Pleasant detour for Bl
CARDINAL O’DONNELL CUP FINAL
IF a senior championship twoin-a-row remains the dream destination, Newtown Blues took a pleasurable detour on Saturday night.
A battling five-point win over 14-man Naomh Mairtin secured a 13th League title for Louth’s most successful club, but the celebrations were short and sweet as the satnav was immediately reconfigured to next weekend’s SFC quarter-final clash with St Joseph’s.
Ronan Phillips’ side are the clear favourites for Joe Ward success this autumn and a near-perfect league campaign followed by knockout wins over Mattock Rangers and the Jocks has only bolstered the odds on them retaining their county title next month.
The pretenders to their throne - Naomh Mairtin included - may take some solace from what was little more than a workmanlike performance, but in dank, slippery conditions, their ability to carve out victory without ever hitting top gear was as ominous for their rivals as it was heartening.
The Jocks will still feel that they missed an opportunity, however.
There was nothing between the sides in the opening 20 minutes and the Mairtin’s were the better team in the second period, but a disastrous 10-minute spell before the break ultimately decided the contest.
Blues opened with points from John Kermode and Ross Nally, but when Sam Mulroy was dragged down by Ciaran Downey to win a penalty, the Louth man quickly dusted himself down to slot the spot-kick past Craig Lynch.
Eoghan Callaghan added a point soon after, but Downey brushed off the penalty concession and converted a brace of frees to draw the Blues level at 0-4 to 1-1.
The sides were still level when Wayne Campbell picked up the second of two yellow cards in the 22nd minute, but by the interval the Blues had opened a 1-6 to 1-1 cushion.
The red card was bad enough for the Jocks, but within a minute they were caught by another body blow as Downey dropped a free on to the edge of the square which Conor Moore somehow turned goalwards.
The Blues turned the screw with a free from Downey and point from Conor Branigan, prising out a five-point half-time lead, 1-6 to 1-1.
It didn’t look great for the Jocks at that stage, but they didn’t let those first-half setbacks weigh on them after the break.
Mulroy cut the deficit to three with a quick brace straight after the break, but a brilliant piece of strength and skill by Ross Nally quashed the comeback before it had ever really begun.
The Louth attacker used an injection of pace and some old-fashioned brute force to fashion the chance, but the finish was pure finesse as he picked his spot just inside the far post, giving Lynch no chance.
Again, Naomh Mairtin responded well and the Blues needed a superb save from Dean Martin to maintain a bit of breathing space.
They were able to keep the gap at four points, but Martin was forced into another superb save when Callaghan teed up JP Rooney at point blank range.
David Fedigan levelled the numbers up with 10 minutes remaining, dismissing Fergal Donohoe with a straight red card.
But this Blues team doesn’t scare easily and despite riding their luck at times in the second period they showed all of their poise and knowhow in the closing stages. And two of their most experienced soldiers made
Conor Branigan assesses his options as Conor Healy closes in.