A heroic Clonbullogue have won the Leinster JFC title
ABSOLUTELY no one could have scripted the way Clonbullogue brought their fairytale year into dreamland when they won the 2021 Leinster Junior Football Championship title in Newbridge on Saturday afternoon.
2021 Leinster Club Junior Football Championship final
A truly heroic performance saw the Offaly intermediate champions edge out Kilcullen in a pulsating game. It was a final full to the brim with drama. There was an abundance of talking points as Clonbullogue scored more goals than points, registering three goals in the first half and only getting their first point in the 40th minute.
Clonbullogue's attack had captured most of the limelight as they enjoyed a sensational 2021, winning the Offaly IFC for the first time. Their attacking play in the latter stages of the Offaly campaign and throughout Leinster just took the breath away but on this occasion, they owed a debt of eternal gratitude to a quite brilliant defence.
The attack also did what they had to do on a day when things didn't always run smoothly for them and they had to show their character. It was a quite extraordinary showdown and it was football at its most raw, its most humane.
Clonbullogue came up against very decent opposition in the Kildare side. Kilcullen had a young team and they asked the most serious of questions of them. On a different day, Kilcullen's performance would have been enough to win. Any team that only manages three points really should not win but five goals trumped everything else and it is a measure of the threat that Clonbullogue possessed to note that this could very easily have been seven, if not eight goals – Ruari O'Neill and Shane O'Brien had great chances in the first half and Keith O'Neill was a hair's breath from getting in for one at the start of the second half.
Clonbullogue made an absolutely blistering start to the game with brothers Ruari and Keith O'Neill firing home sensational goals in the third and fifth minute. The goals were similar in their execution with the O'Neill's racing through the cover and driving low shots to the net.
It was some start and a shell shocked Kilcullen didn't know what hit them. Clonbullogue had a chance to blow them out of the water but five wides in the next few minutes kept their opponents alive. Clonbullogue almost got a third goal in the 16th minute when a piledriver from Ruari O'Neill was tipped onto the crossbar by Cormac Barker. Ruari O'Neill had a brilliant first half and his departure early in the second half – he had shipped a heavy hit just before the interval – was a real blow to Clonbullogue.
Their third goal duly arrived two minutes later when Sean Foran finished afteer a Ruari O'Neill pass to put Clonbullogue 3-0 to 0-1 to the good. A Jake Murphy goal gave Kilcullen a lifeline and they added three points as Clonbullogue continued to spurn point chances – they had seven first half wides. Shane O'Brien missed a good goal chance just before the interval as he blazed across the face of goal and a 3-0 to 1-4 interval lead meant that there was still loads to do for the winners.
The second half was as exciting and engrossing as it comes. Kilcullen threw the kitchen sink at Clonbullogue and at different stages, looked like they would win. Clonbullogue lived on their wits at tims and it could very easily have gone wrong. Their all important fourth goal from Joe Foran with three minutes left looked to be a square ball. Before that sub James Byrne had been sent off for as second yellow card in the 54th minute and just after that goal, referee Keith O'Brien initially awarded a penalty after a foul by Darragh Hickey – he rightly changed his mind, ruling that the foul was outside the big square but it was still one of a number of breaks that favoured Clonbullogue.
Kilcullen were snapping at Clonbullogue's heels until near the end. Jamie Guing's free was Clonbullogue's first point from play in the 40th minute and gave them a 3-1 to 1-6 lead. Sean Foran and Keith O'Neill got points to make it 3-3 to 1-6 inside the last five minutes. Clobullogue's backs were against the wall for the next ten minutes. Mistakes crept into their game, ball was spilt and Kilcullen piled on the pressure.
They got two points to reduce it to just a point, 1-8 to 3-3 with seven minutes left. Byrne's red card further enhanced their prospects – Byrne, whose physicality had unsettled Kilcullen, got a second yellow with a non malicious but careless hit after making a brilliant mark from a kickout but hurrying his kick and then coming into contact with his opponent.
Clonbullogue were tired, out on their feet, but their fourth goal broke Kilcullen's hearts – Jamie Guing won a good mark and when his kick dropped short, Joe Foran punched it into the net, though he did seem to be in the square. The referee consulted with his umpires and it stood much to Clonbullogue's relief.
Kilcullen's best player Darren Barker got a free and then followed up with another one after the penalty call was overturned. That left just two points in it one again and Clonbullogue were again on their wits but Jamie Guing's 61st minute goal when he raced soccer style onto a breaking ball and slotted it into the net finally broke Kilcullen.
It was a sensational end to a sensational game. Clonbullogue had heroes all over the field. Ian Curry brilliantly marshalled a super defence where Jamie Quinn and Eddie Bennnett also starred. Peter Bennett was superb at midfield. He may have tired a bit late on when he made a couple of mistakes but he had a serious game, inspiring all with his work ethic and so honest in everything he did. Jack McEvoy also did a lot of productive work beside him.
The O'Neill's were the main men up front. Ruari terrorised Kilcullen in the first half and they may have won more comfortably if he was on the field in the second half. Keith's performance is worthy of absolute admiration. He was tightly marked, often double teamed, but he never got frustrated, kept doing the right thing and got on a lot of ball. He won a lot of very hard ball, showed great pace and intelligence and Clonbullogue would not have won without him.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Ian Curry (Clonbullogue): There is a strong case to be made for Keith O'Neill and there is no doubt that he is Clonbullogue's single most important player. 1-1 was a telling return in a game where he was so tightly marked and those two scores oozed quality. The choice, however, is Ian Curry. The Clonbullogue defence were often under considerable pressure but they worked like dogs. Every man did his bit and Curry led the line superbly, cutting out a lot of ball, displaying fine physicality and he was so composed and solid.
Clonbullogue: Sean Foran, Keith O'Neill and Jamie Guing (1f) 1-1 each, Ruari O'Neill and Joe Foran 1-0 each.
Kilcullen: Darren Barker 0-6 (4f), Dave Marshall 0-3, Jake Murphy 1-0, Dan Coughlan 0-1.
CLONBULLOGUE: Cian Corcoran; David Dempsey, Jamie Quinn, Shane Furey; Eddie Bennett, Ian Curry, Thomas Morrissey; Jack McEvoy, Peter Bennett; Sean Foran, Keith O'Neill, Shane O'Brien; Jamie Guing, Daryl Quinn, Ruari O'Neill. Subs – Eoin McEvoy for Dempsey (28m), Joe Foran for Ruari O'Neill (35m), Darragh Hickey for Daryl Quinn (53m).
KILCULLEN: Cormac Barker; Cian Creaton, Fran Shortt, Jack Dooley; Tim Carey, Graham Lavin, Thomas Hickey; Sean Knight, Darren Barker; Paul Bell, Dan Coughlan, Ciaran Melinn; Ciaran O'Brien, Dave Marshall, Jake Murphy. Subs – Jamie Lambe for Murphy (46m), Sean McMahon for Marshall (50m), Jamie Buckley for Hickey (58m), Seamus Pembroke for Bell (60m).
Referee – Keith O'Brien.
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