All Britain Junior Football Championship Final
Dunedin Connolly’s 1-17
Sean McDermotts 1-12
By Martin Mannering
at Beeston, Leeds
The bright winter sun that warmed Leeds had been slightly engulfed by a light covering of cloud by throw in time, but it was no longer needed as Birmingham and Scotland’s finest lit up Beeston Park with a wonderful display of Gaelic football.
Sean McDermotts arrived from Birmingham backed by a huge travelling support in the hope of ending a 42-year wait for the All Britain title.
The fact that they had been battlehardened by a tough campaign in Warwickshire and two competitive contests against Oisin’s and Thomas McCurtains made them slight favourites in some eyes. Connolly’s on the other hand, although getting a fright in the Scottish final, came to defend their title on the back of two comfortable wins in the quarter and semi-finals respectively.
It was end-to-end stuff from the start as both teams went on the attack with gusto, and not a sweeper in sight. Straight from the throw in Liam Gilbride found Conal Dowling with a driven pass and the full forward offloaded to Anthony Moriarity, who fired McDermotts into the lead.
Connolly’s went straight on the attack from the kickout and Bryan Russell’s shot was blocked for a 45, which Aldo Matassa converted.
The tone had been set. The pace was furious with both inside lines causing problems for their minders. Frank Molloy and Sean Malee caused particular problems and they added a point each before five minutes had elapsed.
At the other end, Moriarty, Dowling and Joe Owen were asking their own questions but even at this early stage Connolly’s seemed to have more answers.
McDermotts inspirational captain Niall Kilbride made a trademark forward run and placed Paudie O’Neill who lofted over.
Malee responded by finishing a blistering solo run with a point for his side, but Moriarty pointed a free for McDermotts after Conor Horan was adjudged to have handled on the ground.
Ten breathless minutes in, the Birmingham side got a break when Conal Dowling’s effort dropped short but as the ball cleared the heads of players in the square Tony Harbinson was deceived by the flight of the ball and spilled it into his own net.
When Ryan Bennett lofted a point from distance it looked like McDermotts had built a platform from which to end that long wait for an All Britain title. Au contraire. Instead the goal stung the Edinburgh men into action and they took a grip on the third quarter.
The sun began to peak through again but it was never going to shine as bright as Sean Malee, who sparkled with his ball winning, searching runs and deadly accuracy from placed balls.
The corner forward hit three of the next four points, sandwiching another 45 from Matassa, to put his side back in front.
The midlanders were still winning ample possession but after regrouping from the goal, Daniel O’Brien, Fintan Kearney and Brendan Paron formed a wall at the back that would have made President Trump proud. Bryan Russell had his half back line equally well organised while Brian McAteer and Vincent Moriarty held slight sway in the middle.
Full back O’Brien took crucial time out from his defensive duties five minutes from the break with deadly effect.
He went on a powerful run up the middle, drawing defenders, before offloading to Damian Keane, whose shot was blocked but with perfect timing Malee arrived and lashed it to the net. Malee landed another free, after a foul on McAteer, and then turned provider placing Paul Reen for a point.
It was into injury-time before McDermotts broke an 18- minute scoreless period from a Moriarty free after a foul on Paudi O’Neill, but the defending champions went in with a healthy 1-10 to 1-05 half-time lead.
Eanna Newton replaced the injured Vincent Moriarty at the break and he made an instant impact racing through to place Frank Molloy for a point and then earning a free from which Malee duly obliged to go seven clear.
McDermotts problems remained as before, they were still winning plenty of primary possession but they could find no way to breach the Scottish rear-guard and as the hectic pace naturally dropped a little, the winners always looked to have a measure of control.
Caolan McAleer pulled back a point from a free before having to leave the field, but Damian Keane quickly cancelled that out. Paudie O’Neill took over the free taking duties and hit a couple over, but Malee then put the tie to bed in a devastating five-minute period.
First, a peach from the left wing with his right foot, then a mirror image from the right wing with his left, and a free in between that made for an eight-point margin with just five minutes remaining.
McDermotts are well known for their battling qualities and they rallied, but Alan Ward’s charges showed their experience in snuffling out any serious threats over the closing stages.
They were happy to concede frees from distance and O’Neill did land three of them, but they never looked like getting the goal they needed. It was a terrific team performance from the Scottish side and to a man they all played their part.
But as is often the case someone will choose the biggest day to shine and Sean Malee gave a five-star performance to lead his side home.
The strength in depth was also evident as they lost players to injury in the second half, but their momentum and cohesion was never interrupted. They can now look forward to an All Ireland quarter- final against the winners of next week’s Ulster Junior final.
British champions for the third time in our history, and the second consecutive year.
Connollys abú! 💚💙 pic.twitter.com/h6EtAObeVy
— Dunedin Connollys (@DunedinCGFC) November 19, 2017
For Sean McDermotts, their Mayo-like wait goes on but perhaps it is unfair to place such a history on young shoulders in the first place. The fact that nine of their starting line-up were home grown on the fields of Birmingham speaks volumes for the club.
They have some terrific talent in their ranks and not one of them ever threw in the towel when the tide was against them. Their day will come.
DUNEDIN CONNOLLY’S: Tony Harbinson; Fintan Kearney, Brendan Parson, Tom Fitzgerald (0-1); Bryan Russell, Conor Horan, Brian McAteer; Vincent Moriarty, Alda Matassa (0-2, 45’s), Paul Reen (0-1), Ronan McGurk, Frank Molloy (0-2), Damian Keane (0-1), Sean Malee (1-9, 5f). SUBS: Eanna Newton for Vincent Moriarity, Will Stevenson for Paul Reen, John Dolan for Frank Molloy, Daniel Loftus for Ronan McGurk, Adam McKeever (0-1) for Damian Keane, Seamus Mulvihill for Eanna Newton.
SEAN MCDERMOTTS: Macualey Felgate, Mikey Pyne, Kevin O’’Brien, Eamon Killiney, Niall Gilbride, Liam Gilbride, Michael Mannion, Andy Willis, Ryan Bennett (0-1), Ciannon Folan, Paudie O Neill (0 6, 3f), Caolan McAleer (0-1), Anthony Moriarty (0-3, 2f), Conal Dowling (1-0), Joe Owens (0- 1). SUBS: Michael Hayden for Mikey Pyne, Niall McCooey for Caolan McAteer, Declan Staunton for Ciannon Folan.