Dunedin Connollys’ hard-earned three-in-a-row

Connollys’ captain Dan O’Brien pictured with Caoilifhionn Deeney

All-Britain Provincial JFC Final

Dunedin Connollys: 3-12
Neasden Gaels: 2-12

Larry Cooney at Old Bedians, Manchester

Dunedin Connolly’s are provincial junior football champions for the third consecutive year after a three-point victory over Neasden Gaels at sunny Didsbury last Sunday in one of the most exciting and competitive finals in years.

And it took a last gasp penalty save from Dunedin Connolly’s goalkeeper Adam McKeever to deny the spirited London men extra-time after fortunes swayed to and fro for much of an exciting and entertaining encounter.

The unlucky spot-kicker was Ryan O’Hare who was entrusted with the responsibility after regular penalty-taker Ciaran O’Hare had been substituted in the 44th minute. Ciaran was successful with Neasden Gaels’ first penalty-kick that gave the London champions a great start after fifteen minutes.

Neasden Gaels appeared to have been chasing a lost cause when Dunedin Connolly’s full-forward Sean Malee scored their third goal with just over five minutes of normal time remaining.

But to their credit, the spirited Londoners kept chasing the game and they were awarded a penalty in the fourth and final minute of additional time when Ross Cunningham was bundled over in the parallelogram.

Referee Mark McLoughlin had no hesitation in awarding his second penalty kick of the afternoon. But after a long delay Ryan O’Hare opted to go to the goalkeeper’s right and with Adam McKeever guessing correctly he pushed the fiercely driven kick upwards and to safety at the second attempt.

Most neutrals would not have minded a period of extra time in the glorious Autumn sunshine but it was not to be as Dunedin Connolly’s celebrated their fine achievement of completing a notable three-in-a-row of provincial titles.

But in the final analysis probably the best team just about deserved it and now look forward to a trip to Donegal in three weeks where hopefully they can go one better this year and make it to the semi-final.

Bright start

Defending the pavilion end in the opening half Dunedin Connolly’s looked the more assertive of the two teams in the opening exchanges.

After forcing a ’45 in the third minute from which the Edinburgh club’s goal-keeper Adam McKeever opened the scoring. But despite their domination of possession Dunedin Connolly’s were also guilty of some very poor shooting and shot selection in the early stages of the opening quarter.

But a well-worked move involving centre-back Conor McGoldrick joining the attack resulted in a neat finish from former Tipperary panellist Aldo Matassa for a second Dunedin Connolly’s point after seven minutes.

However, in their first attack, Neasden Gaels halved the deficit with Stephen Doran providing the assist with the first of Conor Doran’s many fine finishes of the afternoon with his left foot.

And within a minute the London champions were level by the same player from the first of his three successful place kicks. Dunedin Connolly’s still looked very sluggish as they attempted to find any fluency in their play as their wide count also began to mount.

And when a high ball was delivered into their goalmouth in the fifteenth minute Neasden Gaels’ full forward Connaire Harrison fielded cleanly before being upended for a penalty kick.

Ciaran O’Hare kept his composure to despatch with aplomb to the left of the goal-keeper for a three-point lead for the London champions.

But they failed to build on their early lead and within eight minutes the sides were level when Tony Dever was on hand to deliver a perfect cross in front of goal where the lurking Conor McCann deflected to the net to make the score 1-2 apiece after twenty-three minutes.

That score certainly had the desired effect in lifting the flagging Edinburgh men because they finished the half strongly with points from wing-back Daniel Loftus immediately after the goal and a pointed free from man-of-the-match Frank Molloy a minute before the interval to leave the half-time score: Dunedin Connolly’s 1-4 Neasden Gaels 1-2.

‘Sucker-punch’

The Edinburgh based team opted not to return to the dressing room at half-time and looked quite focused as play resumed. But although they doubled their advantage within three minutes of the re-start they were also rocked by a second Neasden Gaels’ goal in the thirty-fifth minute.

A minute after the foraging Ross Cunningham had cut the deficit with a point a lofted ball into the parallelogram was fisted to the net by Connaire Harrison for an equalising goal.

