Hungry Baltinglass put AGB to the sword
U20'A'FC final: Baltinglass 2-13 AGB 1-7
Baltinglass produced an excellent second-half performance to see off AGB and lay claim to the inaugural Peadar Mac Eochaidh Memorial Cup at the end of a very impressive under-20 'A' football championship in Joule Park Aughrim on Sunday afternoon last.
With both sides littered with talented young footballers this game promised plenty and a low-scoring battle on soft ground in the opening half opened up into a humdinger in the second half as Baltinglass brought their physical superiority and hunger to the fore to pull away for victory.
AGB will look to missed chances in this game as part of the reason for the surprising score line at the end. At key moments as they stormed up through the centre of the field they lost possession or fired wide when they might have found the back of Mark Jackson's net. In attack they lacked the cutting edge we have come to expect from AGB sides but a strong defensive showing from the likes of Jason Steed, Paddy Kirwan and Darragh Doyle might explain that to a certain degree.
Baltinglass brought a serious hunger to this game. Mark Jackson referenced having been on the receiving end of plenty of defeats to AGB teams in recent years in school competitions and the chance for revenge on a significant stage wasn't lost on these young Baltinglass footballers. They certainly took their chance in style.
All over the field they had tireless workers. John Keogh's start to the second half where he rifled over three excellent points (one free) set the tone for the remainder of the game. The county half-forward just wouldn't take no for an answer and his three scores lifted his colleagues and sent them on their way to a memorable victory.
It certainly didn't look as clear cut at the end of the opening half when Baltinglass took a slender 1-4 to 1-3 lead into the dressing rooms in front of a small but vocal crowd in Joule Park Aughrim. Indeed, few would have anticipated the margin of victory at the death given how close AGB had come to scoring goals, having had the ball in the net twice with one ruled out and brought back for a free, and having a rare error from Cormac O'Shea after a mighty burst up the field seeing his pass to Gavin Bentley under hit and cleared when a goal looked unfailingly certain.
But AGB were getting nothing easy. Serious pressure on Kyle O'Connor's kick outs were robbing them of their attacking platform and that resolute defence, helped at times by AGB errors and the poor underfoot conditions, helped thwart the Arklow men over the course of this encounter.
An early wide from the impressive Cian Lee at midfield for Baltinglass got the ball rolling in this November encounter at the end of a relatively successful under-20 competition in that it was embraced by the majority of clubs and was shown the respect it deserves.
From early on it was clear that Baltinglass were bringing something special to this game. They were relentless in their pressure on the AGB side. From their half-forwards back, they defended in numbers and were rarely out of reach of an AGB rival.
However, it would be Mark Hurley who would open the scoring after collecting a quick free from Cormac O'Shea and firing over Mark Jackson's crossbar before punching the air with delight with three minutes gone.
Things were looking healthy enough from an AGB position when O'Shea popped over a free won by full-forward Cathal Kelleher who was causing Jason Steed all sorts of problems early in this game. Kelleher was fouled twice in that sequence of events after he collected a Darragh Fitzgerald ball from a free following an AGB break after Dan Kelly had dropped a free short to Kyle O'Connor at the other end.
A wide apiece followed, Adam McHugh for Baltinglass and Peter Hempenstall for AGB after a stunning run from his own 21-yard-line, before Jordan Deans grabbed the opener for Baltinglass with the corner-forward showing impressive physical strength and perseverance to withstand the tenacious tackling of AGB's Tadgh O'Callaghan to slot over a beauty.
A wicked Cian Lee point from distance levelled proceedings after 13 minutes before Baltinglass got their first major boost of the game when Adam McHugh finished to the back of O'Connor's net after strong play from Deans had produced a scampering save off the line from Tom Maher before the full-forward drove home mercilessly from close range.
AGB might have had their own goal by this stage when Cormac O'Shea's shot for goal was blocked superbly by the impressive Christopher Grimes with the resulting 45 going harmlessly wide. Baltinglass were also boosted by a superb take in the air from Jason Steed over the head of Cathal Kelleher in front of his own goal in what was a kind of a marker being laid down by a defence that was not going to give anything away cheaply.
