Gers are Kings of Leinster
'A GOOD head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.'
Nelson Mandela may not have had a cold and windy Parnell Park in dark December in mind, but his wise sentiments rang true on Sunday afternoon, as Geraldines out-thought and out-fought Naomh Olaf to clinch Louth's second ever provincial club title.
The smarts came beforehand, as a few clever positional changes provided more graft and guile to a midfield core that failed to exert itself a week ago, but the heart was there from the first minute of the drawn game to the last minute of this one, as Eamon McEneaney's men completed a remarkable treble.
Unlike the first instalment Geraldines were in front virtually from the first whistle on Sunday, but they had to dig just as deep again, as Naomh Olaf closed to within a point with the breeze at their backs and five minutes (plus stoppage time) left on the clock.
They also survived a crazy goalmouth scramble just before that as Nat Cooney, Kevin Pepper and Ryan Trainor somehow contrived to deny Brian Begley a goal that would have put the hosts a point up heading down the home straight.
For McEneaney, that single heart-stopping incident summed up an entire season.
'Glen Trainor was on the line and he's our corner forward - he scored the two goals last week - so it just goes to show the commitment of the lads,' he said. Six or seven months ago Glen might not have gone back to do that, but they're all working for the team now. I thought it was in, I thought it was a goal, but to be fair that was the only moment they looked like scoring a goal, whereas we had three or four goal chances.'
That final caveat is important because, despite those frantic final 10 minutes, Geraldines are more than worthy champions.
They led by double scores at the break, 0-8 to 0-4, but their cushion should have been at least twice that, as Johnny Breen was denied by Noel Gibbons on three separate occasions in the opening half.
A dogged Naomh Olaf hung in bravely, and must have been mighty relieved to turn around to face a four-point deficit.
For McEneaney the half-time message was simple. For the preceding 110 minutes of football his team were second best in the middle of the field and that needed to be addressed.
'We lost the middle of the field 12-5 in the first half, and we said to the lads at half-time we have to get a grip on this. But to be fair to them they dominated the breaks in the first nine or ten minutes of the second half. The movement up the field, carrying the ball into the teeth of the breeze, it was tremendous football and they did the right things at the right time.'
That combination of hard graft around the middle and cunning in possession ensured the half-time gap of four points remained until the 12th minute of the second period as Jim McEneaney and Shane O'Hanlon cancelled out efforts from Brian Begely and Fearghal Purcell.
But then came the inevitable wobble.
Begley, from a free again, and Fergal McCann made it 10-8 at the end of the third quarter and when Shane O'Hanlon fired wide twice in quick suceession, the travelling support grew ever more restless.
And the tension mounted to fever pitch moments later as David Byrne picked out Begley all alone on the far edge of the square. Cooney closed the gap like a man possessed and somehow landed a body part of some description on Begley's shot. The 'keeper thought Trainor followed through to clear the danger, but it later emerged that Kevin Pepper may have been the saviour. Heroes all.
And yet the action was still bubbling hot as Eoin Kinsella calmly slotted over to make it a one-point game in the 56th minute.
Extra-time loomed large once again, but when cool heads were needed two of the youngest men on the pitch popped up to see the Gers over the finish line.
Dara Hamill, in particular, was an oasis of calm on his introduction, and he exchanged a neat one-two before splitting the posts with a tremendous effort from directly in front the Geraldines bench and supporters.
Fellow Louth Minor champion Josh Arrowsmith added another in the final minute of normal-time and with McEneaney converting a free in between, Naomh Olaf were going to have to conjure a goal and a point in injury-time. They managed neither.
'People will say we made the right substitutions, but it's all luck,' McEneaney reflected. 'We said to Dara Hamill you have a score in you and he won a few great balls and then he made a great run inside and kicked a lovely point - that really was the crucial score.
'That they didn't get an equaliser was important too, and the boys dug in to make sure they didn't get one. But you have to be in these positions, it has to happen to you, and maybe in the last couple of years they've been on the wrong side of these results. This year they've been on the right side of them, because they're digging in a wee bit more, so most of all today I'd applaud their character. They bossed the last 10 minutes when everything seemed to be going against them and they all stood up to a man and did their job.
'It's been a long 12 months and they've come a long way, and they showed a lot of maturity here today. It will bring them on for next year in terms of senior football because that's an entirely different kettle of fish. But for today, as a former Louth manager, I'm delighted that a Louth team has beaten a Dublin team in a final, because I was on the sideline when we were on the receiving end of a few thumpings from Dublin teams.'
Truagh now stand between McEneaney's men and a Croke Park appearance, and since the intermediate competition's inception in 2004 no team from Leinster has made it that far, let alone win an All-Ireland IFC title.
It will be a fascinating prologue to Geraldines' first season back in the senior ranks.
'After climbing a great hill, one
only finds that there are many
more hills to climb.'
GERALDINES: Nathaniel Cooney; Sean Thornton, Nicky Mackin, Tiarnan Hand; James Craven, Gerard Hoey, Kevin Pepper; Michael Rogers 0-1f, Stephen Reidy 0-1; Shaun Callan, Jim McEneaney 0-4 (0-2f, 0-2 '45), Shane O'Hanlon 0-2; Barry Hamilton, Johnny Breen 0-1, Glen Trainor 0-2. Subs: Josh Arrowsmith 0-1 for J Breen (37), Dara Hamill 0-1 for G Trainor (55).
Wides: 4 (1 in first half)
Frees: 16 (5 in first half)
Booked: J McEneaney (22), S Thornton (27), G Hoey (29), T Hand (32), S Callan (42), J Arrowsmith (45).
NAOMH OLAF: Noel Gibbons; Andrew Murphy, Kevin Birrane, Ronan Miley; Bernard Gaughran, Colin Doyle, David Byrne; Darragh Byrne, Tom O'Donoghue; Fergal McCann 0-1, Gary Wilkins, Brian Begley 0-4f; Fergal Purcell 0-2, Eoin Kinsella 0-1, Eoin Christiam 0-1. Subs: Shane Whyte for Murphy (20), Darragh Maxwell for R Miley (39), Johnny McGrath for Darragh Byrne (51).
Wides: 6 (3 in first half)
Frees: 28 (16 in forst half)
Booked: T O'Donoghue (30), B Gaughran 35 & 60+), F McCann (55), S Whyte (58), G Wilkins (60+).
Sent-off: B Gaughran (60+)
REFEREE: Patrick Maguire (Longford).