Crossabeg-Ballymurn make history
A sporting dream that took root with a group of callow young footballers eleven years ago reached its zenith in St. Patrick's Park, Enniscorthy, on Sunday when Crossabeg-Ballymurn completed a magnificent double of Greenstar Under-21 Premier championship titles.
Crossabeg-Ballymurn 3-7 Starlights 0-8
Hurling success last month was added to in considerable style as two goals in under two minutes during the third quarter proved beyond all doubt that their Christmas celebrations were set for an early start.
A Starlights side seeking the club's first title in the grade since 2002 had trailed by five points at half-time, and there was no way back after the margin was widened to eleven with those two killer blows. The only point scored from play by one of the losers' starting six forwards arrived in added time at the end of the 60 minutes, and that says it all about the dominance exerted by an outstanding Crossabeg-Ballymurn defence marshalled expertly by the Devereux brothers, Ronan and team captain Conor.
And with the third sibling, Paddy, absolutely lording it in the middle of the field, there was an ample supply of possession for the winners' forwards to make the most of. Just like their first cousin, Adam Nolan, on Friday, the trio starred at the end of a sad and difficult week for the family.
The victors' style of play was exemplary in the sticky underfoot conditions, and it was based on quick deliveries, great support off the shoulder, and keeping Starlights on the back foot at all times.
Back in 2004 when Crossabeg-Ballymurn entered an Under-10 football team in a tournament for the first time, the achievements since then would surely have exceeded their wildest dreams. And with only three of the team plus one substitute over-age for 2016, who's to say that this run of success with one of the best groups the club has ever produced won't continue?
On Sunday they became the first outfit in the history of the Under-21 championship to win the Premier title just one year after collecting the Roinn 1 crown. And they are only the fourth team to complete a Premier double, following in the footsteps of Kilmore/Rathangan in the inaugural year of 1964, Duffry Rovers/Marshalstown in 1979, and Rapparees-Starlights in 2002.
There may have been disappointment for the club a few months ago with defeat in the Intermediate hurling and Intermediate 'A' football finals, but these Under-21 successes highlight the character of their younger guns who have bounced back in such impressive fashion.
And with five more adult titles earned in the past five years - Junior 'B', Junior 'A' and Junior football, plus Junior and Intermediate 'A' hurling - Crossabeg-Ballymurn are fast developing into a serious force to be reckoned with in both codes.
Thankfully overhead conditions were good for Sunday's final as the rain stayed away on a misty afternoon, and it was calm enough to ensure that the wind didn't play a major part in proceedings.
And the relatively good weather was followed by another surprise as many spectators were caught out by the decision of referee John Tobin to begin the game ahead of schedule. The G.A.A. is notorious for its late starts, and this was the first time I can remember a final getting under way prior to the advertised throw-in time of 2 p.m.
Starlights captain Ryan Mahon won the toss and took up a position as an extra player around the middle third as his team defended the dressing-room end goal. County Minor Nick Doyle struck the first of their eight wides after 20 seconds, and the slick-moving Crossabeg-Ballymurn machine got into gear without delay as Bill Eviston split the posts with a high kick from a Cormac O'Rourke handpass inside two minutes.
Kevin Foley and Nick Doyle recovered from injuries in the early stages while Ryan Mahon brought the sides level from a free in between. Starlights never led though, and that was the only time the sides were equal on the scoreboard as the Enniscorthy lads failed to score from play in the first-half.
Conor Shovlin and Robert Byrne kicked the first two of Crossabeg-Ballymurn's six wides before Cormac O'Rourke restored their lead from a free in the ninth minute after Kevin Foley was booked for a foul on Cian Lambert.
And the first-time Premier football finalists were really in business two minutes later when Pádraig Foley pumped a quick free to Conor Devereux, and the captain split the defence with a handpass to full-forward Robert Byrne who drilled a low left-footed shot to the corner of Mick O'Toole's net (1-2 to 0-1).