And although Frank Molloy edged the Dunedin Connolly’s men back in front four minutes later Neasden Gaels were now enjoying their best period of the game in terms of possession.

It was therefore no real surprise when the London champions took the lead by the forty-first minute after a brace of points in two minutes from Ciaran O’Hare and Connaire Harrison. But the teams were soon level following another penetrating run from centre back Conor Horan that earned a free for the Edinburgh club.

It was now very much anybody’s game as Conor Doran’s trusted left boot put Neasden Gaels back in front as the third quarter ended and also saw the introduction of veteran midfielder Paul Geraghty as a replacement for the tiring Ciaran O’Hare.

The holders were now in serious trouble and needed some kind of inspiration to get them back in contention.

And who better to provide it than Frank Molloy who had tormented the Neasden Gaels’ defence all afternoon. As he rounded his marker in the forty-fifth minute he bore down on goal before unleashing an unstoppable second goal for Dunedin Connolly’s and a two-point lead.

Dunedin Connollys players celebrating (Image: Dunedin Connollys Twitter)

But Neasden Gaels continued to battle valiantly as the teams traded the next four points with a Conor Doran pointed free and a score from Paul Geraghty cancelling out efforts from Sean Malee and Frank Molloy.

And when Malee added a second point in the fifty-fourth minute followed by a third goal from the same player it looked ‘game, set and match’ to the holders who now led by six points with six minutes of normal time remaining.

But a stubborn Neasden Gaels’ team refused to submit and following three unanswered points from a Conor Doran brace in between a Connaire Harrison pointed free there was just three points between the teams entering four minutes of added time.

However as Sean Maleen kicked another point for what looked a ‘safe’ four-point lead for the holders, that would surely be that for the brave London champions. And even when a Conor Doran pointed free with two minutes of playing remaining left just a goal between the teams there could hardly be another twist surely!

But as the holders retreated they almost paid the ultimate price when Ross Cunningham won possession and was fouled for what would have been an equalising penalty.

But it was not to be as goalkeeper Adam McKeever made himself a hero with his brilliant late save to clinch Dunedin Connolly’s hard earned three-in-a-row on a final score of: Dunedin Connolly’s 3-12 Neasden Gaels 2-12.

It was Dunedin Connolly’s fourth provincial title and has now earned them a trip to Donegal in three weeks where they face Ulster champions Red Hugh’s in the All-Ireland club quarter-final.

Should they go one better than they did last year against Naoimh Colmcille they can then look forward to a semi-final clash in the New Year against Connacht champions Easkey from Sligo.

Scorers: Dunedin Connollys –  Frank Molloy 1-5 (0-3)f, Sean Malee 1-3, Conor McCann 1-2, Adam McKeever (0-1)45 and Aldo Matassa 0-1 each. Neasden Gaels – Conor Doran 0-7(0-3)f, Coaran O’Hare 1-1(1-0)pen., Connaire Harrison 1-2(0-1)f Ross Cunningham and Paul Geraghty 0-1 each.

Dunedin Connollys – Adam McKeever; Fintan Kearney, Dan O’Brien, Arran Moore; Daniel Loftus, Conor Horan, Ronan McGurk; Brian McAteer, Tony Dever; Eanna Newton, Paul Reen, Conor McCann; Aldo Matassa, Sean Malee, Frank Molloy. Subs: Alan Ward for Eanna Newton (inj.) 34, Daniel Casey for Ronan McGurk 46.

Neasden Gaels: Ian Flood, David Crawford, Brendan Rowland; Conor Flanagan, Connor McGoldrick, Niall Byrne; Frank McMullin (capt.), Paul Barrett; Ross Cunninghm, Ciaran O’Hare, Stephen Doran; Ryan O’Hare, Connaire Harrison, Conor Doran. Subs: Paul Geraghty for Frank McMullin 44, Mark McGauley for Niall Byrne 46, Thomas Connolly for Conor Flanagan (b/c) 51.

Referee: Mark McLoughlin (Warwickshire)


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