NA FIANNA ............................... 2-14
ST FRANCIS GAELS/CABINTEELY ...... 1-5
PROMOTION-chasing Na Fianna made a successful trip across the Liffey as they continued their drive towards Division 10 with a facile 12-point victory over an understrength St Francis Gaels/Cabinteely in their AFL11 South encounter at Kilbogget Park last Thursday evening.
With only two points separating the top four teams in the division, Na Fianna will hope to secure their advancement with one game remaining, but with Robert Emmet's and Kilmacud Crokes breathing down their neck, nothing can be taken for granted in this competitive league.
The Glasnevin side had a nice mix of youth and experience on show, which is the ideal blend at this level with the majority of the team built around their Minor 'B' teams of the past couple of seasons.
Certainly, the defensive spine offered by the youthful Emmet Connelly at full-back and Enda Crosby at centre-back gave Na Fianna the edge in terms of speed and quickness of deed, while the more experienced midfield pairing of Pádraig Lowry and Phil McEvoy helped give the Mobhi Road men a distinct advantage around the middle third with their bulk allied to tactical acumen.
St Francis Gaels had no such luxuries however, not enjoying the benefits of a feeder underage system. However, they managed to compete throughout despite a shaky opening with their focus for the season very much set on their championship fixture in a fortnight's time and they'll gain some solace from an improved showing in the second period.
With a 13-a-side encounter expected due to Cabinteely's dwindling playing numbers, the hosts managed to summon up a full complement at the last minute but with such uncertain preparations, they understandably struggled from the throw-in against the league leaders.
It took just three minutes for Niall O'Connor to open the visitor's account with a well-taken point. Three more points ensued in the following four minutes as Gareth Ryan, Eoin Bridgeman and centre-forward Seán Reen compounded the host's disorganised start with further scores.
With Cabinteely's goalkeeper JP Finley experiencing difficulties with the kicking tee, the game was almost exclusively condensed in the host's half and it was only a matter of time before Na Fianna prised open their defence with a 12th-minute move involving Alan Dixon and Bridgeman, which was bundled home at the second attempt by Ciarán Dolan.
After O'Connor had extended their lead with another smart score, Finley redeemed himself somewhat with a breathtaking reflex save midway through the half, pushing O'Connor's close-range shot past the post after a mazy run by the lively wing-forward.
With Cabinteely finally gaining a foothold in proceedings, thanks largely to the efforts of Eoin O'Sullivan, James Sweeney and Brian Keegan, they finally troubled the umpires through Eoin McMahon's smartly taken point on 17 minutes.
However, with the wind at their backs Na Fianna managed to tag on 1-2 before the end of the half with Reen the lucky recipient of a Finley error as his seemingly innocuous delivery landed untouched into the net in the 24th minute as the visitors led by 2-7 to 0-2 at the interval.
Player/manager Barry Rojack handed Gaels a much-needed boost two minutes upon the restart when cracking home a 13-metre free but any hopes of a comeback were quickly dispelled as Ryan kicked three successive points and Finley showcased his goalkeeping prowess with another superb save to deny Dixon what appeared a certain goal on 38 minutes.
The remainder of the half saw both sides trade points. Shane Hanley and substitute Enda Mulhern kicked cracking points for the hosts while Reen and John Kelly did likewise for Na Fianna as the game fizzled out to its inevitable conclusion.
There was one final sting in the tail as Rojack failed to convert a penalty awarded for a foul on the marauding Noel Cusack and it was fitting that Reen should have the last word with the final score of the game with three minutes remaining, capping an impressive display by the centre-forward.