IT MAY be the end of November, but the supporters who travelled to Tourlestrane last Sunday afternoon were treated to an exciting, if low scoring, U20 'A' championship final, with St Marys eventually shaking off a spirited Coolera/Strandhill in foggy conditions at the south Sligo venue.
ST. MARY'S 1-7 COOLERA/STRANDHILL 1-3
The weather was almost the winner as dense fog put the game in doubt prior to throw in, but improved sufficiently to allow the game to proceed.
Despite the low score, these north Sligo rivals served up an enthralling contest, in which both sides gave their all with St Marys proving to be that little bit stronger in certain areas of the pitch. Cian Breheny and Colm Egan were best up front for the town side with 1-6 between them, while their midfield pairing of Brian Smith and Niall McManus were often dominant in the middle third.
Coolera/Strandhill were perhaps too reliant on full forward Niall Murphy at times, and although he contributed 0-3, they just could not push on after Barry O'Mahoney scored what could have been a contender for goal of the season in the 44th minute to put his side in the lead as they game entered the closing 15 minutes.
Murphy opened Coolera/Strandhill's account after ten minutes with a sweetly struck free, and kicked a superb point from play in the 12th minute to push his side into a two point lead, as St Marys struggled early on. They didn't find a score until the 14th minute with Cian Breheny on target with a free, and he provided 3 more points, another free and two from play, for his side before the break to leave the score at half time 0-4 to 0-2.
The fact that Coolera/Strandhill failed to score for the final 20 minutes of the first half would have been a source of concern for their management, but they came out in the second half in no mood to let their neighbours run away with the title. Niall Murphy scored his third point in the first minute of the half, although Seamus Cawley responded for St Marys in the ninth minute to restore the half time lead. Had Niall McManus hit the net rather than drag his goal shot wide in the 14th minute the game may have been over, but Coolera/Strandhill hit back immediately to throw this contest wide open. Barry O'Mahoney, who was impressive throughout, ran all of 40 metres around several St Marys players and finished calmly to the net to put his side into a one point lead, no doubt one of the best goals the Coolera man will ever score. As the game hung in the balance, St Marys remained composed and Egan pointed a free in the 47th minute to level the game, and he himself had a goal to his name five minutes later.
After Seamus Cawley picked the ball up on the right side of the park, he put it across the goal where Egan made his physical presence known and fisted to the net, firing St Marys into a three point lead. As Coolera/Strandhill pushed to find their way back into the game, their neighbours defended resolutely, repelling waves of attacks on their goal, and when Egan then had the opportunity to seal the title in injury time with a free, he duly converted.
After the seven minutes of injury time elapsed, referee Barry Judge blew the final whistle, with St Marys emerging as victors-but only just.
P Brady, B O'Donnell, J O'Hehir, G O'Kelly-Lynch, S Keenan, R Keegan, S Henry, B Smith, N McManus, D Corcoran, C Breheny(0-4), C Fox, L Nicholson, C Egan(1-2), S Cawley(0-1). SUBS: P Farrell
K Kelly, M Gillen, C Burke, C Murphy, A Kelly, C McDonagh, G Kelly, E Flanagan, N O'Rourke, G Cadden, B O'Mahoney(1-0), M Cosgrave, PJ Kilrehill, N Murphy(0-3), J Kilrehill. SUBS: J Hamson