U19 Championship final report - 18/08/2022

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Eastern Harps 3:14
St. Mary's         0:18

Eastern Harps won the inaugural U.19 A Championship in Markievicz Park on Wednesday, August 17th, by defeating  St. Mary’s by 5 points in a pulsating game on a score line of 3.14 to 0.18 pts.

Harps came into this game as favourites and undefeated, having already accounted for today’s opposition in the Round Robin series before dispatching Ballymote/Bunninadden in the semi-final.

Mary’s, on the other hand, suffered two losses. The other loss was to St. Molaise Gaels in the initial stages before exacting revenge on them in their semi-final.

Saint Marys were bolstered by the return to fitness of Ronan Niland and Ronan O’Hehir and had numerous positional switches made before the throw-in.

The first score of the game came from a free for Eastern Harps courtesy of Dylan Walsh after his younger brother Conor was fouled. Mary’s hit back with a long-range point from Ronan Niland, and from there to the halftime whistle, they completely dominated the East Division side.

Eli Rooney and Ronan Niland were completely dominant in midfield, and Conor White was causing numerous problems for Harp’s rearguard. Playing incisive and free-flowing football, they bagged four more additional points from Conor White, Shea O Neill, Paul Moore and Eli Rooney.

Captain Caelan Hunt kicked a point from 35 meters out in a rare forage into the opposition. However, St. Mary’s hit back with four more points from Rooney, O’Neill, White and Sean Clifford before a free from Walsh stemmed the flow. Eli Rooney and Hunt swapped frees to leave St. Mary’s in the ascendency by 10 points to 4 at the short whistle.

Indeed the margin could have been a lot more, but for the outstanding display of the Harps keeper Jamie McCoy.

On the resumption, it was a very different Harps outfit. The leggy lethargic first half was wiped away, and a refreshing appetite was displayed, summed up in the first minute by a 30-meter solo run from Dylan Walsh and a shot that shaved the top of the crossbar. A point from Fintan Campbell was matched by another Hunt free for Harps.

Mary’s were not as fluid as in the first half, with the excellent Finn Bruen dominating in the full-back line and a massive shift put in by Conor Walsh in midfield. Dylan Walsh began to become the most influential player. Rooney, from play and a free, stretched the gap to 7 points, and when the same player bore down on goals, it took another acrobatic save from McCoy to keep a clean sheet.

Harps Management’s astute substitutions and positional switches saw Harps hit a purple patch. A long ball from Matt Henry was punched over the bar by Dylan Walsh, and then Dylan curled one over himself after good work by Donal Mitchell.

That narrowed the gap to 5 points, and even though Harps were now the dominant side, it looked like the points cushion that Mary’s had built earlier in the game would be enough to see them home as the clock read 54 minutes played.

There appeared little danger when Matt Henry collected the ball 30 meters out and headed for goals, an exchange of crisp passes with Caelan Hunt brought him into the penalty box, and a neat side step allowed him to rifle the ball to the net. A free a minute later from Hunt, and incredibly the gap was down to a solitary point.

Another point from Rooney looked to have sealed it for the town outfit, but Harps weren’t finished yet, and a needless foul by St Mary’s was compounded when the referee brought it forward 13 meters for indiscipline. Hunt tapped it over the bar as we approached the second minute of injury time. The resulting kick-out was won by St. Mary’s, but they made the fatal error of trying to run the clock down. Harps were ravenous now and forced the defence to kick a wayward pass back to the keeper, who had no support causing an infringement. The 20-meter kick was simple for Hunt, bringing the second half to a close and extra time beckoned.

With Harps now very much in command and bossing their more physical opposition, it only took 20 seconds to take the lead. James Kiernan cut in from the left and curled over a point. This was cancelled a minute later by a Niland point before the game was turned on its head. Cian Carty won possession and went on a solo run, exchanged passes with substitute Barry Cryan and in a highly acute angle, managed to squeeze the ball in off the near post and into the net. Mary’s, to their credit, battled back and again, it was Rooney that raised the white flag. Ollie Nerney pushed the gap to 3 points before Harps hit the sucker punch. Again Henry was involved in putting Barry Cryan through on goal, who was upended as he prepared to shoot. Dylan Walsh made no mistake from the penalty spot.

As we entered the second period of extra time, which was punctured with stoppages with players going down with cramps, there was still time for more drama as the referee awarded another penalty, this time to Marys for a dangerous foot block. Eli Rooney stepped up to take it, but once again, McCoy, who had to be the player of the match, was equal to the task of pushing the ball out for a 45. St. Mary’s did kick two more points sandwiched in between by a point from Barry Cryan.

And so a fantastic contest concluded which was handled very well by referee Paul Clavin and his officials. The quality of football was of the highest order, which wasn’t surprising as a lot of players from both sides had Manning Cup medals from two different Sligo teams, along with a generous sprinkling of Connacht U20 medals won earlier this year. St. Mary’s will wonder for a long time how they managed to let this title slip through their fingers. They were 5 points clear with 6 minutes left to play. Harps will take immense pride in this victory. The foundations were an insatiable work rate, hard graft with a lot of skill thrown into the mix.