea­sons, but this one might be the hard­est to swal­low and tough­est to re­cover from.

O’Con­nell’s know that ‘nearly’ feel­ing, but they con­quered their demons in 2012 and that

ex­pe­ri­ence, cou­pled with four sea­sons in se­nior must have been a fac­tor on Sun­day.

Their mis­sion now is to make sure that last year was merely a hic­cup.

O’CON­NELL’S: Stu­art Reynolds; James Clerkin, Keith Woods, Ja­son Car­roll; Em­met Byrne, Salem Ri­faie, Stu­art Os­borne; Dean Stans­field 0-1, Sean Cairns; Jackie Agnew 0-2, Paul McKeever, Dean Cor­ri­gan; Rob­bie Quigley 0-3 (1f, 1 ‘45’), Niall Con­lon 0-5 (1f), Conor McGuill. Subs: Sean Connolly 1-0 for Cor­ri­gan (19).

CLAN Na Gael: Sean Smyth; Ian Carr, Paul Crewe, Micheal Mc­Don­nell; Kevin Car­roll, Stephen Fitz­patrick Donal Boyle; Billy Smith 0-4f, Conor Noo­nan; Mark Newell 0-1, JJ Quigley, Con­all McKeever 0-1; Paul Gore, Ray McCabe, Mark McGe­own 0-1. Subs: Leo Mar­tin for JJ Quigley (ht) Stephen Cole­man 0-1 for R McCabe (ht), Rob­bie Cur­ran for M Noo­nan (46), JJ Quigley for K Car­roll (49), Drew Duffy for M Newell (57).

REF­EREE: Des­mond Mc­Don­nell.

Stu­art Chairm

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