Ballyboden St Enda’s (Dublin) 0-8
Éire Óg (Carlow) 0-6
By PJ Cunningham
Club players are the real heroes of the GAA – and even if we didn’t know that already, we got another demonstration of that fact in this absorbing Leinster final in Portlaoise played in the middle of winter.
With underfoot conditions akin to an ice rink and driving rain militating against scores or memorable moments, every player gave their all to make the showdown as memorable a spectacle as was possible on the second Sunday of December.
Given the conditions, it was never going to be a classic as it was error ridden and scores were at a premium – but by God there was so much honestly and passion and pride on view that you couldn’t but marvel at the fitness and attitude of these amateur sportsmen.
The GAA at top level think they are being clever by running off the club provincial and All Ireland series in the depth of the worst weather months; by next year they hope to have all the club stuff “out of the way” by Christmas.
How short-sighted! Matches like these deserve to be played when there is growth in the grass and sun emerging to lengthen the days of spring.
Unfortunately, club players are very much down the line in terms of importance in Croke Park – they are besotted by the elite players and the big days.
— Dublin GAA (@DubGAAOfficial) December 8, 2019
Grass roots followers in all the counties know how important the club is – and we witnessed a compelling encounter where Éire Óg did everything humanly possible but win.
They will be disappointed this week but they should hold their heads high because they were first among equals on the day, everywhere except on the scoreboard.
If Ballyboden had anything extra in this their 50th year of existence, it was an unshakable belief that even when they were a point behind with a minute to go, they knew they could turn this game around.
They had done it so often this year that they are one of the few teams to have not tasted defeat in league or championship at senior level in 2019. A remarkable record.
They needed that ring of confidence because when Ryan Basquel missed a free from his favourite side with less than three minutes to go to equalise, you felt that all the Carlow lads needed to do was win the next kick out.
They failed to do that and in fact lost the final three restarts which in turn yielded the scores that turned a one-point deficit on the scoreboard into a two-point winning margin for the south Dublin side.
Time just up.
Rain falling, wind blowing, crowd roaring.
A Leinster final on the line.
Step up the coolest man in O’Moore Park.
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) December 9, 2019
First sub Warren Egan showed great poised to slot a brilliant equaliser in the 59th minute; then Basquel showed his earlier miss hadn’t daunted him by firing over a massive left-footed point from the acute angled left-hand side of the pitch.
With Éire Óg looking desperately for an equaliser, they lost possession and Michael Dara Macauley, on as a second half sub, showed his quality by soloing through to fist over the insurance score in the last minute of added time.
When Offaly referee Fergal Smyth signalled time up almost immediately, the boys in blue hugged each other while the red and white lads of Carlow town fell to the ground in despair.
Seldom has the margin and the manner of victory and defeat been so close and yet so far.
And so the 2016 All Ireland club champions can now face into Christmas knowing that they can return to Croke Park if they manage to beat Down and Ulster champions Kilcoo in next month’s semi-final.
The winners of that will play either holders Corofin (Galway) or Nemo Rangers (Cork), who go head-to-head in the semi-finals for the second successive year.
Wee slice of revenge for Lough against Meath
In the O’Byrne Cup, Louth will never forget the daylight robbery Meath perpetrated on them in the Leinster final of 2009 in Croke when a Joe Sheridan ‘try’ – sorry goal – saw the Royals snatch victory with a score that should never have been allowed. But that’s a story from another day.
It was be a gross exaggeration to say that winning a first round O’Byrne Cup match in Navan (1-9 to 0-10) compensated for the bitter taste of that defeat a decade on, but it was satisfying for the players and the hardy band of supporters who made their way to Paric Tailtean, to come out the right side of any game with their neighbours and greatest rivals.
Louth will also be happy that the 10 newcomers they had on show acquitted themselves well against this year’s beaten Leinster finalists.
Sam Mulroy, who ended the game with 1-4 to his credit, kept his side ahead in a close first half encounter, allowing the visitors a two-point lead of 0-6 to 0-4 on the changeover.
Meath levelled through a Matty Costello free and a point from Thomas O’Reilly, but the vital score of the day came from a penalty awarded after Tommy Durnin was upended and Mulroy casually slotted home the spot kick.
Kerry men suffer losses in opening games
Two Kerry men newly installed in charge of Leinster teams suffered defeats in their first games over the weekend.
Jack O’Connor new-look Kildare outfit came up against a competitive Longford side prepared by new boss Padraic Davis, and goals by Joe Hagan and Daniel Mimnagh were the decisive scores in a 2-14 to 0-14 win.
O’Connor’s former Kerry player, Paul Galvin, was also on the wrong end of a closely fought game in Enniscorthy where Westmeath emerged victorious thanks mainly to Hoe Hallingan’s 14th minute strike which saw them run out winners by 1-11 to 0-11.
Carlow may have been without their Éire Óg contingent but were still too strong for lowly Wicklow, as they ran out convincing winners by 2-5 to 0-8 at Dr. Cullen Park.
Daniel St Ledger’s 45 fortuitously ended up in the back of the net to settle the home side and give them a 1-4 to 0-3 advantage at the break.
When Robbie Kane got in shortly after the break to raise a second green flag, there was only going to be one winner.
John Maughan’s influence in Offaly continues to spread and seven points from ace forward Bernard Allen helped in beating neighbours Laois in a high-scoring encounter in Portarlington which ended 1-17 to 2-12 in the Faithful’s favour.
The romantic GAA story of the weekend didn’t come up with a happy ending but it was still great to see a Kilkenny football team reach a Leinster final.
Mullinavat gave it their best shout against Louth’s Mattock Rangers in the intermediate provincial final but in the end lost out by six point margin – 1-14 to 0-11.