Craanford claim All-Ireland
Division 7 hurling title crowns memorable weekend
Hurling at under-age level in north Wexford is very much alive as the Craanford Fr. O'Regan's Under-14s celebrated this week with the All-Ireland Féile na nGael Division 7 Cup firmly in their hands.
It was achieved with victories in all group stage games, including against host club Na Fianna from Middletown, Co. Armagh (6-5 to 1-2), Castledawson, Derry (4-11 to 1-6) and Leitrim side Carrick (1-14 to 1-2).
Further wins followed in Craanford's semi-final clash with Claughaun from Limerick (3-6 to nil) and the final versus Armagh club Killeavy.
It needed a mighty battle in the final against a strong Killeavy team but the impressive hurlers from Craanford took every opportunity they created, despite conceding an early goal to the northern side.
Jack Fleming took the sliothar and buried it deep in the back of the net to level at half-time on a scoreline of 1-1 each.
The camogie girls were in full voice (more about them later), keeping the momentum alive chanting 'up Wexford' and of course the beloved 'we are blue, we are white', despite their defeat in the All-Ireland semi-final a few hours earlier.
It is sure and certain that their support, along with the 60-plus parents and friends, rallied the boys to hurl with huge pride and conviction throughout the match. The second-half got off to a blistering start as both teams wanted to capture this elusive title of All-Ireland Féile champions.
A goal from Killeavy almost broke hearts but true leadership was shown by the whole team to allow Eamonn Doran score a cracker of a goal minutes later.
Strong defence and accurate point-scoring despite consistent pressure from Killeavy allowed Craanford a breather of a few points from Joseph Conroy, Eamonn Doran and Cormac Doyle, but there was no time to let the guard down as there was no doubt the northern side wanted to claim victory as hosts of Féile 2015.
A long-range free saw Eamonn Doran send a high ball in. It slipped from the grasp of the full-back and into the net to put much-wanted daylight between the sides. Team mentors Ger Doran, Aidan Whitty, John Byrne and Siobhén Whitty guided the team to a memorable and unforgettable cup final victory on a final scoreline of 3-3 to 2-1.
A victory parade through the village in Craanford gave everyone an opportunity to cheer and celebrate when the teams arrived home late on Sunday evening. On a disappointing day for Wexford hurling, these young players proudly flew the purple and gold.
The Craanford camogie team picked up a win against Blarney from Cork in the group stages and advanced to the Division 1 Shield semi-final where they were eventually defeated by Mungret of Limerick.
Craanford (versus Killeavy): Dean Wadding; Kevin Hyland, Cormac Doyle, Ciarán McLoughlin; Jack Curran, Martin 'The Rock' Kavanagh, Aidan Kavanagh; Eamonn Doran, Brendan Tobin; Patrick Kavanagh, Pádraig Tobin, Joseph Conroy; Eoin Byrne, Jack Fleming, Aodhán Whitty. Subs. - Pat Doyle, James Doyle, Maurice Tobin, Brendan Greene, Cormac Redmond, Pádraic Donoghue.
Blackwater came up just one victory short of matching Craanford's winning exploits with a fantastic run all the way to the Division 4 final before being edged out by Luke O'Toole's from neighbouring Wicklow.
The Garden boys were an excellent side with big, strong players in every position. Blackwater took the game to them in the first-half and, after some brave defending, led at the interval by 1-1 to 0-1.
The Wexford lads turned and faced the breeze after the break and O'Toole's soon levelled matters early in the second-half. O'Toole's finished the stronger team and fired over a few late points to win by 1-5 to 1-1.
The Blackwater lads were physically shattered at the final whistle following a weekend full of intense hurling. Their large travelling crowd went out and congratulated the players for putting in such a massive effort all weekend, which was one to remember, largely thanks to Buncrana who were amazing hosts.
The Slaneysiders had marched to the final with an unbeaten record. St. Eunan's from Letterkenny, who went on to take the Shield home, were tough opening opponents that Blackwater beat by 2-5 to 1-4.
Tomás Murphy, Brian Og Curran and Josh Culleton were amongst the goals as Blackwater built a big lead against Waterford's Mount Sion in their second outing before running out 4-6 to 3-2 winners.
New-found friendships went out the window when it came to the final group game against Buncrana. The hosts started on the front foot and led by 2-1 to 1-2 at half-time, but a trio of second-half Tomás Murphy goals turned the game in the visitors' favour (4-5 to 3-2).
After topping the group Blackwater met Burt from Donegal in the quarters and performed excellently, winning by 4-8 to 1-3.
After hurling was finished for Saturday the team boarded the bus for Buncrana once more and the mentors, who had the weekend meticulously planned, sent some of their wounded bodies into Lough Swilly for a recovery session.
Clare side Ruan were the opponents in the last four. They were a very physical side but the game was close throughout and it ended tied (1-1 to 0-4). In extra-time the Blackwater lads showed great hunger and desire and got over the line by the narrowest of margins, 0-6 to 1-2, only to end a memorable weekend of brilliant hurling with a narrow loss in the final.
Rathgarogue-Cushinstown got the better of Blackwater in the Wexford final and their reward for that victory was a place in Division 2. The New Ross District boys had a few injuries going into the tournament and that certainly impacted on their ability to progress to the quarter-final of the trophy.
The loss of Donal Porter, their regular centre-back, was a particularly difficult one to overcome.
It wasn't all doom and gloom though, far from it, Billy O'Neill returned from injury and put in some stellar performances as a team leader with the likes of Niall Connolly, Aodhán Slattery and Adam Young also playing key roles. The tournament also produced a first goal for the club for Matt Rossiter.
The first game proved to be one of the most important. With the way things worked out, Rathgarogue-Cushinstown would have made the quarter-finals had they won but they came up just short, losing to St. Paul's by a point (1-6 to 1-5).
The match was a tight, hard-fought affair with a controversial moment. It appeared that a Rathgarogue-Cushinstown shot crossed the goal-line but the goal wasn't given, which proved catastophic to the Ballinaboola boys' hopes in the end.
It proved a tough hurdle to overcome and Kerry outfit Ballyduff were very strong. Boasting several members of their Kennedy Cup-winning soccer squad, they overpowered the Wexford lads in the second outing on a 4-5 to 2-4 scoreline.
Things improved for Rathgarogue-Cushinstown against their hosts, Lámh Dhearg of Belfast, with the visitors motoring away to a 5-6 to 1-2 win. That set them up for a Shield quarter-final against Brickey Rangers of Waterford on Saturday.
In a smashing game, the west Waterford side nicked it by a point, 4-5 to 4-4, leaving Rathgarogue-Cushinstown out of the tournament early, despite giving it so much.
Buffers Alley managed a few more wins in Division 6 of the camogie but ultimately their challenge ended at the penultimate hurdle. The Monamolin girls began their campaign with a 2-1 to 0-1 win over Ballerin from Derry.
Another solid victory (2-1 to nil) over Drumsurn of Derry was followed by a big win over Oran (6-3 to 0-1) from Roscommon.
Unfortunately, the journey ended at the semi-final stage with a two-point loss to Castlegar of Galway but it was a great experience for the young side nonetheless.