Saturday 24 March 2018

Remarkable rise yields fourth county crown

Crossabeg-Ballymurn 1-11 Naomh Eanna 1-9 (AET)

Crossabeg-Ballymurn captain Conor Shovlin with Ciarán Joyce of the sponsors
Crossabeg-Ballymurn captain Conor Shovlin with Ciarán Joyce of the sponsors
Brendan Travers on the move for Naomh Eanna with Oisín Foley of Crossabeg-Ballymurn on his heels
The Crossabeg-Ballymurn crew celebrating their fourth adult county football title in the space of just seven years in St. Patrick's Park on Friday
The Naomh Eanna squad, runners-up in this grade for the third time in six years

Alan Aherne

One of the most remarkable rises in the annals of Wexford G.A.A. continued apace in St. Patrick's Park, Enniscorthy, on Friday when Crossabeg-Ballymurn completed the leap from the bottom sixth tier of club football to the second flight in the space of just seven seasons.

Extra-time was required before collecting their fourth title since 2011, with Naomh Eanna missing out on Joyces Expert Intermediate 'A' glory at the last hurdle for the third time in the championship's short history.

The Crossabeg-Ballymurn fairytale began on October 15, 2011, when they beat St. James' by 2-8 to 0-4 to capture the Junior 'B' crown (then known as Junior 'D').

Junior 'A' success followed at the first attempt, seeing off Clongeen by 1-15 to 2-10 in a thriller in Taghmon in 2012, but their county final bogey team - St. Joseph's - denied them Junior honours in 2013 (3-14 to 0-6).

There was full atonement for that disappointment in 2014 when Rathgarogue-Cushinstown were defeated by 0-8 to 0-6 in the replayed decider, but the Bishopswater men spoiled the party once again with a 1-6 to 1-4 victory in the Intermediate 'A' final of 2015.

Last year was the only one since 2011 that Crossabeg-Ballymurn failed to feature on the day the trophy was on offer, losing a replayed semi-final to Cloughbawn after conceding six goals.

However, their battle-hardened troops bounced back in magnificent fashion and are now just one step away from being a top flight club.

That achievement is all the more impressive when one remembers that football wasn't entertained at all for many years in the club, and when they finally started to field in the Junior 'B' grade it was usually only as a casual after-thought following hurling championship exits.

Naomh Eanna certainly pushed them all the way on Friday, but the Gorey side must be wondering what they have to do in order to win this elusive county title at this stage.

They lost a replayed final to St. Fintan's in 2012, the inaugural year of the grade, by 2-8 to 0-6, and they also went down to St. Mary's (Maudlintown) by 0-9 to 1-4 in the 2014 decider after failing to score in the second-half.

The outcome has left them with an unwanted treble and, more significantly, it means they have never beaten Crossabeg-Ballymurn in this grade after also losing to them at the semi-final and quarter-final stages in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

The Wexford District side were a lot more vocal in Friday's warm-up, but perhaps too much energy was expended as Naomh Eanna settled a lot better and moved into a 0-3 to nil lead after twelve minutes.

David O'Brien earned and pointed a free after a mere 42 seconds, with Sam Kelly yellow-carded after an off-the-ball incident before his team fell behind by two when O'Brien cleverly flicked an Aodhán Doyle delivery into the path of Jack Cushe who split the posts at the country end.

William Cullen, a replacement for his injured brother Gearóid, then made it 0-3 to nil from a left-footed free after a foul on the busy Seán Doyle, and Crossabeg-Ballymurn were in urgent need of a score to settle them down.

They had the advantage of the elements but didn't make it count until the 16th minute when a fine passing move led to an equalising goal.

It all started deep in their own defence, with the influential Ronan Devereux making room in the left corner to get an attack under way.

When the ball reached the forward line, the quick hands on view were very impressive as the Naomh Eanna defence was cut to shreds before team captain Conor Shovlin drilled home an extremely well-worked goal.

Any anxiety within the Crossabeg-Ballymurn camp seemed to be erased with that score, and then went on to hit four unanswered points to lead by 1-4 to 0-3 at half-time.

The winners were at their best when their defenders surged forward from deep, with Oisín Foley, Seamus Carroll, Ronan and Conor Devereux all dab hands in this regard.

All four picked off a point apiece, and collectively it was a huge contribution in such a tight contest.

Foley, in particular, relished his forays from full-back, and one powerful run in the 20th minute led to a foul and a pointed Cormac O'Rourke free to push them ahead for the first time (1-1 to 0-3).

A long Ronan Devereux solo, featuring a one-two with his brother Paddy, ended with Conor Shovlin picking out the third of the siblings, Conor, to account for the next point.

O'Rourke made it 1-3 to 0-3 after Peter Travers was booked for a foul on Seamus Carroll and, although Sam Kelly and O'Rourke (twice) missed scoreable frees, Kelly left four between them in the last minute of the half after Martin Redmond broke forward from left corner-back.

Naomh Eanna set about reducing the deficit in the 35th minute when David O'Brien knocked over his second free after Paddy Devereux saw yellow for a challenge on Seán Doyle.

Crossabeg-Ballymurn were close to a second goal on their next attack as Pádraig Foley, who gradually worked his way into the game, fed Conor Devereux whose shot deflected off a defender to make it even harder for netminder Kenneth Byrne to dive low to his right and bring off a fine save.

