Dundalk Young Irelands celebrate Saturday's Leinster JFC final victory over St. Brigid's in Drogheda. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
AIB Leinster JFC final
Dundalk Young Irelands 2-10 St. Brigid's 2-7
Aidan Sheekey’s grandfather had a dying wish to see him back in the colours of Dundalk Young Irelands. Post-Saturday’s dramatic Leinster junior final victory, the Seatown hero touched upon that, of how it made him return to playing for the county’s oldest club.
He stood with a glint in his eye, in an empty stadium, grown men singing in its bowels. Little could he have known what was to lie ahead just under two years ago.
Prior to throw-in at a sodden Gaelic Grounds, there was a minute’s silence for several deceased Gaels, among them Michael McCabe, who passed away just a week earlier. Young Irelands captain Cian Ó Náraigh spoke of the 1979 senior championship winner as members stood bleeding tears on the bottom step of the stand, cup in hand.
Young Irelands, Leinster champions https://t.co/EV6xexxfVK— Caoimhín Reilly (@CaoimhinReilly) December 8, 2018
Manager Adrian O’Donoghue said he “found God” with 15 minutes to go and his team five points down. The manner of their comeback was divine-like, capped by Sheekey’s 20-yard rocket to the roof of the net. A miracle up there with anything witnessed in Lourdes.
Derek Maguire, Irelands’ relentless dynamo, gave him the pass and was roaring “point, point” as Sheekey headed for the target, but he thought ‘more, more’. Time stood still. Right-footed. Such a goal. The roar. The green and black. O’Donoghue jumping on Packie Maguire. Fate. Destiny. Emotion.
“If that one moment doesn’t signify our year then nothing does,” said treble-winning manager O’Donoghue
“I’m a great believer in mental strength and in people with a positive attitude, playing with honesty and hard work. That gets you a long way and today I think that was a culmination of their hard work, effort and honesty.
“The dream, our dream was to win the Leinster Championship and we threw everything at it.”
Had their attempts at a 20th consecutive victory fallen short, Young Irelands could hardly have complained given they played a starring role in their own near-demise.
Against the elements, they tried to be too clever in defence, leading to a rare Ciarán Murray handling error. David Egan subsequently found a pathway to goal, shooting through the legs of Fergal Sheekey.
Yet Irelands rallied and were level by half-time, Jordan O’Donoghue and Dermot Mone producing score-after-score from frees, 0-7 to 1-4.
It was a tight affair field-over, so tetchy that several instances of ‘handbags’ provided an enthralling, if unmannerly, subplot. Although it turned nasty when a coming together of O’Donoghue and marker William Molloy caused a flare-up as the sides left the field.
Physically imposing, the Offaly natives continued to set the tone early in the second period, without pulling away. Dean Maguire, who enjoyed his best game of the year, was a major relief outlet up front, though supply became scarce in Brigids’ best spell, in which they landed what seemed a decisive pair of jabs.
A free from their danger man, Egan, preceded another defensive mistake, Cian O’Donoghue and Derek Maguire the guilty parties, as Daniel Molloy was left with the not-so-arduous task of converting a second goal.
“We were making bad decisions,” O’Donoghue, whose anguish was visible during the game, added.
“But if this was last year we would have been beaten by 15 points.”
His personnel alterations had the desired effect, Aaron Rogers coming in to provide a steadying influence to an unusually porous defence which hadn’t conceded a three-pointer in 17 games previous.
Mone brought them to within two, finishing expertly to the net after an inspirational, jinking run by the younger of the Maguire brothers, Dean.
Though, in another disastrous episode, Seán McLoughlin, who exemplified commitment, was dismissed on a second yellow, leaving Young Irelands a player light for the closing 13 minutes.
But Brigid’s couldn’t capitalise and failed to score after the 37th minute, a spell which included more than five minutes of injury time.
O’Donoghue and the Maguires shot off target. It was slipping away, but a turnover in midfield saw Derek Maguire rampage forward, delivering to Sheekey... Brigid’s ’keeper Liam Fox is still looking for the flight of his shot. Kevin Keelan sealed it a moment later with a spectacular point.
Luck is the easy diagnosis, but Irelands have prevailed too often this year for that to be the sole contributory factor.
“It’s a dream come true up to this point, but it’s a vision that we had at the beginning of the year and we achieved that through hard work, determination and positivity.
“I’m incredibly proud of the people; I’m incredibly proud of my club; incredibly proud of my sons; incredibly proud of my players. I can’t put it into words. It’s memories and occasions like this that we do this for.
“Hopefully, it’s not the end and we’ll have an All-Ireland in February.”
And so ends an onfield year that few could have wished for, and a fairytale finish which may have been sent from above. Young Irelands Boys Hurrah, indeed.
Dundalk Young Irelands: Fergal Sheekey; Stephen Bellew, Ciarán Murray, Stephen Bellew; Peter Nixon, Derek Maguire (0-1), Cian Ó Náraigh; Seán McLoughlin, Derek Rogers; Dermot Mone (1-3, 0-3 frees), Dean Maguire (0-2), Johnny Lynch; Jordan O’Donoghue (0-3, frees), Mark Savage, Cian O’Donoghue
Subs: Aidan Sheekey (1-0) for Rogers (39), Aaron Rogers for Bellew (39), Kevin Keelan (0-1) for Cian O’Donoghue (39), Aaron Murray for Lynch (47), Oisín McCabe for Nixon (50), Shadam Azeeze for Ó Náraigh (58)
St. Brigid’s: Liam Fox; Ger Hannon, Alan Kennedy, Seán Óg Cocoman; Liam Cocoman, Shay Hannon, Willie Molloy; Rob Hoey, Daniel Molloy (1-0); Thomas Mooney, Bob Troy, Cian Donohoe; David Egan (1-4, 0-3 frees), Alan Scally, Eunan Lawlor (0-1)
Subs: Anthony Foy for Kennedy (14, BC), Eddie Grogan (0-2) for Hannon (HT), Joey Quinn for Hoey (HT), David Boland for Molloy (53)
Referee: Patrick Coyle (Meath)