THE LEINSTER title dreams of St. Fintan's came to a disappointing, if somewhat expected, conclusion in Parnell Park, Donnycarney, on Sunday last when a toothless attack cost them dearly as they lost to Castleknock of Dublin by five points in the provincial Junior football championship decider.
CASTLEKNOCK (DUBLIN) 1-10 ST. FINTAN'S 1-5
The south county side managed just one score from play, and that turned out to be the last of the game when substitute Niall Moore's snapshot in the 55th minute took a deflection off the nearest defender and rocketed into the roof of the net. It reduced the gap to five points and the large Fintan's following in the stand suddenly sensed that the crown they wanted so badly was still within reach.
It proved a false dawn though, as the Wexford men never threatened the posts at the dressing-room end again whereas Castleknock could have extended their lead with a bit more composure in the closing stages, shooting five late wides to bring their overall tally to ten.
Goalkeeper Patrick McDonnell, centre-back Kevin Day and midfielder Paddy Keane were the stand-out performers for the losers who will rue a poor finish to the opening half when they conceded five points from the 24th minute onwards to leave themselves trailing at the break by 0-7 to 0-1.
The underdogs needed a really strong start to rattle the Dubs and make them think that life without their star player, Ciarán Kilkenny, would be no bed of roses. Instead, St. Fintan's struck three of their overall wides total of seven in the first five minutes courtesy of Cathal O'Brien plus overlapping defenders Brendan Hughes and Kevin Day.
And their problems in front of the posts were set to continue, even though county Minor Donal Shanley got them off the mark from a free after a Castleknock defender picked the ball off the ground in the seventh minute. It turned out to be their sole score of the opening half when there was a marked contrast between the duels between the respective full-back and full-forward lines at either end.
St. Fintan's needed more, much more, from intercounty Senior Joey Wadding who formed a two-man inside line of attack with Cathal O'Brien as Paddy Keane drifted out to midfield once the game started. However, he lost his individual duel to polished Castleknock defender Graham Hannigan, one of the stand-out performers last year when Dublin reached the All-Ireland Minor final before losing to Tipperary, who vied for the man of the match award with their towering number ten, Jamie Tunney.
Surprisingly, Wadding remained at full-forward apart from a brief period approaching half-time when he swapped roles with Conor Sinnott, and his lack of success despite trying hard was symptomatic of St. Fintan's general problems in the forward line.
In contrast, the Castleknock inside attackers were out in front for possession and posed a far greater threat in the first-half in particular, although they were still reliant on free-taker Rory Corcoran for their opening four points between the 13th and 27th minutes.
Patrick McDonnell was forced into a good save to deny Cathal Daly a goal near the end of the first quarter after a high Corcoran free came back into play off the post, while St. Fintan's came closest to the green flag they needed in the 22nd minute when Conor Sinnott's floated ball to the far post was bundled over the line for a fruitless '45 by netminder Alex Griffith as Joey Wadding challenged.
It may have taken 28 minutes for the first score to arrive from open play, but when it did it was a beauty as Castleknock's Jamie Tunney curled over a left-footed effort following a crossfield pass from Des Carlos for a 0-5 to 0-1 lead.
And they hammered home that advantage before the break, with Graham Hannigan making a great catch to cut out Kevin Day's attempted pass to Conor Sinnott, kick-starting a move which ended with Tommy Corcoran using his left boot to split the posts. Tunney, who was the winners' main target for kickouts, then surged through the centre to fire over again and leave his side ahead by 0-7 to 0-1 at half-time, and one got the feeling that if Castleknock played any football at all after the interval they would be safe.
Kevin Day was trying hard to get his forwards going by bursting forward from centre-back, while Paddy Keane won the majority of kick-outs directed to him by Patrick McDonnell, but the forwards simply never looked threatening.
The floodlights came on at half-time and the rain started to fall after an early exchange of points between Donal Shanley (free) and Rory Corcoran. The best chance St. Fintan's had of getting back into contention arrived in the 35th minute when Graham Hannigan made his sole error, dropping the greasy ball after a Conor Sinnott cross into the path of Joey Wadding whose quick shot was superbly saved by Alex Griffith.
Although Cathal O'Brien converted the resultant '45, it was poor consolation, and the value of that save by the Castleknock netminder was underlined in the 37th minute when a flowing move led to their goal. Centreback Thomas Shields surged determinedly through two would-be tacklers and off-loaded at the perfect time to top scorer Rory Corcoran whose low shot to Patrick McDonnell's right skidded off the surface into the corner of the net. The score emanated from a familiar source, with full-back Graham Hannigan getting out in front to win a hopeful Fintan's delivery and start yet another attack.
Cathal O'Brien pulled back a pointed free before Paddy Keane, who had started the second-half closer to goal, moved to midfield for good when substitutes Niall Moore and Tom Power were introduced to the forwards midway through the third quarter.
Another neat Castleknock move ended with a Des Carlos point to make it 1-9 to 0-4 before Conor Sinnott did manage to rattle the net from a quickly-taken free in the 44th minute, but referee John Hickey ordered that it be re-taken from the correct position on the '21 and Cathal O'Brien surprisingly sent his kick off the ground wide.
To be fair, St. Fintan's did have their share of chances in an improved second-half, but their goal arrived about ten minutes too late to really worry Castleknock. Tom Power forced the excellent Alex Griffith into another good save before he pointed a free to reduce the gap to 1-9 to 0-5 in the 51st minute.
The last Castleknock point could have been a goal as Shane Boland's piledriver was saved by Patrick McDonnell and the midfielder stretched a leg at the rebound to send it over the bar in the 53rd minute.
That Niall Moore goal then rose the decibel levels at the Fintan's end of the stand, but it wasn't built upon as Castleknock enjoyed far more possession before the finish but struggled to hit the target as tiredness kicked in.
St. Fintan's finished with 14 men after Paddy Keane picked up a second yellow for a high tackle on Des Carlos deep into added time. In truth, he had been fortunate to stay on for his first offence in the 17th minute when a frontal hit left wing-back Tom Quinn with a bloodied mouth and forced him out of the action, but nobody gave more to the cause than the big number 14 who spent most of his time in the middle third of the field.
Castleknock will now take on a St. Peter's (Manchester) side featuring Wexford duo Joseph Sheehan (Clonard) and Seán Connon (Volunteers) in the All-Ireland quarter-final, while St. Fintan's are left to reflect on what might have been. It may be no consolation to them, but on Sunday last they made history by becoming the first-ever Wexford club to contest a Leinster football final for the second time.