No luck needed for Na Gaeil who lift title at third time of asking
County Premier Junior Football Championship Final: Na Gaeil 3-14 St Senans 1-10
Having lost the final of this championship in 2016 and last year it could be said it was a case of third time lucky for Na Gaeil as they finally got to call themselves county premier junior champions after a 10-point win over St Senans. But as that winning margin suggests, there was nothing lucky about Na Gaeil's win as they led from the fifth minute until the last, played the entire second half with 14 men, and were rarely under undue pressure but for a period in the second quarter after Jason Browne scored St Senans goal just seconds after Jamie Lowham had scored Na Gaeil's second.
Browne's 16th goal kept the Tralee team honest for the rest of the first half and when James O'Sullivan sent off Kieran O'Donovan two minutes into additional time for an attempted kick in an off the ball scuffle Na Gaeil's three-point lead looked precarious and vulnerable. It went without saying that they'd need a strong start to the second half but their tonic came sooner than expected. The game had already ticked beyond the third minute of the signalled three of additional time when Jack Barry collected a pass, slipped through a couple of St Senans tackles and rolled a low shot past James Barry to double Na Gaeil's win and sent the favourites to the dressing room 3-5 to 1-5 ahead.
It was a cheap goal for the north Kerry men to concede but one that would prove very expensive to their hopes of lifting what would have been their highest ranking county title to go to the club. Despite having the extra man for the next 35 minutes it was an advantage Senans couldn't bend to their advantage, and once Mike Griffin cancelled out Conor Kennelly's pointed free kick early in the new half Na Gaeil never led by less than six points until the final whistle.
Having lost last year's county final after an epic extra-time contest against Beaufort, there was a pre-match sense that Na Gaeil wouldn't get drawn into another high-scoring shootout - their manager Donal Rooney confirmed as much after the game - but from the throw-in midfielder Diarmuid O'Connor bore down on the Senans goal who passed to his midfield partner Jack Barry who should have done much better than shoot wide unhindered.
Still, it was simply as sign of what was to come from the Na Gaeil and Kerry midfielders who went on to score a goal and two points each from play, with Barry a deserving recipient of the man of the match award.
Na Gaeil were 0-3 to 0-1 ahead when O'Donovan crashed his low shot off the post but a minute later O'Connor made no mistake when he took Ian McCarthy's pass and smashed the ball past James Barry to put Na Gaeil four ahead. Kennelly (free) and Donal Hunt replied with Senans points before Jack Barry and Dara Devine combined to get the ball to Lowham who showed brilliant deft footwork to position himself and poke the ball to the bottom corner of the net. That goal put Na Gaeil six clear but the lead was halved almost immediately with Sean Weir cleverly flicking David Foran's pass on to Browne who calmly finished past Timmy Culloty.
That all happened inside the first quarter in a fairly frantic opening and there was no to come in the second quarter Dara Devine converting points from play and a free, O'Donovan's reed card and Jack Barry's late goal as Na Gaeil took that six-point lead to the interval.
A Kennelly free cut the gap to five but points from Griffin, Jack Barry and two more from Devine put Na Gaeil 3-9 to 1-6 ahead, and even with a man less on the field the Tralee side were winning almost every contest around the field.
St Senans got very little out of Damien Somers and David Foran - both carrying knocks coming into the game - and the absence of Barry Mahony through injury was another huge blow to the north Kerry side. Even bringing Sean Weir out to midfield for the second half to try to get Senans moving in that area was a classic 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' exercise, where he had been the one player to cause the Na Gaeil full back line some trouble.
The final quarter amounted to little more than both teams getting their quota of substitutes on the field in order to experience a county final - for better or worse - with Diarmuid O'Connor and Andrew Barry trading points with Eamon Shanahan and Paudie Quille in the five minutes of additional time before the whistle sounded to signal a historic day for Na Gaeil, the county's youngest GAA club and one of its most progressive.
County final defeats in 2012, 2016 and 2018 were forgotten but also recalled in the making of this victory, with Na Gaeil really taking the 'you have to lose one to win one' adage to the limit.
Still, all's well that ends well, and this was as good a finish as the Tralee club could have imagined.
Na Gaeil: Timmy Culloty, Ryan O'Neill, Kieran Dineen, Damien Bourke, Kieran O'Donovan, Andrew Barry (0-1), Eoin Doody, Diarmuid O'Connor (1-2), Jack Barry (1-2), Ian McCarthy, Eoin O'Neill, Mike Griffin (0-5, 4f), Dan Goggin, Jamie Lowham (1-0), Dara Devine (0-4, 3f). Subs: Fergal Barry for K Dineen (47), James O'Connor for D Devine (50), Dan O'Connor for I McCarthy (54), Paul Daly for J Lowham (58), Shane Fitzgerald for R O'Neill (59), Jordan Murphy for D Goggin (59).
St Senans: James Barry, Mike Keane, Sean T Dillon, Adrian Mahony, Darragh Behan, Bill Keane, Mark Behan, Donal Hunt (0-1), Damien Somers, E O'Connell, Paudie Quille (0-2f), J Browne (1-1), David Foran, Sean Weir (0-1), C Kennelly (0-3; 2f). Subs: Sean O'Connell (0-1) for D Bourke (ht), Paudie Dillon for M Behan (45), Con O'Keeffe for C Kennelly (45), Kieran Lyons for D Hunt (40), Eamon Shanahan (0-1) for B Keane.
Referee: James O'Sullivan (Firies)
The 60-second report
Jack Barry got the official MOTM award and it brooked no argument among the press corp on duty. Diarmuid O'Connor, Andrew Barry, Mike Griffin and Jamie Lowham all contributed in important ways but Barry brought all his Kerry experience to bear in a tour de force performance
It might have been Kieran O'Donovan's red card a minute before the half-time break but seconds late Jack Barry broke through for a crucial goal, giving Na Gaeil a six-point half time advantage having to play the second half with 14 players
St Senans will be annoyed that they didn't perform to the maximum ability but after three recent county final loses there was an evident determination by Na Gaeil to win this one. As for the All-Ireland Club Championship? We could be looking at another Kerry winner.