Tullamore captain Oisin Keenan-Martin receiving the cup from Offaly GAA chairman Michael Duignan and Philip O'Brien of sponsors, the Tullamore Court Hotel,
ON a day when they didn't fully fire on all cylinders, a quite magnificent defensive performance laid an unbreachable foundation for Tullamore as they retained their Offaly U-20 Football Championship title in Kilcormac's Faithful Fields on Tuesday evening.
Tullamore Court Hotel U-20 Football Championship final
Na Fianna 0-3
Tullamore weren't quite at their best and didn't need to be but they still turned in a very professional, very efficient performance against a Na Fianna side who gave it their all but never looked like pulling off an upset win.
With six likely starters – Corey White, Oisin Keenan-Martin, Harry Plunkett, John Furlong, Ciaran Egan and Luke Egan – in Sunday's Senior Football Championship final replay against Rhode, this Tullamore team couldn't be beaten. It wasn't their most free flowing performance of the year and didn't match the brilliance that was achieved in the 2020 final win over Durrow but that won't bother Tullamore in the slightest and they will be thrilled with another title.
Many of these players have come through a gruelling fixtures schedule in recent months and it was no surprise that they were not at maximum sharpness. Tullamore wanted to win this but they also had one eye on Sunday's final and they were content to do enough without fully emptying the tank.
It showed in a somewhat mixed display during which Tullamore had fairly uncertain patches but the final scoreline of 1-12 to 0-3 does accurately reflect the way this game went. Na Fianna worked their socks off, especially in the first quarter and they continued to battle hard throughout. It was disappointing to only manage three points but this was far from the landslide that many anticipated and for Na Fianna, it was as respectable a defeat as it could be for any side only kicking three points.
That was down to the excellence of the Tullamore defence. While Tullamore had a few marquee names in their ranks, the defence was collectively superb. Each man did his job to perfection and they were almost flawless in the way they went about their business. They were superbly marhsalled by centre half back Daire McDaid – a player who is showing great improvement and will surely play senior next year, if not this year – and full back Michael Feeney. Jay Sheerin was brilliant early on while Oisin Keenan-Martin stamped his class on proceedings as the evening developed. Special mention must also be made of Tullamore corner backs, Mark Bolton and Ben Heffernan – they were so steady in the way they did their primary defensive duty and in their usage of the ball as they never put a foot wrong.
Tullamore were aware that Na Fianna's best chance of victory lay with their county U-20 star Morgan Tynan. The Ballinagar man did well and got two of their three points but he was starved of possession for long periods as Tullamore quickly crowded him out any time the ball went in his zone.
John Furlong was magnificent for Tullamore at midfield, Harry Plunkett had a very productive evening beside him while Liam Dillane and Luke Egan were their best performers up front with Daniel Fox having very good moments.
Na Fianna were without a former county minor, the injured Adam Strong while another, David Carthy went off injured after just a few minutes. They couldn't afford those losses and while they wouldn;t have won with a full team, it certainly made life simpler for Tullamore. You had admire the way Na Fianna tried here. They knew going into the game that their victory chances were in the 20 to 25% region but they were so honest in the way they played and their heads never dropped once the game was out of reach. They kept trying to do the right thing but their big problems were that they couldn't cope with the brilliance of John Furlong at midfield and when they did get the ball forward, they could make no headway against that Tullamore defence – their defence did do very well to limit the damage that could have been inflicted with the volume of ball going into the Tullamore forwards
Points from Morgan Tynan and Mikey Buckley had the Killeigh parish outfit 0-2 to 0-1 ahead after six minutes but it went gradually downhill for them from here on. They only managed one further point and that came from Tynan fifteen minutes into the second half. Tullamore were unusually sloppy early on, not their usual clinical selves but it was also obvious from an early stage that they would win. Their lead was only 0-3 to 0-2 after fifteen minutes and they had kicked five poor wides by this stage – they weren't gilt edged chances but some of them were ones they would finish or use the ball better on a different day.
