Sunday 22 September 2019

Four on trot for Castletown

GAA - All-county football league division 1 final: Castletown 0-12, St. James' 1-7

Alan Aherne in St. Patrick's Park

Competition specialists Castletown matched the feat of Oulart-The Ballagh in hurling when they collected a fourth successive All-County Football League Division 1 crown in St. Patrick's Park, Enniscorthy, on Monday of last week.

The current structures may not be fit for purpose, but some clubs that still take it seriously have been amply rewarded in recent times.

And the Wicklow border crew must surely top that list, as they already had the Division 4 crown safely in the bag when they had to dig deep to see off St. James' who were appearing in a top-grade league decider for the first time.

In contrast, it was a fifth final on the trot for Castletown who lost to Gusserane in 2015, before defeating the same opponents over the next two seasons and then completing the three-in-a-row versus Glynn-Barntown twelve months to the very day before this latest triumph.

They were forced to play the last four minutes plus added time with just 13 players, and that made the achievement all the more impressive.

While an early injury to veteran James Holmes forced mentors into their first substitution, it appeared to be a pre-ordained move when four additional changes were made at half-time.

However, things got a little hairy at the end of the third quarter, starting when county regular Ben Brosnan received a straight red card in the 41st minute for a closed-fist challenge on St. James' captain Paul Barron.

Shortly afterwards, Danny Gardiner had to depart with an injury, and that meant Castletown had used their full complement of substitutes when Oisín Condren entered the fray.

Still, the 14 men were determined to maintain their hard-earned lead, and they doubled it from one point to two when captain Brendan Halpin got on the end of a patient move to make it 0-10 to 1-5 with just over eleven minutes left.

Replacement goalkeeper Anthony Masterson made a smart interception to stop Robbie Barron from setting up Mark Molloy for a goal chance, but the headaches mounted for Castletown when a black card for Jody O'Shaughnessy in the 56th minute reduced their numbers to 13.

A foul on Paul Barron led to Kevin O'Grady pointing just 40 seconds later and, at the very least, it looked like St. James' would have sufficient opportunities to force extra-time.

That wasn't the case, though, as the economical Halpin did the right thing and picked off another point from a long delivery.

Castletown lived dangerously when Robbie Barron's fisted pass to the far post was a fraction too long for Tommy Walsh to make a connection, but there was still a chance for the Ramsgrange side when Donal Barron pointed at the start of added time (0-11 to 1-7).

The kick-out that followed cleared midfield and landed in space for the speedy Robbie Brooks, and he raced forward before once more playing the percentages by firing over rather than attempting to fashion a goal chance.

St. James' were unable to muster anything up front before the four added minutes concluded, leading to Castletown's fourth title on the trot, and sixth in all this decade after also winning in 2010 and 2011 respectively at the expense of arch-rivals Kilanerin.

Just two points were recorded in the opening ten minutes, with wing-back Joe Gardiner kicking the first of his two fine efforts for the eventual victors before Kevin O'Grady opened the St. James' account from a free.

In between a shot on goal by Shane Murphy was kept out by Niall Hempenstall, but the number one was helpless in the 13th minute when Murphy's handpass from the right was palmed to the net by Tommy Walsh (1-1 to 0-1).

That gave the south county side a lead they held until midway through the third quarter, as they responded positively to a Ben Brosnan point with two from Donal Barron and Kevin O'Grady.

Brosnan and Joe Gardiner made it a two-point game before O'Grady knocked over a free in the 24th minute, but the gap was down to the minimum by the interval after Robbie Brooks and Jody O'Shaughnessy split the posts at the dressing-room end (1-4 to 0-6).

Castletown made those four half-time changes, and they certainly didn't hamper the team's chances as the dynamic duo of Liam Coleman and Rory Heffernan, in particular, brought youthful verve and ball-winning capabilities to the midfield sector.

John Ryan made a fine save to prevent Brendan Halpin from rattling the net in the 35th minute, but Castletown drew level via Heffernan before gaining a lead that would not be relinquished when Jonathan Bealin was on target from a free in the 40th minute.

The Wexford attacker did likewise to make it 0-9 to 1-4 shortly after Brosnan's dismissal, but Brian Molloy hit back for St. James' who could have done with the experience of Graeme Molloy, Brendan Doyle and Matthew O'Hanlon down the home straight.

While the win is an obvious boost for Castletown, they haven't contested a Senior championship final since 2012, and that's too long for a club of their calibre.

They will be the first to acknowledge that nobody outside their parish will remember their four league titles in a row, and clearly the aim must be to bridge that ten-year gap since they were last the kingpins of Wexford football.

Castletown: Niall Hempenstall; Killian Pierce, Danny Gardiner, Joe Ahern; Conor Carty, Colm Morris, Joe Gardiner (0-2); Richard Farrell, Colin Kennedy; Brendan Halpin (capt., 0-2), Jonathan Bealin (0-2 frees), Jody O'Shaughnessy (0-1); Andy Merrigan, James Holmes, Ben Brosnan (0-2). Subs. - Robbie Brooks (0-2) for Holmes, inj. (6), Anthony Masterson for Hempenstall (HT), Liam Coleman for Farrell (HT), Rory Heffernan (0-1) for Kennedy (HT), Frank Roche for J. Gardiner (HT), Oisín Condren for D. Gardiner, inj. (44).

St. James': John Ryan; David Doyle, Jason Barron, Paul Barron (capt.); Brian Molloy (0-1), Emmet Dunning, Owen Whitty; Liam Murphy, Robbie Barron; Donal Barron (0-2), Kevin O'Grady (0-4, 3 frees), Daniel Keating; Mark Molloy, Shane Murphy, Tommy Walsh (1-0). Subs. - Rob Murphy for Dunning, inj. (36), James Walsh for L. Murphy (48), Alan Walsh for Whitty, inj. (53), Philly Molloy for Keating, inj. (59).

Referee: Kevin Carty (Sarsfields).

FOOTNOTE: This was a Division 1 league final in name only, as it had none of the basic trappings one would associate with the biggest game in the county's second most important domestic football competition.

For starters, we were unable to carry the fixture in the previous week's edition because it was made after our deadline.

No official linesmen were on duty, the scoreboard wasn't operating, and there was no programme because - we were informed - the clubs didn't submit their teams in time.

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