O’Rourke goal inspires
ST NICHOLAS kicked off what would become a truly memorable weekend for West Wicklow when they produced a stirring comeback to break Blessington hearts in the 2020 Minor ‘A’ football final in Aughrim on Saturday afternoon.
With some really excellent footballers on display across both sides this was a wonderfully entertaining game of football littered with great scores and fine football and it is a huge boost to the Dunlavin and Donard-The Glen clubs who will hope to welcome the majority of those players to both adult teams now competing in the Senior football championship in 2021.
Eoin Phibb’s Blessington have to be commended for playing their part in this thrilling encounter. No one will know better than themselves that this game was there to be closed out when they led by 2-7 to 0-8 after 20 minutes.
But holding a team like St Nicholas down when you have footballers of the caliber of Joe Mills, Rory Martin, Mickey O’Rourke, Mark Murtagh, Sean O’Sullivan and Sean Doyle in their ranks is not an easy job and when Mickey O’Rourke linked up with Mills to blast home to the back of the Blessington net after 22 minutes the writing was very firmly on the wall given that the St Nicholas blood was up and they had the wind at their backs.
Joe Mills opened proceedings with a fine score off his left after three minutes. Himself and the excellent Luke O’Brien enjoyed a great battle throughout this game.
But Blessington soon gathered their thoughts and raced out to a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after 13 min
utes through points from Austin Brennan, Mikey O’Toole, Lukas Sarkauskas and midfielder Tomas Fisher (free) as they completely dominated St Nicholas all over the field.
A Mills point settled the nerves after 17 before Dylan Prendergast fired over a minute later in what was half a goal chance.
Three Blessington wides werent helpful in their hopes of building up a lead to take with them into
the second half where they would play into that wind blowing up the field in Aughrim but Eoin Phibb’s side got a massive boost when a free that dropped short from Tomas Fisher bounced horribly in front of Meitheal Cleary and quickest to react was the classy Dan Silk Fetherston at full-forward for Blessington who flicked the ball home to make it 1-4 to 0-3 at the break. St Nicholas would have the additional blow of losing Cleary who appeared to injure his shoulder in the passage of play. James Walshe took his place after the break.
Tomas Fisher extended the Blessington lead but two converted frees from Sean Doyle and Joe Mills brought St Nicholas back right back into the game with five gone in the second half.
Fisher added another free after a foul on Silk Fetherston and then Blessington surged ahead when the talented full-forward gathered a high ball before turning and rifling home past Walshe to make it 2-6 to 0-5 after eight minutes. St Nicholas looked in real trouble.
A pivotal few moments were to follow. Joe Mills kept St Nicholas alive and well with two superb pointed frees but Blessington missed a goal chance when Sam Gough fired wide with space in front of him after 11. The water break was a welcome event for Eddie Eager’s side.
But it was Blessington who returned the livelier. Silk Fetherston fired over a peach and then James
Walshe saved smartly from Sam Gough after a pass from Ethan McNally.
A Mills free made it 2-7 to 0-8 but St Nicholas were about to stage a remarkable comeback. Adam Byrne gathered a Blessington restart and he fed Mills. The sublime full-forward laid off a pass to the onrushing Mikey O’Rourke who lashed home to the top corner of the Blessington net past the excellent Jack Sargent who hardly put a foot wrong the entire afternoon.
This was a monstrous score in the context of the game and you could see St Nicholas players visibly grow all over the field. Blessington, however, had expended massive amounts of energy by this stage and were starting to tire slightly.
The superb Sean Doyle pointed a free he won himself before Joe Mills leveled the game after 27 minutes. In between those scores there were quality moments from Rory Martin on Silk Fetherston in front of the Blessington goal.
Mills would fire wide for St Nicholas before Sean Doyle gave them the lead at 1-11 to 2-7 before we had a moment of major controversy when referee Ciaran Fleming awarded a penalty for a footblock by Blessington full-back Luke O’Brien on a Joe Mills shot after a high ball from Mickey O’Rourke. O’Brien seemed to be well back from the full-forward when he took the shot, with the ball coming back of his upper leg. However, the decision stood.
Up stepped Mills. Rednagh Hill end. But Sargent was equal to the challenge and he saved magnificently to give Blessington a surge of hope.
Up the field they came and won
a free but Mikey O’Toole’s effort off the ground was poor and blocked by Ciarán Geoghegan.
But O’Toole didn’t give up. He chased after the breaking ball and won it back but his lobbed effort went out for a 45 off a St Nicholas defender.
He would have one last chance. Into the breeze, towards the village of Aughrim, a raucous din in his ears, a bodhran being hammered in the stand. His strike was sweet and off she sailed. It would have the distance but it would tail to the left and wide.
The final whistle sounded shortly afterwards and the St Nicholas players and supporters erupted in scenes of pure joy. Blessington’s players were distraught. They had played so wonderfully for long periods and your heart went out to Mikey O’Toole whose performance didn’t deserve the disappointing finish.
But such is life. St Nicholas are the Minor ‘A’ champions. They took their chances and withstood all that was thrown at them. Fair play to them.
ST NICHOLAS: Meitheal Cleary; Cian Fox, Rory Martin, Conor Deering; Mickey O’Rourke (1-0), Mark Murtagh, Sean O’Sullivan; Tadgh McCarthy, Willie Eager; Conor Manifold, Dylan Prendergast (0-1), Eoin Sheridan; Sean Doyle (0-3, 1f), Joe Mills (0-7, 5f), Adam Byrne. Subs: Ciarán Geoghegan for S O’Sullivan (24), James Walshe for M Cleary (H/T, inj), Ronan Kelly for C Fox (44), J Reid for A Byrne (57).
Jack Sargent; Cillian Bailey, Luke O’Brien, Liam Phibbs; Killian O’Connell, Austin Brennan (0-1), James Dooley; Dan Cooney, Tomas Fisher (0-3, 3f); Robbie Richardson, Sam Gough, Lukas Sarkauskas (0-1); Mikey O’Toole (2-1), Dan Silk Fetherston (0-1), Conor Richardson. Subs: Rory Cullen for R Richardson (29), Ethan McNally for C Richardson (50).
Ciaran Fleming (Baltinglass)