The stars of Dundalk Schools showed courage, belief and bravery beyond their teenage years as they captured the Leinster Senior Colleges A Championship.
In what was a repeat of the 2002 final between Dundalk and St Patrick’s of Navan, history repeated itself as Dundalk lifted the historic trophy, for only the second time in their history since they amalgamated in 2000.
But never has a Dundalk or a Louth side won a trophy amongst such drama. Played in a surreal atmosphere as Páirc Tailteann was packed with teenagers who chanted songs and verbals, it certainly was a twist on any other GAA match.
At the end of the game, leading by two points, the Louth side looked odds on to beat a Meath side. Hold on a second, where did we see that one before? Yes, shades of the Leinster Final were very much on display in Navan, especially as St Patrick’s tried to force home a last minute goal to win a match.
Every player on the Schools team would have felt the pain from the Leinster Final last year in some way or another. However, they were not letting it happen to them on this occasion as every player, from the ‘keeper Darren Breen to the substitutes that came on, put their body on the line in an extraordinary manner.
At times it was heroic, brave and courageous, at other times it was last ditch and pray for the best, but it worked as they held out in the end.
With 61 minutes on the clock, Cathal Smith, who had already hit six points, found himself facing Breen in the goal on the left hand side.
He stabbed at it and Breen got a hand to put it wide for a corner. The resulting chaos that ensued was heart attack stuff as three ‘45s’, one after the other resulted in a goalmouth scramble in the Dundalk box. As the ball pinged around like a pinball, flashbacks to Croke Park last July appeared in everyones heads. For some of the Louth Senior players who were there on the day, supporting family members on the panel or there just to support the team, they must have thought God was playing a cruel joke on them. It was inevitable that the ball would somehow trickle in Breen’s net and a Louth team would be robbed again.
Thankfully, it didn’t as the Dundalk lads held strong, getting in block after block, tackle after tackle and when the ball was finally pumped forward into the Pat’s half, Gary McCormack blew the whistle, sparking off joyous scenes in the stand and on the pitch.
In truth, it was nothing more than deserved for the team, even though they saved their best performances for earlier in the campaign.
We had to wait almost ten minutes for the first score as both sides poked and proded each other in the early stages before Ciaran Byrne, the lynchpin of Dundalk’s attack got them off the mark before Andrew Sharkey and Cian Doyle coolly slotted over two points in quick succession.
St Patrick’s, the favourites in the match were not rocked though as the veterans of the competition came back into it. Paddy Kennelly hit the post shortly after Darren McMahon blocked a certain goal from Alan Forde’s shot in the early stages.
Smith opened their account with a free before Forde, the danger man throughout for Pat’s with his scintillating pace followed suit with a point from play.
Undeterred, Dundalk picked themselves up and slotted over the next two scores, a free from Sharkey and a terrific solo point from Byrne, who was finding joy in the left corner.
Smith and Dundalk captain Paddy Reilly traded scores before Breen made himself a hero just before the interval.
As aforementioned, the amount of blocks and crucial interceptions that Dundalk made on the day was immense, critical to their success and one of the most important was Breen’s fingertip save. Lying on the ground, deceived by an earlier shot, the ball was floating over Breen’s head from Forde’s shot.
It was going into the net, that is until Breen somehow stretched his hand up and clawed it away. It fell kindly to Ciaran Fitzsimons who blasted at an empty net, but both Paddy Reilly and Kieran Lenehan combined to thwart his effort. Dundalk took a one point lead at half time, 0-6 to 0-5, but the second half saw St Patrick’s explode onto the scene, hitting five successive scores.
The next score was crucial and Dundalk got it. More importantly, it was a goal and it wiped out the two point lead that the Pat’s built up. Conall McKeever dashed down the right hand side. As he approached the sticks, he spotted a crowd of players across goal and drilled the ball across the ‘keeper’s path. It found Shane Thornton at the far post, who just managed to avoid a square ball and he thrashed it into the net.
From there, it was game on as Sean Thornton advanced to pick out a score for Dundalk. The two sides traded scores with the match, beautifully poised at 1-8 to 0-10.
It was at this point when the momentum swung in Dundalk’s favour. McKeever played in Shane Thornton, who looked like he was going to blast into the net for his second goal. But just as he pulled the trigger, a last gasp challenge from Ruairi O’Coileain denied the Cooley man from netting. It looked like a magnificent challenge from the press box but the referee saw something different and awarded a penalty. Stepping up, Paddy Reilly, their captain took his time as Pat’s argued with the referee about his decision. With a noisy and boisterous Pat’s contingent in the stand on his back, Reilly had a lot of pressure on his young shoulders, but he buried the ball into the back of the net to give Dundalk a 2-8 to 0-10 lead.
It was their last score as Pat’s went for broke, all out attack. They pulled back two more scores, the last seeing Smith blaze a strike over the bar when he was going for goal.
Pat’s searched valiantly for a winner, but on this occasion, the Dundalk and Louth team hung on to deny the Meath men another late victory in a prestigious final.
Scorers – DUNDALK SCHOOLS: Patrick Reilly, (1-1, 1P), Shane Thornton, (1-0), Ciaran Byrne, (0-3), Andrew Sharkey (0-2, 1f), Cian Doyle, Sean Thornton, (0-1) each.
ST PATRICK’S: Cathal Smith, (0-6, 5f), Alan Forde, (0-3), Conor Sheridan, Paddy Kennelly, Dylan Regan (0-1).
DUNDALK SCHOOLS: Darren Breen; Kieran Lenehan, Darragh Smith, Robert Williams; Sean Thornton, Darren McMahon, Sean McAuley; Patrick Reilly , James Stewart; Kevin Hearty, Andrew Sharkey, Cian Doyle; Ciaran Byrne, Conor Ryan, Conall McKeever. Subs: Shane Thornton for C Ryan (22mins), Conor McMenamin for R Williams (H/T), Conor Ryan for K Hearty (40mins), Robert Quigley for P Reilly (69mins), Aaron Murray for A Sharkey (70mins).
ST PATRICKS: Robert Burlingham; Niall Coughlan, Oran Fitzpatrick, Evan Murtagh; Ruairi O’Coileain, Fiachra McEntee, Conal Shaw; Fiachra Ward, Dean Curran; Colin McGrane, Alan Forde, Paddy Kennelly; Nicky O’Brien, Cathal Smith, Ciaran Fitzsimons. Subs: Conor Sheridan for C McGrane, Gary Power for N Coughlan, Dylan Regan for P Kennelly. Wides: DUNDALK SCHOOLS: 6 (2 first half), ST PATRICK’S: 7 (3 first half).
Bookings: DUNDALK SCHOOLS: Robert Williams, (25mins), Kevin Hearty, (30mins), Sean McAuley, (59mins). ST PATRICK’S: Niall Coughlan (27mins), Ruairi O’Coileain (50mins), Gary Power (52mins).
Referee: Gary McCormack (Dublin)