Young heroics lift Edenderry
CARVE their names with pride, for the Edenderry 'class of 2011' graduated summa cum laude in their biggest test, the Offaly senior football final at O'Connor Park yesterday.
Did I say 'class?' Yes, indeed, for although they fought and won as a team, this is a group of players on a steep learning curve that has achieved well ahead of even their management's expectations.
Edenderry fielded a side packed with youthful players inexperienced at senior level, never mind county final standard, and somehow gouged out a win against favourites Clara.
Of their starting 15 yesterday, 10 of the Edenderry team were aged 23 or under, and that includes four 19-year-olds -- full-back David Hanlon, half-forward Ciaran Hurley, corner-forward Derek Kelly and full-forward Stuart Cullen.
This was a club which had been relegated to intermediate football a few years ago and embarked on a youth policy to regain former glories.
Ten years ago, Edenderry won their ninth senior title and it has been a long wait for redemption, but the exuberance and fearlessness of youth returned the Dowling Cup to the club.
That it came yesterday, on a day when strong wind and drizzling rain made good football difficult, was a wondrous delight to manager Peter Brady, the former Offaly star who had won five senior medals with Edenderry.
"Absolutely amazing. We were written off coming into it," he said. "Hunger's a great sauce. I'm absolutely thrilled for every one of them.
"They're after putting in 85 training sessions since last February and it's absolutely great. I know it's heart-stopping stuff and it was only by a point, but I'm delighted, absolutely delighted."
Brady cited the 'believe, believe' message he and fellow ex-Offaly stalwart Finbarr Cullen instilled into the Edenderry side.
"In the windy conditions, everyone said it would suit them, but they actually won the toss and played against it.
"So I said, 'look, we'll get a good start' and we did, but they came back at us but just the belief those young lads have, that me and Finbarr have instilled in them, just 'believe, believe, believe' we told them, and then with 20 minutes to go they didn't lie down."
The excitement in those last 20 minutes and the jubilation of the winning team and supporters could not disguise the fact that it was a poor, low-scoring match. Edenderry, with the wind behind them, were 0-5 to 0-2 ahead four minutes from half-time, but Clara ground out a few opportunities and brought themselves level 0-5 each by the interval.
Richie Dalton, the big Edenderry midfielder and captain, played a huge part in driving his team on, and deservedly won the man of the match award.
Dalton contributed two points in the first half, one from a free, the other from a '45' and Edenderry's other three points were scored by Mark Young, Ciaran Hurley and midfielder Stephen Guing.
Clara appeared to settle well early on, but gradually lost the initiative until Thomas Deehan nailed three late points, two of them from frees, to add to his seventh-minute score. John Reynolds was the other Clara scorer in the first half.
At half-time, the Offaly heroes of their 1971 and 1972 All-Ireland-winning teams were honoured, and they received a great ovation. Then it was back to the grindstone for players and spectators. Over the next 33 minutes of the second half, neither team managed a score from play.
Deehan opened Clara's account with a free in the 31st minute, added one more point, also from a free, in the 59th and Matthew Mitchell got Clara's final point of the game from a '45' in the 61st minute.
Richie Dalton, with three frees, added to his tally, and the other Edenderry scorer in that half was Mark Young. Ah, that score! A vital point in every respect, but it came in bizarre circumstances from a penalty.
Edenderry led 0-7 to 0-6, when, in the 47th minute, they breached the Clara defence and Ciaran Hurley was checked briefly before regaining his balance and popping in a goal. But referee Damian Brazil called play back -- and awarded Edenderry a penalty.
By that stage Mark Young, the regular penalty taker, had been replaced, but manager Peter Brady resubstituted him, taking off Martin Keogh.
"He's a fantastic penalty taker and he's scored every one we got. Richie (Dalton) was hitting the frees well, but he never took a penalty in his life," said Brady.
"He probably was a bit rushed in taking his tracksuit off and getting back on, but anyway, the ball went over the bar."
And what of Clara? Noel Brady, joint manager with Willie Reynolds, was at a loss to explain it, bar an inexplicable nervousness among his players and a totally unexpected lack of composure.
"Believe it or not even though we're supposed to be the experienced team, the nerves got us on the day. We just didn't perform anywhere near as well as we might have done, or should have done.
"It's hard to explain. I suppose we'll have to do a lot of analysis and figure out what has gone wrong, but we weren't complacent and we never allowed our players to buy into the favourites' tag," he said.
Dalton, Basil Malone, Sean Pender, Stephen Guing, David Hanlon, and Ciaran Byrne gave sterling performances, but every Edenderry player fought with great heart and passion to carve out this victory.
Joe Quinn, the Bradys, Scott and Ross, John Reynolds, and Thomas Deehan were the pick of Clara who will feel they missed a great opportunity to add to their honours board.
Scorers -- Edenderry: R Dalton 0-5 (4f, '45'), M Young 0-2 (0-1 pen), S Guing, C Hurley 0-1 each. Clara: T Deehan 0-6 (4f); J Reynolds, M Mitchell ('45') 0-1 each.
Edenderry -- B Quinlan; D Meleady, D Hanlon, W Mooney; C Byrne, S Pender, M Keogh; S Guing, R Dalton; C Hurley, B Malone, K McGuinness; D Kelly, S Cullen, M Young. Subs: J Hurst for M Young (h-t); M Young for M Keogh (47); S Og Farrell for S Cullen (55); M Keogh for C Hurley (59).
Clara -- K Meehan; D Baggot, J Quinn, D Kelly; E Dunne, M Mitchell, D Ledwith; S Brady, R Brady; P Flanagan, S Deehan, G Guilfoyle; T Deehan, J Reynolds, E Brady. Subs: L Hiney for E Dunne (36); T Dalton for P Flanagan (43); J O'Hara for E Brady (43); P Deehan for D Ledwith (59).
Ref -- D Brazil.