‘Bellingham boys defy the odds to bounce back
CTI BUSINESS SOLUTIONS IFC FINAL Old boys are going nowhere insists Agnew
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
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.
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+)
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.