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Thursday 23 May 2019

Gaelcholáiste na Mara bring school motto alive in thrilling final

GAA, Wicklow Schools Senior 'B' Football Final: G/Cl’áiste na Mara 0-9 Avondale CC CC 0-7

Happy days for Gaelcholáiste na Mara
Happy days for Gaelcholáiste na Mara

Brendan Lawrence at Ballinakill

Across the back of the Gaelcholáiste na Mara GAA jersey are written the words 'Croi agus Anam' (heart and soul) and it was the investment of the two attributes by a talented group of Arklow footballers that saw them lift the Wicklow Schools 'B' crown after an intriguing and tactical battle in Ballinakill last Thursday afternoon.

In the end the victory came down to game management. Gaelcholáiste na Mara recognised the potential within the Avondale CC team and set up to curb the threat of the likes of Eric Olohan, Oisin McGraynor, Mark Cullen, Zach Cullen, Ross Ward and others. And they did so superbly.

'We came into the game as rank underdogs,' said Gaelcholáiste na Mara manager Risteard. 'We have lads on the panel from third year, we'd have very few transition players on the team even. We came up with a game plan that might have been negative, we stuck it out, it was down to hard work, that was the winning of the game, sheer hard work from the start to the very end.

'You come across a lot of people who wouldn't be happy with that kind of stuff. You have to play what's in front of you. We wouldn't normally play like that. The last game was all out attack, three or four goals from each team.

'You just have to manage the game. To not concede a goal against Avondale is phenomenal over 65 minutes of football,' he added.

They rode their luck at times, too. Eric Olohan's late opportunity never unfolded after the Laragh man was foiled by a dodgy bounce with only Tom Ó Scaláigh to beat in the Gaelcholáiste na Mara goal. Avondale CC also clocked up seven second-half wides as they laid siege on the well-populated Gaelcholaiste na Mara goal where feverish pressure thwarted attack after attack.

The Arklow side won the toss and elected to play with the wind in the first half. They deployed Conor Ó Conghaile and Adam Arslan as sweepers, played an inside line of Adam Ó Leannáin and Luke Ó Leannáin ahead of Andy Maher who operated in a ball-winning role with, at times, two Avondale defenders for company.

Exchanges were tight early on. Avondale's Andrew Brancato opened the scoring before Gaelcholáiste na Mara's attacking threat was revealed with Andrew Maher feeding Luke Ó Leannáin to fire over the Arklow school's opener.

It was a ploy that served Gaelcholaiste na Mara well in that first half: get the ball to Maher who turned and used his running power to make the hard yards before feeding his inside colleagues.

Avondale CC produced some lovely scores of their own. Their second arrived after a neat exchange between Ross Ward and Dale Fluskey who passed to Mark Cullen who did the needful.

Andy Maher's influence was evident again immediately afterwards when he picked out Adam Ó Leannáin who dispatched it over the bar to level at 0-2 to 0-2.

Gaelcholáiste na Mara took a 0-6 to 0-4 lead into the break, Luke Ó Leannáin's point in the ninth minute followed up by three Andy Maher frees with Ross Ward from play and a free leaving Avondale CC in a relatively healthy position considering they would have the benefit of the ubiquitous Ballinakill breeze in the second half.

Two early second-half points and two Avondale CC wides gave Gaelcholáiste na Mara the perfect start as they set about thwarting Avondale by retreating in numbers before attacking at pace up the field.

Mark Cullen started Avondale's revovery after 11 minutes of the second half but they wouldn't score again until the 21st, that from an Oisin McGraynor free to leave them trailing by 0-6 to 0-8.

Their final score came in the 26th minute from substitute Jack Manley before Andy Maher capped off a superb performance with a point to push Gaelcholáiste na Mara two up.

Avondale CC threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the Arklow defence and looked to have finally ripped a hole in the blanket when Oisin McGraynor picked out Eric Olohan behind the Arklow defence with a beauty of a pass, but the Laragh man was thinking two steps ahead and a bad bounce robbed him of his advantage and he was quickly swallowed up.

A late black card for Avondale CC angered their supporters who felt that Gaelcholáiste na Mara should have suffered a similar penalty for a separate transgression, but it had little effect on the overall result of this game where croi agus ainm played a huge role in a wonderful victory for Gaelcholáiste na Mara.

'Heart and soul, the school has a seriously strong tradition for that,' said manager Risteard. 'We got to three 'A' finals in the last couple of years, and barely missed out in extra-time in two of them. We've really been through the ringer with Gaelic football. Soccer is very strong in Arklow town and it's hard to get them in, but this group really have bought in to what we want to do, and like that, lads from third year have really bought in and hopefully that will pay massive dividends over the next couple of years.

'Losing four or five from the starting 15, it's not too bad. We've another few lads coming in next year to third year and with a school of only just over 200 kids that's what you have to do.

'Andy Maher is a special talent. I've seen a lot of footballers, but that man is special. I would have to single out three lads from third year who started today. Young Daire Furlong in the corner, Luke Scanlon and Adam Arslan had phenomenal games. That's against sixth years, there's three years in the difference, and at that age and that physicality, that's unbelievable,' he added

Scorers - Gaelcholáiste na Mara: Andy Maher 0-4 (3f), Luke Ó Leannáin 0-3, Adam Ó Leannáin 0-1, Luke Ó Scanlán 0-1. Avondale: Mark Cullen 0-2, Ross Ward 0-2 (1f), Oisin McGraynor 0-1 (f), Andrew Brancato 0-1, Jack Manley 0-1. 

Gaelcholáiste na Mara: Tom Ó Scalaigh; Mathew De Búrca, Cian Mac Raghnaíll, Daire Ó Forlainge; Niall Delahunt, Hugh Ó Brien, Ryan Ó Leaire; Joshua Mills, Padraig Ó Cáthain; Adam Arslan, Conor Ó Conghaile, Luke Ó Scanlán; Adam Ó Leannáin, Andy Maher, Luke Ó Leannáin. Subs: Frankie Reynolds for L Ó Scanlán (40), Eoghan Collins for A Ó Leanwách (48).

Avondale CC: Aidan Murray; Aaron Tuke, Liam Dickenson, Darragh Owens; Jack Manley, Kealan Busher, Andrew Brancato; Ciaran Byrne, Oisin McGraynor; Ryan Kenny, Ross Ward, Dale Fluckey; Mark Cullen, Eric Olohan, Zach Cullen.

Referee: Darragh Byrne (Ballymanus)

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