Effortless victory for Na Gaeil
Munster Club JFC semi-final: Na Gaeil 3-20 Michael Cusacks (Clare) 0-2
It's an awful bad sign of any match, in any competition, in any sport, when the outcome is considered an absolutely foregone conclusion before the action has even commenced.
Such was the scenario for the 303 paying customers who were present in Austin Stack Park on a cold Saturday afternoon when Na Gaeil predictably advanced to the Munster JFC Final with a facile 27-point victory over Michael Cusacks of Clare.
Annihilations of this sort do nothing for the prestige and reputation of this provincial tournament and it will just add to the clamour for the powers-that-be to re-evaluate their grading systems for what should be competitive encounters.
In saying that, none of this is the fault of Donal Rooney and his Na Gaeil players who can only beat what is put in front of them and, despite plenty of over-elaboration in their play in the first half, they carried out their job with an overall ruthless professionalism.
The story of the game is easily told by the first half statistics alone. The Clare visitors, despite no shortage of effort, did not register a single score, or a single wide, in the opening 30 minutes! Their only chance of a point was a badly miscued free by captain Domhnall McMahon, which dropped short in the 14th minute. Staggering ineptitude all round.
Not that Na Gaeil would have been blowing their own trumpets either. Despite total dominance, and with Diarmuid Herlihy carrying on up front from where he left off against Kilshannig the previous week, they were far from razor-sharp in making the most of their constant opportunities.
Indeed, by the 25th minute, they had accumulated more wides (eight) than points (seven), dropping other balls short to the Michael Cusacks netminder, and had also wasted two clear goal chances with Fergal Barry blazing wide and Diarmuid O'Connor firing over, both from close range.
However, the Kerry kingpins finished the half with a flourish, raising two green flags to end the game as any sort of a contest by the interval. Jack Barry and the energetic Dan Goggin were the creators of the opening goal, that was finished emphatically by rampaging county senior O'Connor (continuing his St Brendans' net-bulging form), with Herlihy setting up full-forward Jamie Lowham for a simple punched finish for the second, leaving it 2-8 to no score at half-time.
That was that. Game over. Done and dusted. Time for Na Gaeil to utilise their bench in the second period and, with Jack Barry and Diarmuid O'Connor both replaced early on the resumption, it was clear that the focus was moving onto the Munster final on December 8.
The highlight of the second half was substitute Gerard Flaherty instinctively firing over a superb point with his first touch to finally take the bare look off the Michael Cusacks' scorecard in the 38th minute, but with the Na Gaeil replacements eager to impress, any respite for the Banner men was short-lived.
With Darragh Reen a real live-wire off the bench, and Dara Devine extremely efficient from play and the placed ball, the Tralee men had moved into a 2-19 to 0-1 lead before the third green flag was, appropriately, raised by the excellent Goggin in the final moments of this forgettable contest.
Following Mullinahone's injury-time goal that broke Croom hearts in the other semi-final (2-10 to 1-10), Na Gaeil now face into a provincial decider against the Tipperary side. They will surely hope, and expect, to be at least given some sort of a challenge in that clash, but you suspect the real tests will not arrive until the All-Ireland stages of the competition.
Na Gaeil: Timmy Culloty; Ryan O'Neill, Kieran Dineen, Damien Bourke; Fergal Barry, Andrew Barry 0-1, Eoin Doody; Diarmuid O'Connor 1-2, Jack Barry 0-1; Dan O'Connor, Eoin O'Neill, Dan Goggin 1-0; Diarmuid Herlihy 0-4, Jamie Lowham 1-0, Dara Devine 0-9 (7f) Subs: Darragh Reen 0-1 for J Barry (35), Eoin Walsh for Dan O'Connor (37), Kieran O'Donovan 0-1 for F Barry (40), James O'Connor 0-1 for Diarmuid O'Connor (40), Tadhg Lynch for Herlihy (45), Shane Fitzgerald for R O'Neill (52)
Michael Cusacks: Eoin Farrell; Robert Hunt, Ronan Monaghan, Fergal O'Grady; Ruaidhri McMahon, John Fawle, Robbie Cassidy; Aidan McNamara, Domhnall McMahon 0-1 (free); Hugh Kelly, Lorcan O'Grady, Conor Fahy; Joey Droney, Shane Lee, Seaghan Brosnan Subs: Mark Earley for Monaghan (inj, 26), Declan Ryan for R McMahon (half time), Pat Hynes for Brosnan (half time), Gerard Flaherty 0-1 for Lee (inj, 36), Patrick Connors for Hunt (47), Eoin Kelly for McNamara (49)
Referee: Jonathan Hayes (Limerick)
The game in 60 seconds
Kudos to Michael Cusacks' wing-back, Robbie Cassidy, who put in a trojan effort considering the circumstances, but all the best players were on the Na Gaeil side. Damien Bourke did well at the back, Jack Barry dominated the midfield, Diarmuid O'Connor continued his buccaneering goalscoring run, and Diarmuid Herlihy was again impressive up front. However, the accolade must go to hard-working wing-forward Dan Goggin, who never stopped prompting and probing.
Following hot on the heels of their hammering by Beaufort in last year's Munster campaign, this was yet another chastening experience for Michael Cusacks at the hands of Kerry opposition in the provincial junior championship. It's no fault of Na Gaeil, but such scorelines are further proof that something needs to be done to revamp this competition. Twenty-seven point differences between the teams does nothing for the game.
Everybody who made their way to Austin Stack Park on Saturday knew what the end result was likely to be. Therefore, there were never really any key moments that affected the outcome of the game. If we have to pick one, let's go for Diarmuid O'Connor's swashbuckling goal in the 29th minute. What is becoming a trademark finish on the run from the Kerry youngster was the score that really crushed the opposition before half time.