SO near and yet so far. Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne came up agonisingly short in their bid to reach the school's first Hogan Cup final after losing out to St Patrick's Classical School from Navan by two points in a fascinating All-Ireland semi-final in Nenagh last Saturday.
A quick run through some of the facts of this match might illustrate just how strange a contest this was, and how the Dingle students will be kicking themselves for having let a great opportunity slip past them.
From the 23rd minute to the end of the match - 40 minutes in all - St Patrick's managed to score just two points, as Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne outscored them in that period by ten points to two. It was a period of dominance that should have won any contest, but that statistic is only half the story.
By the 23rd minute the Leinster champions led by 10 points, after an opening period of dominance that threatened to reduce the second half of this match to little more than a procession. Indeed, this All-Ireland semi-final looked a spent docket after just 10 minutes after St Patrick's raced into a 2-3 to 0-0 lead following a flawless start that rattled Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne to the core.
The Kerry and Munster champions came into this match with a reputation for being sluggish starters, but they could never have imagined being completely overran the way they were by a Navan team that didn't put a football wrong in the opening quarter. It was a masterclass in attacking football from a team that actually has a reputation for defending deep and playing with extra numbers in defence, but from the opening minute they sensed weakness in the Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne defence and went for the jugular.
Just four minutes had elapsed when Niall Lyons stole in along the endline and flipped a pass into Barry Dardis who caught the ball, shuffled his feet and smashed the ball past the helpless Daithi O Conchuir.
Three minutes later Nathan O'Brien took a point when another goal might have been there for the taking, but a minute later the second goal did arrive. Poor marking in the Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne defence allowed O'Brien thread a great pass through to Robert McDonnell and he gave O Conchuir no chance in the Dingle goal.
A point from Lyons in the 10th minute put St Pats 2-3 to 0-0 ahead, and it was another two minutes before Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne even registered a shot at the Navan posts - a wide from Cathal O Bambaire.
The Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice, just hours off a plane back from Kerry's training weekend in Portugal, must have wondered what had happened his players since he had last seen them. It would get worse before it started to get better.
Tom O Suilleabhain finally got the Kerry school off the mark with a 14-metre free but it was small respite from St Pats continuing dominance. James McEntee boomed over a long-range score before Nathan O'Brien fisted the Leinster champions into a 10-point lead after 23 minutes and it really looked like there was absolutely no way back for the Corn Ui Mhuiri champions who, incidentally, were playing with the advantage of a strong wind.
Tomas O Se manufactured a point before St Patrick's almost grabbed a third goal, with McDonnell having to settled for a point off the crossbar. In the 28th minute McDonnell set up Nathan O'Brien with just the goalkeeper to beat but he blazed his shot well wide when he should have at least registered a point. It was a small, but hopeful, sign for Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne that St Pat's were just getting caught up in a little bit of over-confidence.
Late points from Tom O Suilleabhain and Pol Breathnach left the Kerry boys trailing by 2-5 to 0-4 at half time, but with the wind advantage going to St Pats in the second half it didn't look at all good for the west Kerry school.
A little strangely, perhaps, St Patrick's set themselves up very defensively for the second half and with Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne having nothing to lose at that stage they finally came out and began to play. Tomas O Se and Tom O Suilleabhain mined early points and with 25 minutes left it was still just a two score game - 2-5 to 0-5.
As they have been for much of the season, Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne's half back line became the driving force. Maitiu O Flatharta, Padraig O Conchuir and Marc O Conchuir started to cut out the increasingly rare St Pat's attacks and began counter-attacking to great effect. Tomas O Se started to win more ball around the 'forty' while Tom O Suilleabhain and Eanna O Conchuir started to cause the Navan defence a lot more trouble.
O Se snatched another point before McDonnell pointed for Navan - their first score in 21 minutes of play - and the momentum had clearly shifted in favour of the Kerry school. By the 51st minute Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne had the lead down to two points, but there was still a nagging sense that they would need a goal to fully reel in the opposition. It never came.
In truth, the St Pats defence stood firm as far as minding Cian Farnan's goal went, and when McDonnell chipped over a free in the 58th minute to keep three points between the teams Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne had to try to engineer a goal. They kept probing in the dying moments but Eanna O Conchuir's injury-time point was all they could muster.
The mountain they let St Pats create in front of them in that first quater was simply to high to scale, despite a brave collective effort from a team that might have deserved more for that second half assault alone.
PS Chorca Dhuibhne: D O Conchuir, B O Beaglaioch, C O Luing, C O Suilleabhain, M O Flatharta, P O Conchuir, M O Conchuir, B O Suilleabhain, C O Beaglaioch, T O Se (0-3), P Breathnach (0-1), P O Dubhain, T O Suilleabhain (0-4, 1f), E O Conchuir (0-2), C O Bambaire. Subs: S O Muircheartaigh (0-1f) for O Bambaire, C O Gairbhia for C O Beaglaioch, C O Muirthile for Breathnach, S O hUallachain for O Dubhain.
St Patrick's, Navan: C Farnan, J O'Malley, N O'Reilly, D McGuinness, S O'Brien, N Kane, C Meade, D Ryabn, J McEntee (0-1), N McCabe, R O Coileain, R McDonnell (1-3, 0-2f), N Lyons (0-1), B Dardis (1-0), N O'Brien (0-2). Subs: R Keeleghan for S O'Brien, E Sheridan for Ryan, S Monaghan for McEntee.
Referee: R Hickey (Clare)