Coláiste Eoin's hopes of collecting their second Leinster Colleges SF crown were denied in the cruellest possible manner as a late goal by Conor Sheridan helped St Patrick's Navan to an ultimately deserved 1-12 to 2-8 win at Parnell Park last Sunday afternoon, writes Ronán Mac Lochlainn.
Having recovered from a seven-point deficit to eventually take the lead through Mark Schutte's clinical 56th minute goal, the Gaelscoil were rocked by an injury-time penalty concession and Sheridan found the net at the second attempt after his initial effort was repelled by Daniel Ó Caoimh.
The drama didn't end there, however, and from the resultant kick-out the ball was cleverly worked to substitute Maitias Mac Donncha, but his close range attempt skimmed the crossbar to the huge relief of St Pat's as they clung on for a one-point victory, and, in doing so, clinched their ninth Leinster title at senior level.
Despite the tension of the occasion, St Pat's manager Colm O'Rourke cut a composed figure on the sideline, and his team's experience of playing on the big stage was a vital contributory factor in them getting over the line, according to the Meath legend.
"We've been in a lot of these types of games down the years and, I suppose, the more of these games you play the better prepared you are for situations like last Sunday. They showed great character and skill in creating that final opportunity and they should be proud of themselves in finishing off the job."
Having come through a tough semi-final against St Mary's Edenderry, where a late goal from inspirational captain Darragh Maguire ensured a replay date, St Pat's have ridden their luck to some degree in this campaign but are worthy champions nonetheless, and O'Rourke will look for further improvement when they tackle St Brendan's Killarney in the All-Ireland semi-final, provisionally scheduled for Sunday week.
"Despite winning on Sunday, the lads were quite disappointed with the manner of their second-half display, especially when conceding the second goal, and that's a positive sign as far as I'm concerned as they're looking to improve all the time," he added.
For Coláiste Eoin, the disappointment of losing will be compounded by the knowledge that they created sufficient goal-scoring chances to win, and that merely added to manager Pádraig Mac Donnacha's frustration at the final whistle.
"The lads know that they had a Leinster title in their grasp and in some ways it's preferable to get beaten out the gate rather than suffer this type of defeat. Sadly, at this level, St Pat's were always going to get another chance and unfortunately for us they took it."
"After our poor first-half the lads came out with a huge amount of fire as they wanted to show their true worth and I'm proud of them for doing that. We gave it our all in the second-half but we just fell short in the end," added the Galway native.
In a disappointing first half there was no indication of the dramatic conclusion to come as the Navan college assumed complete control from the throw-in, and four superb points from corner-forward Fiachra Ross helped them to a well-merited 0-8 to 0-2 interval lead.
A less cautious Coláiste Eoin fell further behind five minutes into the second-half, but their more enterprising approach soon paid dividends, with the introduction of substitutes Alex Ó Maoilmhiaigh and Mac Donncha the catalyst for a stirring comeback, with the former scoring a cracking goal on 40 minutes and Mac Donncha helping himself to three points.
When Schutte netted to give Coláiste Eoin the lead, the Stillorgan school, having won primary possession, wasted three good opportunities to extend their lead and they were left to rue these lapses with there being an element of inevitability about the move which led to the St Pat's defining score.
Despite Coláiste Eoin's misfortune at the death, ultimately the winners played at a more consistent level over the hour, scoring eight points in the first-half and 1-4 in the second period and their win once again emphasised the fine margins between victory and defeat in the more open, less cynical environment of colleges football.
That might not offer much consolation to Coláiste Eoin at this time but, with their U16s contesting the Dublin 'A' final yesterday afternoon and roughly half of Sunday's panel eligible for next year, the future looks far from gloomy for the progressive Gaelscoil.
St Patrick's Navan: F Ross 0-4, C Sheridan 1-0, A Forde, F McEntee, S Gillespie 0-2, D Maguire, P Fox 0-1 each.
Coláiste Eoin: A Ó Maoilmhiaigh, M Schutte 1-0, M Mac Donncha 0-3, D Sutcliffe (f, '45') 0-2, P Ó Fógartaigh, C Mac Gearailt (f), A Ó Murchú 0-1 each.
St Patrick's Navan: C Flynn; C Wickham, C McConnell, C Noonan; N Groome, D Maguire, C Finnegan ; C Sheridan, S Barry; C Fitzsimons, A Forde, P Fox; F Ross, S Gillespie, F McEntee.
Subs: L Bourke for Fitzsimons (half-time).
Coláiste Eoin: D Ó Caoimh; S Ó Seasnáin, E Ó Loinsigh, D Ó hAodha; G Ó Fógartaigh, A Ó Murchú, J Mac Cionnaith; J Mac Suibhne, D Sutcliffe; M Schutte, P Ó Dálaigh, C Mac Gearlait; B Ó Murchú, S Mac Craith, P Ó Fógartaigh.
Subs: C Mac Binéid for Ó hAodha (7 mins), M Ó Duibhir for Ó Dálaigh (half-time), M Mac Donncha and A Ó Maoilmhiaigh for Mac Gearailt and Ó Fógartaigh (38 mins), Ó Dálaigh for B Ó Murchú (56 mins).
Referee: Derek Fahy (Longford)