Antony Shelley Reviews the County Under-21 Football Final

Lakeside Pitch and Putt in Templemore is the best pitch and putt course in the country but it has one serious flaw………..There is a beautiful little bench there that nobody can see!!

Why they chose to hide it is a mystery. Inscribed on the bench is a quote from the Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy, which reads “in those streets and fields where you grow up, there you will live and there you will die”.

If Cavafy had been a member of the GAA he would have extended that line to “in those streets, fields and Gaa clubs, where you grow up, there you will live, play and die”. Of course, the GAA wasn’t big in Greece in the early 1900’s so we can give him a pass on this occasion.

Representing the streets and fields where you grew up is what the Gaa is all about. Your best against their best, no quarter given or indeed asked and all for what Charles J Kickham described in Knocknagow as “the pride of the parish”.

The pride of two parishes was at stake last Saturday afternoon when the Gaa clubs of JK Brackens and Moyle Rovers met in the 2018 County U21 Football Final. This was the second meeting in as many years of these two teams and familiarity breeds respect. At the start of the year, the dogs on the street and indeed the cats in the alleys knew that these two were destined to meet in this year’s decider.

Talking to the prophets of doom during the week, one could be forgiven for thinking that this JK Brackens team faced the same impossible task as Sisyphus, the King who was condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down when it reached the summit. However, the more informed aficionados knew that there wouldn’t be more than a kick of a ball between these sides and even close relatives of Old O’Moore were refusing to predict the outcome.

If the infamous little man from Mars had attended JK Brackens games prior to Saturday’s final, he would have thought that they were being coached by William Tell as their tally of fifteen goals and 56 points in just four games is surely some sort of record. But this Brackens team are not just show ponies. Their defensive stats are every bit as impressive with a mere one goal and 21 points conceded all year. At the final whistle on Saturday, the words of my especial hero and former coach, Benny Keating, came to mind…”backs win games, forwards just decide by how much”. Not for the first time, Benny’s words proved to be spot on.

It is a badly kept secret that this JK Brackens team were the best prepared and best drilled team to ever set foot inside or outside of Páirc Shíleáin. Their management team of Paudie Bourke, Kevin Mulryan, Padraic Keely and Peter Maher had left no pebble unturned in their quest for glory. Two years ago these four boys set out on a journey to win a County U21 Final. To the prophets of doom it seemed an unrealistic goal. In his poem, Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge tells of a world that could not exist in reality. Coleridge was off his head on opium when he wrote Kubla Khan and yet it seemed that the boys dream of county final success was more “measureless to man” than the caverns in Xanadu of Coleridge’s drug fuelled dreams.

And so via, hidden benches, Greek poets, Swiss folk heroes and non-existent worlds, I took my place behind the goal in the wonderful surroundings of Golden Kilfeacle GAA Club.

Moyle Rovers made the brighter start but from the first minute it was clear that they were coming up against a JK Brackens defence that was not in the mood to give presents. A few early wides may have had Moyle Rovers fans thinking that their forwards were auditioning for parts in a remake of The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight but in reality the wides were a direct result of the pressure that was constantly put on the kicker by JK Brackens defenders who it seems view any score against them as a reflection on their manhood.

It was clear from early on that this was going to be a fascinating battle. David O’Shea’s shoulder on Tadgh Fitzgerald set the tone and sent the message to Moyle Rovers that the “Thou Shall Not Pass” sign was up for the day and wasn’t coming down. The opening line from Stephen Crane’s short story The Open Boat came to mind. Both teams were rowing so hard that “none of them knew the colour of the sky”. A Luke Delahunty point was quickly cancelled out by the impressive Lyndon Fairbrother before Delahunty and Cadell swapped points. As we approached the tea break at the end of Act 1, Cathal McKeown found himself one on one with Radek Nathkaneicz but his powerful shot was wonderfully turned around the post by the Brackens keeper. On a day when any goal was going to be as valuable as Amazon shares, Nathkaneicz’s save would prove to be the turning point. A Jack Harney point saw Rovers go in three points to two up at half time.

The half-time break brought blessed relief for both players and supporters. Despite their lead, one felt that Moyle Rovers would have the most to do in the second half. Brackens would have the wind which was breathing diagonally towards the dressing room goal, which Michael Ormond, ex-Templemore man and current Golden Kilfeacle Chairman, informed me is considered the scoring goal.

