GAA: Top Oil South Leinster PP Schools Senior 'D' final - Scoil Chonglais 3-10 Coláiste Eoin 1-9
Two very impressive school teams did battle for the South Leinster 'D' football crown in Netwatch Cullen Park on Monday afternoon with Scoil Chonglais of Baltinglass seeing off a brave effort from Coláiste Eoin of Hacketsown after a belter of a game played in an electric atmosphere at the Carlow venue.
A crowd of several hundred students, parents and supporters turned out for the game and they were treated to a sizzling game of football that was decided by a goal-scoring spree for the Baltinglass men in the first half and over-zealous refereeing throughout.
GAA experts regularly extoll the virtue of common sense being used in terms of officiating at games and unfortunately this trait was in short supply in Netwatch Cullen Park as the game was both marred and transformed by the hasty showing of cards and unnecessary strictness given the stature of the game and the cauldron-like atmosphere.
Beyond the officiating, though, it was a stunning four-minute period before the end of the first quarter that would ultimately have a major say in the destiny of this South Leinster 'D' title as the Coláiste Eoin net was blasted by Jordan Deans, Alan Barrett and Jack Flemming to completely undo a superb start from the Hacketstown men that saw Knockananna's Noel Byrne fire home to the back of the Scoil Chonglais net and Coolkenno's Ruairi Tompkins drop a beauty over the bar for what looked like the perfect start.
Credit to both teams for the performances in this game. Despite the concession of those three hammer blows in the first half, the loss of Reid Byrne to a straight red for striking after only 18 minutes, and the subsequent dispatching of Billy Lawlor and Keith Bowes on black cards by the Laois official they never once gave up the fight and took the game to the physically impressive Scoil Chonglais side throughout this encounter.
The sending off of Reid Byrne would have major implications for Coláiste Eoin. An altercation involving Jason Kenny and Sean Tompkins led to the incident down under the stand and it was clear that Kenny was going on a black but in the intense atmosphere of a big final with a large crowd in full voice the Knockananna man got involved and was sent off.
Scoil Chonglais were very fortunate not to lose Kenny to a more serious charge but they were able to replace him with Robert Brien and that numerical advantage would serve them very well for the remainder of the game.
Kyle Byrne made it 3-4 to 1-1 after 16 minutes and Ruairi Tompkins replied with an absolute cracker on the scoreboard end 60 seconds later.
Then came the moments of madness where Coláiste Eoin saw three men dispatched from the field and points from Sean Doody and the very impressive Jack Hanlon opened up a 3-6 to 1-2 lead after 23 minutes and surely the mountain was becoming too steep to climb for Darragh Kelly's side?
The Hacketstown men finished the half relatively strongly, however, given the circumstances and the fact that they were playing against the stuff breeze. Jordan Tallon added two points from frees either side of an Alan Barrett point for Scoil Chonglais after a ball from Jordan Deans to leave the half-time score reading 3-7 to Scoil Chonglais, 1-4 to Coláiste Eoin.
As thrilling and raucous as the first half was, the second was absolutely engaging and electric. Time and time again both sides were left hugely frustrated by the officiating, with brutally efficient calls made on steps and hand offs as players came out of tackles and the game struggled to find a flow as a result, although it was never found wanting for drama and excellent football from both sides.
Scoil Chonglais were in a healthy position after the break given that they had already accrued 3-7 but they knew that Coláiste Eoin were going to come calling with the fire in their hearts and the wind at their backs. Gone was the all-out attack that saw them blitz the Coláiste Eoin defence in the opening half and this was replaced by a more measured approach reflected in their three-point tally for the second half.
Coláiste Eoin threw themselves at the job in hand but with Ruairi Tompkins playing a lonely role up front and so much being asked of the likes of Eoghan Byrne and Jordan Tallon out the field, getting back to within touching distance of the Baltinglass side was always going to be a huge task and it was a given that they would need goals and, unfortunately for them, they just didn't come.
Noel Byrne got them up and running in the second half with a wicked score and this was followed by a Ruairi Tompkins free for a pick-up with four on the clock, 3-7 to 1-6.
Scoil Chonglais were always dangerous, though. Jordan Deans fired wide from a decent goal chance early on and Jack Flemming went wide after being picked out by Alan Barrett.