The introduction of Charlie McGuckin for Gorey saw Seán Doyle move to wing-forward from where he exerted a big influence, while Eoin Molloy had been a stand-out defender in the first-half.

A cheap loss of possession by Crossabeg-Ballymurn led to William Cullen feeding David O'Brien for a point in the 40th minute, and the gap was down to one just 40 seconds later after Brendan Travers won the kick-out, swapped passes with McGuckin and lofted over (1-4 to 0-6).

Sam Kelly kicked a vital free off the ground at the other end after a foul on Ronan Devereux, but the next five minutes were fatal to Naomh Eanna's chances.

They will look back with bitter regret on the early stages of the fourth quarter as a series of golden opportunities were squandered when their rivals were under the cosh.

William Cullen sent two frees to the left and wide, the second a lot closer than the first but still off target nonetheless. Charlie McGuckin also missed a goal chance from a Seán Doyle pass and followed with another wide, while Pádraig Doyle was penalised for overcarrying in a good position.

The siege was finally lifted when Paddy Devereux was fouled by rival number eight Brendan Travers who collected a booking before Sam Kelly again converted the free with nine minutes left (1-6 to 0-6).

However, Gorey finally delivered in front of the posts on their next attack of note when Peter Travers fed substitute Lee Kinsella who handpassed to his left to McGuckin. The teenager's shot was wayward, but it was met at the back post by Travers who had continued his run and duly rattled the net.

It got even better for Naomh Eanna in the 53rd minute when William Cullen passed to the goalscorer who kicked a brilliant point after a neat turn to regain a lead they had lost at the start of the second quarter (1-7 to 1-6).

It's amazing how fate can intervene so often in sporting contests, and it certainly played a huge part in Crossabeg-Ballymurn's equaliser.

The only reason midfielder Paddy Devereux was moved to full-forward was due to an injury. And when the youngest of the four brothers on view, substitute Cathal, fed him on the stroke of full-time, he drove in from the right and fisted the ball over the bar for a precious equaliser.

Both teams had agreed beforehand to play extra-time if necessary as the first round of the AIB Leinster Club championship is down for decision this coming Saturday. The tired limbs had to face another 20 minutes as a result and, although Crossabeg-Ballymurn won the toss and played with the wind, Lee Kinsella scored the first point for Gorey from a short William Cullen free.

Oisín Foley drove forward to kick a rousing equaliser from a Conor Devereux pass, and he turned provider as Seamus Carroll left the Over The Water side with a 1-9 to 1-8 interval lead.

Sam Kelly stretched the advantage to two after a foul on Cormac O'Rourke four minutes into the second period, and he was narrowly off target from another free.

A text-book tackle by Gorey's Seamus O'Donnell forced a turnover and led to a free for David O'Brien to convert, leaving just one between the sides as the game neared its conclusion.

The second-half stopwatch showed nine minutes and 52 seconds when the insurance point arrived, with Cormac O'Rourke laying the ball off for county Senior Ronan Devereux who crowned a performance full of honest endeavour by becoming the third member of the winners' influential half-back line to split the posts.

Gorey are unlikely to dwell on this latest disappointment for long with a first Senior hurling semi-final in 33 years to look forward to next Sunday.

And while the Carlow football champions will occupy their minds this coming weekend, Crossabeg-Ballymurn also have Intermediate and Junior 'B' hurling honours in their sights. Make no mistake about it, this decade will never be forgotten in the club for the riches it has yielded thus far.

Crossabeg-Ballymurn: Ben Turner; Conor Barlow, Oisín Foley (0-1), Martin Redmond; Seamus Carroll (0-1), Ronan Devereux (0-1), Conor Devereux (0-1); Paddy Devereux (0-1), Pádraig Foley; Cian Lambert, Sam Kelly (0-4, 3 frees), Conor Shovlin (capt., 1-0); Cormac O'Rourke (0-2 frees), Robert Byrne, Oran Maddock. Subs. - Andy Butler for Maddock (21), Bill Eviston for Lambert (55), Cathal Devereux for Butler (57), Conor Gormley for Barlow (ET), Lambert for P. Devereux, inj. (70), Paddy Devereux for Shovlin (78), also Mark O'Connor, Eoin O'Connor, Evan Kinlough, David Kehoe, Conor Maddock, Michael Eviston, Matty Sludds, Shane Whelan.

Naomh Eanna: Kenneth Byrne; Eoin Molloy, Daniel Sunderland, Seamus O'Donnell; Conor Hughes, Pádraig Doyle, Aodhán Doyle; Brendan Travers (0-1), John O'Brien; Kevin Harrington, Peter Travers (capt., 1-1), Jack Cushe (0-1); William Cullen (0-1 free), David O'Brien (0-4, 3 frees), Seán Doyle. Subs. - Charlie McGuckin for Cushe (38), Lee Kinsella (0-1) for Harrington (51), Darragh Hughes for Cullen (70), Harrington for P. Doyle, inj. (73), also Joseph O'Connor, Gary Molloy, Ross Murphy, Eoin Conroy, Shane Stokes, Jack Cullen, Michael Molloy, Conor McDonald, Gearóid Cullen.

Referee: John Carton (Monageer-Boolavogue).

New Ross Standard