NET GAINS St Gerald’s Matthew English (left) scores a goal against St Muredach’s in last Wednesday’s Mayo Post-Primary Schools Senior ‘A’ Championship (Flanagan Cup) Final at the NUI Galway Connacht GAA Air Dome. Pic: John Corless
St Gerald’s 4-14
St Muredach’s 0-10
“THIS is normal life. Lads going off on a bus playing a game of football – smiling, loving the craic, loving the journey they’re on, competing at the top level and making memories. This is such an important part of school life for so many. Some lads are different men on the football field than in class. They express themselves in a different way and it’s great to see it.”
The words of victorious St Gerald’s coach Tom Neachtain after Wednesday’s Flanagan Cup final in Bekan perfectly summed up the joy of schools’ football on Christmas week. His team had just copper-fastened their standing as the best team in the county and the Tourmakeady man was very proud of the boys in blue.
Gerald’s were dominant from first whistle to last and won as they pleased, but Muredach’s lacked nothing in effort or application — they were just beaten by the better team.
The Ballina boys were very unlucky to lose their best player, Brendan Collins, to a black card during the first half and during the 13 minutes he was on the sideline his team conceded 2-3. That made a difficult task almost impossible and they never recovered.
The Castlebar team were solid at the back and devastating in attack at times, but Neachtain and his management colleagues - Daniel Forde and Martin Costello - will want their team to transition the ball from back to front much faster on a consistent basis. When they got this aspect of play right, Gerald’s were almost unstoppable.
Darragh Reilly was powerful and positive at centre-half-forward and Matthew English in his first game after a long injury lay-off was impressive on the edge of the square. Pierce Deane’s direct play was also drawing frees which the lethal Ben McHale was kicking for fun.
Mark Cunningham’s unorthodox style was lighting up The Dome as John Kennedy, Bob Tuohy and Ryan Fadden mopped up ball around the middle.
In truth, the result was decided in a blistering 45-second blitz at the start of the second quarter. Gerald’s were 0-5 to 0-1 clear at the first water-break but within moments they were out of sight.
First, English crashed home a classy goal and moments later, Reilly planted a shot in the bottom corner. Those goals sealed the deal for the West Mayo boys and they never looked back.
The gap had stretched to 14 at the break, 2-10 to 0-2, with goalkeeper Bryan O’Flaherty coming forward to kick a free from distance, as central defenders Tiernan Beirne and Sean Morahan imposed their own lockdown on the Moyside attackers.
The second period was better for Muredach’s.
Their attitude was excellent and with Collins outstanding at the back they looked to make a fight of it. Wing-back Rossa Sloyan was particularly impressive going forward and points arrived from the accurate Daniel Winters and Connor Hanahoe.
However, Gerald’s never took the foot off the throttle as wingers Gavyn McManamon and Davitt Neary continually drove forward while Michael Waldron and Liam Coyne minded the house.
The depth in the Gerald’s squad became obvious during the final quarter as the arrival of subs didn’t weaken their performance and scores continued to flow.
Mark Cunningham was producing his own type of magic in attack, and his final pass released McHale to dance through for a well-taken goal after 54 minutes.
Three minutes later, he repeated the trick and Deane finished to the net before Conor Mulroy landed a fine point to bring the curtain down on a classy display from the boys in blue.
“We’re very proud of the lads and delighted with the way they’re moving at this stage,” admitted Tom Neachtain. “We’re halfway through the season now and look forward to the championship in January which will be a new and exciting challenge for everyone.”
The Christmas holidays began with a bang for the St Gerald’s lads.
B O’Flaherty (0-2, 1f, 1 ’45); M Waldron, T Beirne, L Coyne; D Neary, S Morahan (0-1), G McManamon; B Tuohy, R Fadden (0-2); M Cunningham, D Reilly (1-0), J Kennedy; B McHale (1-6, 6fs), M English (1-0), P Deane (1-1,1f).
Subs used: S Burns for English, D O’Neill for McManamon, D Grealis for McHale, C Mulroy (0-1) for Kennedy, C Heneghan for Beirne, C Golden for Waldron.
A Reilly; B Collins, O Farrell, A McCann; N Treacy, S Neary, R Sloyan (0-1); S Callinan, J Crean; D Winters (0-4, 3f); L Hackett (0-1), J Harrington; L Feeney, E Convey, H Regan.
Subs used: C Kelly for McCann; C Hanahoe (0-4, 3fs) for Hackett, T Tighe for Harrington; O Cloonan for Feeney; D Neary for Convey.
Referee: J Walker (Cill Chomain)