Minor qualities rise to surface as young Freeman comes of age
IN hurling there is no answer to sheer class.
It is the game of wristy flicks and feints that separate the artists from the artisans.
And mighty Mayo had it in abundance last Saturday against a well-drilled and physically powerful Tyrone side in the magnificent setting of Garrison on the shores of Lough Melvin.
This entertaining affair was leavened by light Autumn showers but it did not dampen the silken skills of 16 year-old Mayo wing-back Cathal Freeman who played with the class and cunning of a young Kilkenny cat, and then opened his shoulders to strike a magnificent point from 65 metres on the sideline.
It was real sorcery from the Irish youth soccer international and badly needed from Mayo’s point of view as this strike made it 1-9 to 1-8 in favour of Tyrone, ten minutes into the second-half.
And it was somehow fitting that this prodigy hails from Tooreen, the spiritual home of Mayo hurling, which produced the county’s greatest ever native stickman in Joe Henry.
But Mayo also had a deadly full-forward in Jason Swords (who has no hurling club at present) and two corner-forwards called Stephen Hoban from Ballyhaunis and another U-16 player called Kenny Feeney (Tooreen) who hit (0-8) of their total.
It was perhaps fitting that this scenic setting is on the cusp of Connacht as Mayo had supped sorrow in finals against Monaghan and Armagh on the same in 2004 and 2005.
So the yelps of victory could easily be heard in Leitrim which is only two decent pucks away to Lough Melvin.
Tyrone had the breeze in the opening half and led by 1-7 to 0-5 at the interval thanks to a well struck goal from their outstanding full-forward Brendan McLaughlin who hit the top of the net in an instant.
McLaughlin’ colleague Mark Raffety hit a few fine frees as midfelder Conor Gallagher drove his troops forward.
But sweeter and swifter striking Mayo always looked dangerous on the break and kept in touch via Swords and Eoin Madigan.
But the crucial score came when Swords took a pass from Hoban and clinically found the net in the 40th minute. And even though Tyrone battled bravely, it was Mayo who finished stronger with Hoban and substitute Jarlath Sweeeney garnering the crucial clinching points.
Ulster Council Uachtaran, Michael Greenan then presented the All-Ireland trophy to the winning captain, Michael Healy and congratulated both sides on a truly memorable match.
One of the handles came off the trophy in the excitement but Mayo won’t mind.
Their bright day had come.. after two famines on a pitch that was surely made for real hurlers like Freeman and McLaughlin.
Meanwhile a delighted Mayo hurling development officer Adrian Hession paid a glowing tribute to Mayo’s young heroes.
“This is our third year in succession playing an All-Ireland minor final in Garrison which is a magnificent venue by any standards. Armagh beat us and then Monaghan beat us so it was extra special to come through against a physically powerful Tyrone side.
“All of these lads were involved last year so this is a very special victory for them.
“And they also know a bit about winning as well as we have taken the All-Ireland U-16 C titles in 2004 and 2005 so we competed in the B section this year for the first time ever.
“This victory is a tribute to the tremendous work that has been put into Mayo hurling over the past number of years. We have some outstanding individuals like Cathal Freeman and Jason Swords but this was really a team effort.
“Tyrone led us for long periods after having the breeze in the opening half but we never panicked. There were a few wides but we came good when it counted.”
K Jordan; A Brennan, M Healy, P McDonagh; A P Barrett, A Freeman, C Freeman(0-1); C Monahan, G Nolan; D Gallagher, E Madigan (0-2), A Stenson; S Hoban(0-5, 2fs), J Swords (1-2), K Feeney (0-3). Subs used: J Sweeney (0-1) for A Stenson; U Urzal for A Brennan; D Jordan for A Freeman; J Ganley for M Healy.
P Maguire; R O’Neill, B Taggart, N Montague; C McCallan, C McDermott, P Corr; C Gallagher (0-1), J Connolly (0-2); M Kane (0-1), S McIver, M Rafferty (0-4, 4fs); P McMahon, B McLaughlin (1-1), P Devlin. Subs: S O’Hagan (0-2) for P Devlin; J Patton for P Corr; C Donaghy for C McCallan.
Referee: P Houlihan (Kildare)
Mayo’s Declan Gallagher gets his shot in despite the close attention of his Tyrone marker last Saturday. Pic: John McVitty