Late goals make the difference for Neasden

Britain Provincial Council Club JFC Semi-Final

Neasden Gaels: 3-13
St Judes: 0-13

McGovern Park, Ruislip

A late flurry of Neasden Gaels goals solidified their place in the All-Britain championship final after a spirited and youthful St Judes gave them plenty of problems in an engrossing encounter at Ruislip.

Neasden, this year’s London intermediate champions, will now face Dunedin Connollys of Edinburgh in the final who are seeking a third successive British title. A London side has not featured in the final since North London Shamrocks in 2014 – the last time a London side won the title came 12 years ago.

Early on, both sides sought to play on the front foot. Judes, the Gloucestershire winners hailing from Southhampton, were nominally the away side but some early doggedness kept them firmly in touch with the favourites.

Brendan Agnew, the travelling side’s towering talisman, was on the finishing end of two neatly produced moves to level the scores at (0-2 to 0-2) five minutes in after Neasden had powered into a lead.

Neasden’s fleet-footed and clinical Down-dominated forward line was restricted in the opening quarter after a year of tormenting defences.

It took midfielder Paul Geraghty in the 10th minute to engineer some imaginative forward-play, as the former London senior player went on a rampaging 20-yard run before slotting over with his left foot from an acute angle to put Neasden into a one-point lead.

Points were then exchanged tit-for-tat in what was evidently an evenly matched, free-flowing game of football.

Jason Cott, the Judes wing-forward, showed impressively in the first half, picking up three excellent points from play. For Neasden, Conor Doran and the always-menacing presence of Ciaran O’Hare picked up 7 points between them to edge the London side three points ahead at the interval (0-10 to 0-7).

Neasden had, in the final 10 minutes of action, seemed to work themselves into an extra gear and four careless wides might have hampered their chances of progressing on another day.

Instead, the northwest Londoners stormed into the second half, as Connaire Harrison reached to a pass across the face of the goal to punch his side into a 6 point lead.

Judes were far from finished, however. The following fifteen minutes alone exemplified exactly why Judes is a rising power in British GAA. Agnew, a perennially ominous presence in the Southampton side’s offensive line, scored five points (three frees) without return in the second half’s opening quarter.

The pick of the bunch came in the 40th minute when Agnew used brutish force to ground one Neasden half-back and then left his marker, Brendan Rowlands, for dust before duly slotting over the crossbar.

Neasden struggled to cope with Judes’ intensity and found it increasingly difficult to find their dangermen with meaningful possession. The scores read 1-10 to 0-12, the goal proving the thorn in Judes’ side.

Hopeful long-range efforts began to clock up the wide count for Neasden (five wides in 20 minutes) but Judes, still in pursuit of a decisive goal, began to look porous in defence. After 20 minutes of second-half play, Neasden, through Conor Doran, broke their deadlock. A scuppered goal chance then followed, which, in retrospect, was premonitory for what was to come.

A sumptuous curled effort from Ciaran O’Hare preceded the game’s pivotal moments. It was deja vu for Judes as two goals identical to Neasden’s first came in a 60-second flourish. To the dismay of the Judes hopeful, who had turned out in force, their team had relinquished their period of dominance for utter complacency.

Waves of Neasden attacks completely overwhelmed a shaky Judes full-back line who had been relatively idle for the vast majority of the second half. Two points were exchanged late, but the scoreline read 3-13 to 0-13 by the final whistle.

Disappointingly for the travelling team – who had, truthfully, been expected to be easily disposed of – the lack of a shored-up defence in the game’s final moments proved fatal. So too did Neasden’s hardened experience and ability to punish sides – as they did in the previous round against Manchester side Oisin’s.

Neasden, relegated last year from London’s senior ranks, capitalised all campaign on a return to the top tier with equally professional performances. Their next opponents in Dunedin Connollys, though, may evidence themselves as a challenge unmet so far for the London side.

Neasden Gaels: John Raftery; Mark McGaughley, Brendan Rowlands, Ian Flood; David Crawford, Conor McGoldrick, Niall Byrne; Paul Geraghty (0-1), Paul Barrett; Ross Cunningham, Conor Doran (1-5, 1f), Stephen Doran; Ciaran O’Hare (0-5, 2f), Connaire Harrison (2-1), Ryan O’Hare (0-1).

St Judes: Jason Duggan; Glenn Costello, Gary O’Hare, Sean Bradley; Darragh Bennett, Gerard O’Mullan, Mark Jordan; Sean McCullagh, Daniel Macbeth; Jason Cott (0-3), Daire Byrne, David Varley (0-1); Willie O’Connell, Brendan Agnew (0-9, 4f), Mark Harnett.

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