Jack Hanlon was quickest to react to a breaking Sean Doody free and he swung over after seven and this was followed by points from Ruairi Tompkins and Clonmore's Sean Tompkins as Coláiste Eoin got to within two scores of Scoil Chonglais at 3-8 to 1-8 after 25 minutes.
Biggest roar of the day (and that's saying something given the noise levels experienced in Netwatch Cullen Park. Whoever said teachers have it easy should have been forced to experience the aural barrage inflicted by several hundred passionate young GAA supporters) was saved for the Laois referee Ronan Devaney who was trampled to the ground by the stampeding Eoghan Byrne from Tinahely who, like a young Bull in Pamplona, had nowhere else to go but straight over the match official. Thankfully, nobody was harmed.
Clonmore's Luke Connolly would reduce the deficit to five points after 28 minutes after superb work by Cormac Connolly but that would be as good as it got for the Hacketstown students and Robert Brien and Jack Hanlon landed the fatal blows to secure the South Leinster 'D' crown for Paul Rooney's side who have major ambitions to go on and claim the All-Ireland, while the Hacketstwon side also lost Ruairi Tompkins to a late red for dissent.
'We always knew Hacketstown were going to come out here, really emotional, really charged, the crowd just added to it, and you get 16, 17, 18-year-old lads in front of a crowd and it's going to be an emotional game,' said Scoil Chonglais manager Paul Rooney. 'In fairness, Hacketstown gave it their all, we gave it our all and at the end of the day we got a few goals there in the first half and that's what we built on from there.
'It worked well. It seemed that every time we went up there we got a goal, it's a bit of luck as well. The second half we found it much more difficult to get any score, so it just went our way for them few shots and that was the difference between the teams in the end. It was that purple patch, they had just got a goal and a point and then we came and got a few goals and that was the turning point, and that was it,' he added.
Referee Barry Devaney from Laois won't be getting any Christmas cards from the Hacketstown direction this year with supporters, players and mentors left fuming after some of his decisions. Rooney said that the officiating might have been too strict.
'I think he was fair, he was honest, maybe a bit too strict for what we are used to. It is a schools game at the end of the day, and these lads are learning, they're learning in every way, and in a way it's very harsh to give a young lad a red card in a schools match, especially a final, because they're emotional, they want to do their best, no one wants to do the wrong thing. But, at the same time, he has a job to do, everyone left the field without any major injuries and you're afraid of that, you know, that someone is going to lose the head in front of the crowd,' he said.
Up next for Scoil Chonglais is a battle with the North Leinster champions before progressing on to the All-Ireland stages. Paul Rooney says that the group set themselves a goal at the start of the year and that was to go all the way in this competition.
'At the start of the year we set ourselves a goal, that we were going to win the All-Ireland with this (team). That's the goal we set, and in fairness to the lads, they are coming out in big numbers. We've a panel of 27 lads. Last year we had to pull the team because we didn't have a team. This is just a bunch of lads, the purple year that comes through a school once in a generation. They're an honest group and they're all good fun. But even when things weren't going their way in the game, they kept their heads and it's all positive football we're trying to push.'
Scorers - Scoil Chonglais: Alan Barrett 1-2, Jordan Deans 1-0, Jack Flemming 1-0, Jack Hanlon 0-3 (1f), Sean Doody 0-2, Kyle Byrne 0-1, Jason Sinnott 0-1, Robert Brien 0-1.
Coláiste Eoin: Ruairi Tompkins 0-4 (2f), Noel Byrne 1-1, Jordan Tallon 0-2 (2f), Sean Tompkins 0-1, Luke Connolly 0-1.
Scoil Chonglais: William Rogers; Jack Flemming, Kyle Byrne, Fionn Fidgeon; Padraig Bolger, Senan Molloy, Paddy Whelan; Jordan Deans, Sean Doody; Jason Kenny, Tadgh O'Toole, Alan Barrett; Jason Sinnott, Jack Hanlon, Karl Furlong. Subs: Robert Brien, Darren Walsh, Dino Marco.
Coláiste Eoin: Melvyn Kinch; Rory Maguire, Rory McKernan, Cormac Connolly; Jake Hickey, Colm Keogh, Sean Tompkins; Luke Connolly, Eoghan Byrne; Reid Byrne, Jordan Tallon, Noel Byrne; Seán Moran, Ruairi Tompkins, Billy Lawlor. Subs: Keith Bowes, Darragh McKernan, Eoin Connolly, Ciarán Mooney.
Referee: Ronan Devaney (Laois)