McHugh from a free made it 1-3 to 0-2 for Baltinglass but AGB were going to get one goal going by their tendency to look for openings and that major arrived from the boot of Cormac O'Shea who took a sweet Darragh Fitzgerald pass over the top before storming past Jason Steed and rifling home past Mark Jackson off the outside of his right boot with 24 gone.
Pointed frees from O'Shea and McHugh brought the first half to a close with plenty of potential for an entertaining second half hanging in the November air.
13 minutes into the second half and the game had been turned on its head. Jordan Deans goal as the clock read 43 minutes opened up a 2-9 to 1-5 lead for the west Wicklow outfit and followed a stunning score from Cian Lee after a burst through the middle, John Keogh's three uplifting minors and a poacher's point from McHugh after AGB confusion in their full-back line. The Arklow side could only generate replies from a sweetly struck Andrew Maher free and a Mark Hurley score that might have been a goal after Darragh Fitzgerald's dangerous cross-field ball broke in the Baltinglass, was gathered by Ciaran O'Shea who had his shot blocked by John Keogh before the ball spilled to Hurley who hacked it over the crossbar from a tight angle.
There would be several goals disallowed in this game by referee Garreth Whelan, two for AGB and one for Baltinglass. Darragh Fitzgerald fired a rocket to the roof of Mark Jackson's net in the opening half only to see it brought back for a foul. Tadgh O'Toole fisted home after Jordan Deans' shot was blocked and the corner-forward had been impeded and that play was brought back for the free.
AGB went looking for goals very early to try and get back into this game, but the Baltinglass defence stood firm for the most part. At the other end, points from McHugh (three, one free) and Tadhg O'Toole pushed them out to a 2-13 to 1-7 lead and AGB just couldn't land that major or two to get back within reach.
The final whistle was met with joy among the Baltinglass players and supporters. As one supporter said after the game, 'a championship is a championship' and this one means a hell of a lot to Baltinglass who have a very impressive crop of young men on their hands.
A difficult day for AGB. They never really got to grips with the dogged Baltinglass defending and missed chances proved costly.
Best for Baltinglass were Jason Steed, Christopher Grimes, the strong midfield pairing of Sean Doody and Cian Lee, the feisty John Keogh, the energetic Tadgh O'Toole, the classy Adam McHugh and the threatening figure of Jordan Deans.
AGB were very well served by Tom Maher at full-back, Andrew Maher, Cormac O'Shea and Tiernan McBride.
Scorers - Baltinglass: Adam McHugh 1-6 (3f), Jordan Deans 1-1, John Keogh 0-3 (1f), Cian Lee 0-2, Tadhg O'Toole 0-1.
AGB: Cormac O'Shea 1-3 (3f), Mark Hurley 0-2, Andrew Maher 0-1 (f), Cathal Kelleher 0-1 (f).
Baltinglass: Mark Jackson; Jason Steed, Paddy Kirwan, Darragh Doyle; Karl Furlong, Christopher Grimes, Aaron Barrett; Sean Doody, Cian Lee; John Keogh, Dan Kelly, Tadhg O'Toole; Alan Barrett, Adam McHugh, Jordan Deans. Subs: Wesley Balfe for A Barrett (48), Jason Sinnott for K Furlong (59), Jack Fleming for J Deans (61).
AGB: Kyle O'Connor; Gavin Bentley, Tom Maher, Tadgh O'Callaghan; Ben Fennell, Ciaran O'Shea, Andrew Maher; Darragh Fitzgerald, Tommy New; Peter Hempenstall, Cormac O'Shea, Tom Hurley; Mark Hurley, Cathal Kelleher, Gavin Bentley. Subs: Jack Darcy for T O'Callaghan (48), Mark Fitzgerald for B Fennell (48), Ross McBride for M Hurley (57), Quinten O'Reilly for D Fitzgerald (59, BC).
Referee: Garreth Whelan (Kiltegan)