Bray pulls the strings as Navan men seal Royal deal
Navan O'Mahony's are well accustomed to being favourites most years to win the senior championship in Meath.
But in recent times, the most decorated club in the county's history have had more trouble than usual justifying that status.
Inevitably, in any bookies' window, they have had the shortest odds attached to their name for the last seven years since the their subsequent boardroom elimination for using one too many substitutes in a semi-final against Dunboyne in 2005.
With such strength in depth, they haven't mined nearly what they should have -- just one title in 2008 -- in the intervening period, given the playing pool they have assembled.
But this comprehensive victory over Wolfe Tones, their conquerors in the 2006 final, has helped to rebalance the roll of honour somewhat.
It is a measure of their strength in depth that Kevin Reilly and Mark Ward, two regular fixtures with Meath in recent years, were sidelined with long-term injuries, while David Bray and Barry Regan, two more with recent inter-county experience, could only make the bench.
Cormac McGuinness, another Meath player of recent vintage, wasn't named on the programme team and didn't start their most recent fixtures but was a late call-up yesterday for David Maguire.
In all, they used some 28 players in this campaign, quite a high figure for a club that must seek to preserve other teams in lower grades.
Their greater physical power and athleticism has been most apparent in their matches this season and it was the same virtues that formed the core of this 18th Keegan Cup success for the town team.
From the off there was a determination and a vigour to set recent records straight and, led by their influential full-forward and county player Stephen Bray, they wasted no time in laying down a marker with a goal in the first minute. it came courtesy of Shane Gillespie. who stepped around Wolfe Tones goalkeeper David Nolan after great approach work from Jake Regan and Alan Forde, plus casual defence from Wolfe Tones.
Bray had a profound influence on O'Mahony's early dominance and, by the end of a first half played against a stiff breeze, he had a direct involvement in five of their six points, scoring two with his left foot.
Beside him, Regan was also having a productive afternoon, scoring three points in addition to that assist for the goal as they made the most of the industry of Stephen MacGabhann and Damien Moran around the midfield sector.
As ever, Wolfe Tones were dependent on Cian Ward for finishing power and he did point two frees in response to the early goal.
He also forced a smart early save out of O'Mahony's captain and goalkeeper Marcus Brennan with a piledriver on 19 minutes as they trailed by 1-4 to 0-2.
Five minutes later, Ward dispossessed Brennan close to goals and was fouled, but his quick free slipped narrowly wide in one of the few moments when the winners were really threatened.
By the break, O'Mahony's led by 1-6 to 0-4 and, with wind assistance to come, they might have expected to kick on and win with even more conviction.
But, to the Tones' credit, they dug deep. Eoghan Harrington switched to full-back and had more success than Ciaran McLoughlin in tracking Stephen Bray, while McLoughlin joined his brother Niall further outfield and helped to carry the fight against the odds.
Stephen Corrigan asserted control at midfield and won a succession of kick-outs as the game wore on to keep his team on the front foot.
But O'Mahony's were both disciplined and ruthless in their defensive duties and were able to absorb the pressure and then hit Wolfe Tones on the break.
Their successful tackle and turnover count was well into the teens as the game drew to a conclusion.
Team manager Davy Nelson, who was the helm in 1997 when they won their 16th title, stressed afterwards how a brisk start was a necessity after the way the semi-final went.
"We were so poor in the first quarter against Donaghmore-Ashbourne that we knew if we got a bad start against Wolfe Tones it would be curtains.
"So, we made a big drive for that and, obviously, it was a dream start. It settled the team and I thought we played good football in the first half into the elements.
"We always play good football into a breeze, rather than with it," he said.
Policing Ward was a key part of their game plan, he explained, and his reduced contribution was a testament to the roadblocks they put up for him.
"In order to beat Wolfe Tones, you have to keep Cian quiet. They're a very well balanced team, but he's an exceptional footballer. Niall McKeigue did an amazing job.
"He's had a viral infection since Tuesday. It was in doubt right up until throw in time as to whether he'd play. So, to give that level of performance was super, a superhuman performance.
"The challenge for O'Mahony's now will be to try and improve on the dreadful record of Meath clubs in the Leinster club championship.
"In my day we won a lot of Meath championships, too, and we didn't deliver in Leinster. We lost many a semi-final in Leinster.
"It would be great if we could build something for Meath, like Walterstown did in the '80s."
Scorers -- Navan O'Mahony's: S Bray 0-5 (2f), S Gillespie 1-1, J Regan 0-3 (1f), D Bray, S MacGabhann 0-1 each. Wolfe Tones: C Ward 0-5 (4f), S Sheppard, E Harrington 0-1 each.
Navan O'Mahony's -- M Brennan; S O'Toole, N McKeigue, I Matthews; B Dillon, S Crosby, G O'Brien; C McGuinness, D Moran; P Smyth, A Forde, S MacGabhann; J Regan, S Bray, S Gillespie. Subs: B Regan for McGuinness (35), H Finnegan, for MacGabhann (40), D Bray for J Regan (51), D Murtagh for Smyth (61).
Wolfe Tones -- D Nolan; R Brady, C McLoughlin, D Coleman; N McLoughlin, E Harrington, S Glynn; S Corrigan, A Callaghan; A Fox, S Sheppard, M Coleman; D McGrath, C Ward, F Ward. Subs: A McKeown for D Coleman (28), P Byrne for McGrath (h-t), C Blaney for M Coleman (40), P Caffrey for Callaghan (57).
Ref -- D Coldrick (Blackhall Gaels)