Martin’s lift first U-20 hurling top grade title
Team of all the talents too strong for Gorey in decider
THE TEAM of all the talents added another piece of silverware to an ever-growing collection in the Halo Tiles Ferns Centre of Excellence on Wednesday when St. Martin’s swept to an impressive 14-point win over Naomh Eanna in the inaugural Greenstar Under-20 hurling Division 1 championship final.
While the margin wasn’t as large as the 4-27 to 2-14 scoreline in the corresponding Under-21 decider twelve months ago, in truth the difference between the teams was every bit as pronounced in an encounter that never really got off the ground despite an immaculate playing surface and a fine crowd.
Quite simply, there wasn’t a single weak link for the Gorey lads to exploit on a polished winning team, with the saints adding this first Under-20 crown to their Under-21 double of 2016 and 2017.
And in doing so they welcomed the return to action of star man Rory O’Connor after his knee injury, a sight that will have particularly pleased the mentors with the club’s Senior team.
Naomh Eanna captain Gary Molloy moved to midfield immediately after the throw-in to mark his county colleague who was able to ease himself back into competitive action on a night when he had more than enough team-mates to do the heavy lifting.
He did pick off one classy point from tight to the left sideline in the 40th minute, and St. Martin’s started to ease away thereafter as it was the first of six scores on the trot that pushed them 18-8 clear.
Being the second-best team in the county for two years running is an achievement in itself for Naomh Eanna, given the quality of the side above them in pole position.
Wing-back Seán Delaney was outstanding for three-quarters of the game, while Seamus O’Donnell had a great battle with Zac Firman in the full-back line, and Charlie McGuckin was easily their most inventive and threatening forward.
However, they needed more from their four county men - Eoin and Gary Molloy, Jack Cullen and Jack Cushe - in order to cause an upset. While the quartet tried very hard, the better balance of the winners ensured they were on a hiding to nothing.
It was notable that, every time Gorey did something positive, their rivals hit back immediately. For example, some hope appeared after falling behind by 0-18 to 0-8 when Cullen goaled in the 50th minute shortly after moving to full-forward.
The reply was instantaneous though, as less than 40 seconds later a handpass by Jack Devereux put Conor Coleman through for a clinically-taken goal.
Similarly, Charlie McGuckin caught an Aaron Byrne puck-out and fired over one of the best points of the game in the 58th minute, but the immediate response saw Ben Maddock spray a pass inside to the prolific Coleman who split the posts.
All six forwards, plus midfielder Maddock, hit one point apiece from play as St. Martin’s moved into an interval lead of 0-11 to 0-5.
On another night their ten firsthalf wides, plus seven more after the break, might have been an issue, but not on this occasion as they were simply in a different class to their promising rivals.
Naomh Eanna needed to settle immediately, but that didn’t happen as they also fired three efforts off target (from an overall tally of eight) before Maddock opened the scoring in the fifth minute.
St. Martin’s were never headed, and led by 0-6 to 0-1 at the end of the first quarter as Conor Coleman, Jack Devereux, Zac Firman and free-taker Kyle Firman (two) all reeled off points.
A good block by Seamus O’Donnell had denied Zac Firman a goal, and Nathan Byrne’s twelfth-minute point came as a welcome respite for the north county side.
They fared better in the second quarter, scoring four points while conceding five, but the goal they needed didn’t arrive. Their best attempt in the 22nd minute saw a kicked effort by substitute Darragh Canavan kept out by Callum Quirke, with play called back for a free converted by Jack Cullen.
Gorey did resume brightly as Gary Molloy and Jack Devereux swapped points before placed balls by Jack Cushe and Jack Cullen narrowed the gap to four (0-12 to 0-8).
However, Rory O’Connor responded with that classy point, and more followed from the three Firmans, Zac, Conor and Kyle (two), along with Devereux.
Not alone did St. Martin’s cancel that Jack Cullen goal inside a minute courtesy of Conor Coleman, they also finished on a real high with a second major in added time.
And it was a final score that fully underlined their strength, with full-back Philip Dempsey bursting down the right flank before finding Coleman who in turn teed up team captain Barry O’Connor for an emphatic finish.
St. Martin’s: Callum Quirke; Sam Audsley, Philip Dempsey, Cian Ryan; Michael Codd, Conor Firman (0-1), Adam Cantwell; Ben Maddock (0-1), Rory O’Connor (0-1); Jack Devereux (0-3), Barry O’Connor (capt., 1-1), Ben Stafford (0-1); Conor Coleman (1-5, 0-1 free), Kyle Firman (0-6, 3 frees), Zac Firman (0-2). Subs. - Eoin O’Leary for Stafford (56), Philip McDermott for Z. Firman (57), Conor Devereux for Audsley (60+2), also Jack Roche, Peter Barry, Paddy Gallagher, Conor Kelly, Liam O Lionáin, Shane Walsh, Stephen Doyle, Rory Cullen, Conor Stafford, Aaron Clancy, James Mernagh, Brandon Dodd.
Naomh Eanna: Aaron Byrne; Seamus O’Donnell, Eoin Molloy, Seán Dowling; Evan O’Dwyer, Gary Molloy (capt., 0-1), Seán Delaney; Jack Cullen (1-3, 0-3 frees), Jack Cushe (0-3, 2 frees); Michael Molloy, Charlie McGuckin (0-2), Jack Doran; Eddie O’Brien-Murphy, Cillian Donohoe, Nathan Byrne (0-1). Subs. - Darragh Canavan for M. Molloy, inj. (9), Shane Stokes for Donohoe (37), Larry Cullen for N. Byrne (56), also Patrick Dwyer, Jordan Nolan, Eoghan Collins, Cian Kenny, Mikey Cushe.
Referee: John O’Loughlin (Monageer-Boolavogue).
The triumphant St. Martin’s squad with the spoils of success.
Barry O’Connor receives the trophy from Andrew Egan (Greenstar).