All-Britain Junior Club Football Championship Semi-Final
Sean McDermotts 2-11
Thomas McCurtains 1-12
By Damian Dolan
at McGovern Park, Ruislip
Sean McDermotts’ hopes of crowning their 60th Anniversary year with a first All Britain title since 1975 live on, but only after holding off Thomas McCurtains in a thriller at McGovern Park.
In a wind-affected contest, the Warwickshire champions defended a lead given to them by Conal Dowling’s brace of first half goals, and the full forward’s double proved crucial in setting up a meeting with Dunedin Connollys in the final, after the Scottish champions saw off St Colmcilles in the day’s other semi-final.
Trailing by six at the break, Thomas McCurtains were always chasing the game in the second half, with McDermotts keeping the scoreboard ticking just enough to help keep the east Londoners at arms length. But despite McDermotts going into the last minute protecting a five-point lead, there was to be late drama as Mark McGirr’s goal set up a barnstorming finish.
The Warwickshire side, though, held their nerve with Dowling knocking over a crucial score to leave McCurtains needing another goal, which they couldn’t conjure as time ran out on what will still go down as a hugely memorable year for the London junior champions. Niall Coffey gave the Londoners the perfect start, knocking over the game’s opening two points, despite McDermotts having first use of the wind.
Tigerish at the back, winning all the 50:50s and breaking at pace through the midfield, McCurtains had started brightly. But a cracking score from Joe Owens, from wide out on the left, settled McDermotts and Anthony Moriarty punished John Winters’ loose pass to level.
Coffey, a star of his side’s play-off win over London intermediate Cuchullains to earn the club’s place in the All Britain, edged McCurtains back in front, but Mikey Pyne ventured up field to level and then Caolan McAteer put Mc-Dermotts ahead for the first time in the game. They would never surrender the lead.
In between, Conor Murphy did have a sight of Macauley Felgate’s goal, after Kevin O’Brien’s slip had opened the door, but Murphy’s strike flew past the far post, and O’Brien could exhale. But that was nothing compared to the goalmouth drama that was about to unfold at the other end.
First, Dowling got a crucial touch ahead of Conor MulRennan to Joe Owens’ ball in, and despite the best efforts of the McCurtains goalkeeper to keep the ball out, the goal was awarded by the referee after consulting with his umpire. McCurtains suddenly looked like a boxer in desperate need of the bell, as McDermotts went looking for the knock-out punch.
A minute later they should have added a second goal, as good pressure high up the field forced a turnover, but Ciaran Folan dragged his shot wide with McCurtains scrambling. It mattered not. With Mc-Curtains still unable to clear their heads, McDermotts picked them apart with some lovely handpassing and McAteer unselfishly shipped the ball on to Dowling and he beat MuRennan from close range. McDermotts led by seven.
McCurtains needed to stop the bleeding and escape their own half, and Coffey and Gerry Flynn combined nicely for the former to point. That reduced the margin to two goals, and that was the difference at the break with the Warwickshire side leading 2-6 to 0-6.
The Londoners needed a flying start to the second half and they got it through Coffey, who ensured Flynn’s good work didn’t go to waste. Coffey then added a brace of frees, and it was suddenly starting to get interesting.
McDermotts were conceding too many frees and giving McCurtains a foothold in the game, which they weren’t slow to seize upon.
It wasn’t until the 49th minute that the Warwickshire outfit finally registered their first point of the second half – McAteer splitting the uprights. A Coffey free brought Mc- Curtains back to within a goal, before McGirr, a surprise omission from the McCurtains starting line up, made his presence felt eight minutes from time to close the gap to just two points.
However, there was an unmistakable sense that if McCurtains were to prevail, points weren’t going to be enough. They would need a goal. Every time McCurtains got within touching distance, McDermotts dug deep to find something extra to keep their noses in front.
Paul O’Neill pointed and then when Niall Gilbride slotted a 45 with five minutes remaining, it seemed as if McDermotts had finally weathered the second half storm. Dowling set up Declan Staunton and the gap was up to five, and McCurtains seemed resigned to their fate.
A brilliant journey for the east Londoners had reached its final destination it seemed. Not a bit of it.
In the final minute of normal time Murphy chased a lost cause out to the right, before shrugging off his man and driving in on goal. His ball across goal broke to McGirr, and he buried it into the net. Game on.
When Paddy Halligan added a free the gap was down to a solitary point, but just as McGirr shaped to get into shooting position for what could have been the leveller, Andrew Willis came up with a crucial challenge to win the ball back.
From that, McDermotts went straight down the other end and Dowling added a vital insurance point. A point which left McCurtains with no other choice but to go in search of another goal, but when Coffey sent a Hail Mary free into the McDermotts’ goalmouth, it was Willis who came up with it and McCurtains’ last chance had gone.
For McDermotts, the chance to turn 2017 from a memorable year into a historic one lives on.
SEAN MCDERMOTTS: Macauley Felgate; Mikey Pyne (0-1), Kevin O’Brien, Eamon Culliney; Niall Gilbride (0-1, 45), Liam Gilbride, Michael Mannion; Andrew Willis, Ryan Bennett; Ciaran Folan (0-1), Paul O’Neill, Caolan McAteer (0-3, 1f); Anthony Moriarty (0- 2), Conal Dowling (2-1), Joe Owens (0-1). SUBS: Mark McMahon for Pyne, Breen Fallon for Declan Staunton (0- 1) for McAteer.
THOMAS MCCURTAINS: Conor Mulrennan; Paudie O’Shea, Conor Smith, Richie Ellis; John Winters, Kevin Delahunty, Tom Lynagh; Paddy O’Neill, Tommy Clarke; Michael O’Leary, Gerry Flynn, Steven Quinn; Niall Coffey (0-8, 3f), Conor Murphy (0-2), Paddy Halligan (0-1f. SUBS: Mark McGirr (1-1) for Flynn, Sean Murphy for Lynagh, Gavin Gallagher for O’Shea, Darragh McNally for Ellis.
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