“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” is a line from an old Roman poem which translates as “it is fitting and glorious to die for your country”. Once the referee rang the bell to start the second half yesterday, fifteen JK Brackens men came out swinging and were prepared to die for their parish.

Paddy Cadell had the sides level within 34 seconds of the restart. What a player Cadell is! When the chips are down, time and time again, Cadell provides the salt and vinegar.

Tadgh Fitzgerald put Rovers back in front after three minutes but from the kick-out Jordan Maloney pulled a ball from a low flying cloud and that catch set the Templemore boys up to dominate possession for the next fifteen minutes. Moyle Rovers had wasted manna in the first half but Brackens weren’t going to let the crumbs from Heaven go to waste. A flowing move ended up with Andrew Ormond who slotted over a point with such ease one would be forgiven for thinking he was a direct descendant of Robin Hood.

Sensing something special was on, the half back line of Tom Murphy, Eanna McBride and Neil Quinlan started to bomb forward to overload the attack and one such overload saw the exceptionally talented and beautifully bred, Eanna McBride find Shane Doyle in a pocket of space in front of goal. Doyle’s shot brought a wonderful save from keeper Colm McKeown and when the rebound made its way back to Doyle logic dictated that he take his point. However, not for the first time during this championship, Shane cast logic to the wind and backed himself to score at the second attempt. A rocket of a shot rattled the net. All Heaven broke loose. A goal may only be worth three points in old money but its psychological value is immeasurable.

A few minutes later Andrew Ormond did what Andrew Ormond does and slotted over another point. Brackens had scored 1-02 without reply in 15 minutes of dominance and if they could continue to defend as they had up to this point, then the Shelly Cup would be making its way home to Templemore for the first time.

To their eternal credit, Moyle Rovers put the body blows behind them and played with increased enterprise. Luke Fogarty and two Riain Quigley frees narrowed the gap to a point but in a dramatic and hectic last 5 minutes, the full back line of Conor Sheedy, Michael Egan and seventeen year old Man of the Match Jack Prout, once again put their shoulder to the wheel, substituted style for substance and batted away anything that Moyle Rovers threw at them.

And so it ended. 1.05 to 0.07. JK Brackens were county U21 champions for the very first time. County final success at the top level has being few and far between for JK Brackens. 25 Mid Senior Football Titles but only two county senior titles. They were in 1925 when Bill Grant captained a senior football team to our first ever county title and in 1936 when Jack Maher did the same. 26 Mid Minor A Titles but our only county title at that grade came in 1973 when Don Ryan captained the team. Ten Mid U21 A titles and now on St Patrick’s Day 2018, Tom Murphy would add his name to the list of captains who have led their team to county success.

It was great to be present last Saturday to witness the scenes at the final whistle. I have never seen joy so unconfined. In his epic poem Lycidas, Milton told us that the hungry sheep looked up but were not fed. On Saturday in Golden, the hungry sheep that are the JK Brackens supporters looked up and were fed. In Knocknagow, Matt the Thrasher tried until it seemed his heart would give in and all for the honour of the parish. On Saturday, 15 JK Brackens men and substitute Nick Keane surpassed Matt’s effort in their quest to bring honour to their parish.

One has to spare a thought for Luke Patterson who missed the game through injury. There will be other days for Luke who had kept goal all through the Mid Championship campaign and indeed his performance in the Mid Final was vital in securing victory that night.

It was victory that many of us will never forget and also a day when you think of the great clubmen who are no longer with us but were surely looking down with pride from above. We have had good days in the past, we may have good days in the future but we’ll never have a better day than we had on 17th March 2018.

Team: Radek Natkaneicz, Conor Sheedy, Michael Egan, Jack Prout, Éanna McBride , Tom Murphy, Neil Quinlan, David O’Shea , Paddy Cadell , Jack Kennedy , Lyndon Fairbrother , Jordan Moloney , Shane Doyle , Andrew Ormond , Steven Quinlan .

Subs: Nick Keane for Steven Quinlan

Scorers – Shane Doyle (1.0),Paddy Cadell (0.2), Andrew Ormonde (0.2),Lyndon Fairbrother (0.1)