A bridge too far

REIGNING Ulster and All-Ireland Champions St Colman’s ended the run of Dundalk Schools as the Ulster juggernaut simply outclassed the combined Dundalk side.

Sometimes in football, one side is simply better than the other and unfortunately, when Dundalk met the Ulster side, it was a step too far for them as the slick, well-oiled and at times flawless St Colman’s used their vast experience to brush aside the challenge of Dundalk.

It was not a day to remember for Leslie Toal’s side as the curtain came down on what was a memorable and highly enjoyable run in the Championship.

Of course, the day in Páirc Táilteann will serve as the highlight of the year, but in credit to the Dundalk players, they never dropped the heads despite the gulf in class between the sides in Crossmaglen on Saturday.

Playing at the home of All-Ireland Champions Crossmaglen Rangers, Dundalk came into the game knowing they had a mountain to climb. Beating St Patrick’s of Navan a forth-night ago was to prove the tip of the iceberg as this summit was just too high.

Early pressure

From the opening whistle, it was clear that Colman’s were an experienced force. Moving the ball like a great Ulster side, they glided at a frightening pace, passing and moving without hestitation.

By the time Dundalk could get a handle on them, the Ulster Champions were 0-4 ahead thanks to scores from Caolan Mooney, Jerome Johnston, Ryan Johnston and Tony McGreevy.

St Colman’s perhaps should have been further ahead but Ryan Johnston sent his shot crashing over the bar when he was going for the roof of Darren Breen’s net.

Dundalk managed to pull one back as Ciaran Byrne converted a free, but then Dundalk suffered a major blow.

Blow

Paddy Reilly, their captain and an integral cog in their midfield had to retire due to an injury.

He was replaced by the powerful and industrious Conor Ryan, but how Toal would have loved to drop Ryan into battle alongside Reilly and James Stewart as at least then, Dundalk might have been able to contest for dominance of the match.

Like the Leinster Final against St Patrick’s, Dundalk again were denied that bit of luck as they never got one breaking or loose ball. Everything, at times fortunately fell to St Colman’s, which only made life more difficult for Dundalk.

Two fisted efforts followed, one by Mooney before Conall McKeever came to life, darting in to keep his side in touch.

However, at the other end Dundalk were hit with a sucker punch as Colman’s, unrelenting in their attacks came at Dundalk again. This time, they found the back of the net ending another slick, rapid move.

Jerome Johnston was the creator but it was Mooney who finished the attack, slashing the ball into the bottom left corner of the net to put Colman’s 1-5 to 0-2 ahead after 14 minutes.

Seconds later, Johnston got in behind the back line once again and looked sure to find the back of the net, only for Breen, who did just enough coming off his goal line to prevent Johnston from finding the target.

Second goal killer

Byrne managed to raise the white flag once again with a free before Dundalk suffered another blow, as Colman’s hit 1-3 without reply. A defensive lapse allowed Mooney the chance he needed to race in towards goal. With Breen to beat, he kept his head, cooly finishing for his and his side’s second goal.

Dundalk needed a miracle at this moment and they got half a miracle as they responded with a goal of their own. Conall McKeever, who caused problems throughout the game for Colman’s took full advantage of Matthew McNeice’s fumble from an Andrew Sharkey shot that dropped short.

Lifeline

McKeever went for broke, hoping McNeice would fumble and when he did, he pounced, catching the loose ball and tapping the ball into the net.

Just before half time, Sean McAuley pointed to give Dundalk at least a fighting chance in the second half.

Fighting is what they did, as Dundalk fought until the final whistle, even as the game drifted away from them. Never did they throw in the towel as they were a credit to the shirts they wore, representing the side.

Darren McMahon’s powerful drive, followed by two Byrne frees gave them hope, but experts in retaining a lead, Colman’s kept tagging scores, never allowing their lead to go below five points.

Needing a goal or two Dundalk kept searching, but the all important three pointer was out of reach. Shay McArdle nearly wrapped up proceedings but his lethal shot skidded left of the post and smacked the umpire’s feet.

Further points from Byrne lifted Dundalk but the big finish they needed was just out of reach as Colman’s kept turning the screw. McArdle put the icing on the cake for the Ulster side, netting a third goal which was cruel to the Dundalk side, who battled bravely despite being outclassed on the day against a side who look favourites to retain the trophy.

Scorers – ST COLMAN’S: Caolan Mooney (2-3, 1f), Jerome Johnston (0-5, 3f), Shay McArdle (1-1), Ryan Johnston, Tony McGreevy, Keelan Haughey, Jack Haughey, Patrick Morgan all (0-1)

DUNDALK SCHOOLS: Ciaran Byrne (0-6, 3f), Conall McKeever (1-1), Sean McAuley, Darren McMahon both (0-1).

ST COLMAN’S: Matthew McNeice; Michael O’Hare, Niall Donnelly, Jack Haughey; Daryl Brannigan, Eamonn Magee, Keelan Haughey; Ryan Johnston, Conor Gough; Tomás Mulholland, Pierce Casey, Caolan Mooney; Shay McArdle, Jerome Johnston, Tony McGreevy.

Subs: Patrick Morgan for Tomás Mulholland, (39mins).

DUNDALK SCHOOLS: Darren Breen; Kieran Lenehan, Darragh Smith, Conor McMenanin; Sean Thornton, Darren McMahon, Sean McAuley; Paddy Reilly, James Stewart; Kevin Hearty, Andrew Sharkey, Cian Doyle; Ciaran Byrne, Shane Thornton, Conall McKeever.

Subs: Conor Ryan for Paddy Reilly, (8mins), Robert Williams for Conor McMenanin, (15mins), Andrew Murphy for Shane Thornton, (H/T), Andrew English for Sean Thornton, (H/T), Peter Lynch for Sean McAuley, (59mins).

Wides – ST COLMAN’S: 9 (5 first half), DUNDALK SCHOOLS: 5 (3 first half).

Bookings - DUNDALK: Darragh Smith (57mins), Conor Ryan (59mins). ST COLMAN’S: Jerome Johnston (22mins)

REFEREE: Pat McEnaney (Monaghan).