Jocks scratch their semi-final itch with stylish win over St Pats
Anchor Tours SFC Semi-final: Naomh Mairtin 3-13 St Patrick’s 1-8
Naomh Mairtin have had to endure a few agonising falls at the penultimate hurdle over the years, none more so than 12 months ago, but the Jocks finally scratched their semi-final itch to reach the club's first ever senior championship decider.
This time there was never any danger of another near miss as they easily swatted former kingpins St Patrick's aside in Ardee on Saturday evening. Pat's haven't won or even been in a county final since 2015, but there was still a sense of the changing of the guard about the occasion, as a team on the up and up provided the outstanding side of the past 15 years with another reminder of their inevitable demise.
Pat's have continued to harvest plenty of talented players during that period, but replacing the golden generation that annexed seven county titles in 13 seasons was always going to be an impossible task. They were hoping for a swansong of sorts this season as two of their former Joe Ward masterminds, Gerry Cumiskey and Fergal Reel, teamed up to direct operations. But Naomh Mairtin were in no mood to let sentiment mess with their mission.
There's a feeling in Monasterboice that this is their golden generation in the making, and whatever happens on October 21st, shedding that semi-final monkey could prove to be a significant milestone in their evolution as a team. But that's not to say a shock is beyond the Jocks when they take on reigning champions Newtown Blues in three weeks time. Apart from a 10-minute spell midway through the first-half, they completely bossed this semi-final and won it pulling away.
After retiring with a two-point cushion at half-time they were able to spring JP Rooney and John Clutterbuck from the bench for the second period and Pat's just didn't have that kind of strength-in-depth to call upon when they lost Aaron Rogers to injury and Eoghan Lafferty to a black card.
The opening 10 minutes were a blueprint for what was to come as the Jocks opened a three-point lead and spurned a super goal chance for Conor Healy.
Conor Whelan is a man in form and he missed nothing, kicking those opening three points, all from play.
When Pats settled they took a firm grip at midfield, winning countless breaks, but their efforts to penetrate a well-stocked Jock's defence were laboured at best.
It seemed to take an age for them to get back on terms at 0-4 apiece, but almost instantly Conor Healy made up for his earlier miss when he cut in from the left and somehow squeezed the ball under the advancing Sean Connor for the opening goal of the game.
It was a brief lead as less than three minutes later Ross Murphy and Leonard Grey combined to set Darragh Lafferty up for a simple slap to an empty net. When Dessis Finnegan followed up with a point, Pat's had their noses in front for the first time.
However, they always looked vulnerable at the back and in the third minute of injury-time Eoghan Callaghan picked out an unmarked Stephen Campbell with a peach of a pass and the wing forward made no mistake with an emphatic finish, making it 2-4 to 1-5 at the break.
That resilient second quarter proved to be the end of Pat's challenge.
Rooney and his former county teammate Paddy Keenan swapped early points, but the Jocks helped themselves to six of the next seven points with Sam Mulroy faring better in a more withdrawn half-forward role, facilitated by Rooney's introduction.
By the end of the third quarter the Jocks had stretched their lead to 2-11 to 1-7 and two minutes later Keenan converted a free for what would turn out to be the Pat's final score of the evening - and season.
While they knew the game was up, their opponents continued to press and Conor Whelan curled their third goal to the top corner of a virtually empty net in injury-time.
The final scoreline was possibly a little harsh on Pat's, but Naomh Mairtin thoroughly deserved their victory and the double figures winning margin probably didn't even flatter them.
A scouting mission to the Gaelic Grounds the following evening no doubt brought them back to earth and underlined the enormity of the task facing Jim Farrell and his troops as they prepare to dethrone the champs.
But now that they've rid themselves of that irritating semi-final itch, the Jocks really do have nothing to lose.