The champions improved in the second quarter and began to ask more serious questions of Na Fianna. Luke Egan should have got a goal just before the break when Mark Dillon sort of forced him into lofting the ball over but a 0-9 to 0-2 half time lead was more or less irretrievable for Na Fianna.
Tullamore certainly did not shoot the lights out in the second half, only adding 1-4 to their tally. It seemed that they were content to do just enough and that was understandable with a bigger game coming up at the weekend. The goal came from the hard working Ciaran Egan in the 46th minute when he got the ball into the net at the second attempt and Tullamore had the luxury of emptying their bench in the closing ten minutes and taking off some of the players who will play on Sunday.
Tullamore: Harry Plunkett (3f) and Luke Egan 0-3 each, Ciaran Egan 1-0, Jay Sheerin (1f) and Liam Dillane 0-2 each, John Furlong and Daniel Fox 0-1 each.
Na Fianna: Morgan Tynan 0-2, Mikey Buckley 0-1.
TULLAMORE: Corey White; Mark Bolton, Michael Feeney, Ben Heffernan; Oisin Keenan-Martin, Daire McDaid, Jay Sheerin; Harry Plunkett, John Furlong; Liam Dillane, Daniel Fox, Ciaran Egan; Josh Evans, Luke Egan, Ben Connolly. Subs – Luke Bourke for Plunkett (47m), Evan Fitzpatrick for Ciaran Egan (52m), Diarmuid Egan for Fox (55m), Adam Kearney for Furlon (56m), Fintan Hughes for Luke Egan (60m).
NA FIANNA: Mark Dillon; Diarmuid Finneran, Aaron Flanagan, David Carthy; Mikey Buckley, Ryan Strong, Geordi O'Meara; Glen Hassett, Ruari Dunne; David McElduff, Morgan Tynan, Jack Gorry; Jacob Beatty, Lee Mulpeter, Robbie Gallagher. Subs – Eamon Bolger for Carthy, inj. (6m), Mark Keeley for Beatty (46m), Diarmuid Walsh for O'Meara (47m), James Nolan for Mulpeter (54m).
Referee – Joey Deehan (Clara).
MAN OF THE MATCH
John Furlong (Tullamore): John Furlong was almost general like in the way he ran this game from midfield. He was brilliantly efficient in everything he did. He covered the hard yards, he put in hits and took them and he did the simple thing so well but also took on imaginative long passes – his ball into a goal chance for Daire McDaid, that was saved by Mark Dillon, just a couple of minutes before he went off was breathtaking.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
There was a lot more to this Tullamore win than John Furlong but he was involved in a second half moment that showed all that is so good about this team – and also the player. Half way during the second half, Furlong had his back turned as a team mate gave a pass to him and Na Fianna intercepted. Tullamore's win was assured at that stage as they led by 0-10 to 0-2 but Furlong didn't stand still, instead tracking the whole way back to his own 40 metre line, turning over the ball and launching them into another attack.
A good solid game by Joey Deehan. Both teams wanted to play football and it wasn't hard to referee but there was still plenty of physicality. He seemed to allow the advantage a second or two too long at one stage in the first half before giving Na Fianna a free but he was certainly not any sort of factor in the result. Morgan Tynan's yellow card could have been a case of mistaken identity with David McElduff who had put in a heavy challenge at the same time but Deehan took efforts to explain his decisions to players and that is always a good thing.
There is a lot of talk about the volume of games some of these Tullamore players have had to play but the real issue for them is what happens this golden generation now. The games schedule will be forgotten before the end of the year but Tullamore have an outstanding generation of young footballer at the moment. Their track record at retaining young talent is not always good and that is the real challenge for Tullamore.
It is always a pleasure to go to Faithful Fields for games and a good sized crowd enjoyed the evening's entertainment. There were loads of stewards, the pitch was in top condition and the floodlights were up to scratch.
That concludes the year for both these sides.
Wides: Tullamore – 10 (7 in first half); Na Fianna – 2 (0 in first half).
Yellow cards: Tullamore – 1 (Daniel Fox); Na Fianna – 2 (Ryan Strong and Morgan Tynan),
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