Although Ryan Mahon pulled back a point from a free after a foul on Lenny Connolly, the next three scores were registered by the leaders. Goalscorer Byrne was impeded and O'Rourke tapped over his second free, before Conor Shovlin struck a superb point from a seemingly impossible angle in the right corner close to the endline.
A third O'Rourke free, after Dale Galway was booked for a tackle on Oisín Foley, made it 1-5 to 0-2 before Ryan Mahon narrowed the gap to five at the break with a 29th-minute score.
Starlights will rue their poor start to the second-half when three scoreable frees were squandered, with Mahon off target with two while Dayle Donohoe dropped one short in between.
It took Crossabeg-Ballymurn that short spell to get going on the resumption, but they really punished their rivals for that wasteful finishing in a devastating burst at the other end.
Their second goal arrived in the 35th minute, with Cormac O'Rourke and Andy Butler involved in the build-up before Conor Shovlin's shot was parried by Mick O'Toole, but the ball broke kindly for full-forward Robert Byrne who bundled it to the net from close range (2-5 to 0-3).
And it went from bad to worse for Starlights as they conceded a third after a superb flowing move just under two minutes later. Once again O'Rourke and Shovlin played key parts, with the latter's long handpass to the far post met by the palms of attacking wing-back Cian Lambert who knocked the ball in to extend Crossabeg-Ballymurn's lead to a commanding eleven points.
All they had to do from that point onwards was keep their composure and their shape in defence, and both targets were achieved although Starlights did outscore them by 0-5 to 0-2.
The town team's first point from play arrived when Liam Ryan set up midfield colleague Nick Doyle in the 39th minute, but their best goal chance was thwarted shortly afterwards when the slightest of vital touches diverted Dayle Donohoe's shot out for a fruitless '45.
Former county Minor Conor Farrell was introduced and reduced the lead to 3-5 to 0-5 at the start of the last quarter, but the response was inspiring as excellent midfielder Paddy Devereux collected the point his Trojan efforts deserved with a booming effort.
Cormac O'Rourke notched what proved to be the winners' last score from a free in the 48th minute, but they never looked in any danger thereafter although Starlights did try hard.
Kevin Foley was moved into the full-forward line and the maximum six substitutes were utilised in an effort to salvage something, but all they could muster were consolation points from Liam Ryan, Dayle Donohoe (free) and Darragh Pepper.
It was a big disappointment for Starlights to leave their best form behind them after ousting three-in-a-row seeking Shelmaliers in the semi-final. However, they simply had no answer to a group of young men on a mission whose sterling efforts ensured that Crossabeg-Ballymurn entered the history books with another notable achievement to the club's proud name.
Incredibly, ten of the players used had started with their Under-12 footballers when they won the lowest-grade Division 5 title nine years ago, while two more were unused substitutes. Less than a decade later they are the best Under-21 team in the county as the rags to riches story is completed.
Crossabeg-Ballymurn: Ben Turner; Oisín Foley, Ronan Devereux, Martin Redmond; Cian Lambert (1-0), Conor Devereux (capt.), Shane Whelan; Paddy Devereux (0-1), Pádraig Foley; Bill Eviston (0-1), Andy Butler, Conor Shovlin (0-1); Cormac O'Rourke (0-4 frees), Robert Byrne (2-0), Sam Kelly. Subs. - Conor Maddock for Whelan (48), also James White, David Kehoe, Conor Barlow, Conor Gormley, Evan Kinlough, Luke Redmond, Eoin O'Connor, Patrick O'Connor, Thomas Doyle.
Starlights: Mick O'Toole; Seán Cloherty, Daniel O'Brien, Ben Edwards; Dillon Redmond, Kevin Foley, Anthony Roche; Nick Doyle (0-1), Liam Ryan (0-1); Darragh Pepper (0-1), Patrick O'Shea, Dale Galway; Ryan Mahon (capt., 0-3 frees), Lenny Connolly, Dayle Donohoe (0-1 free). Subs. - Kevin Ryan for O'Shea (HT), Timmy Dwyer for Galway (40), Conor Farrell (0-1) for Edwards (41), Gary Murphy for Doyle (48), Ryan Hadley for O'Brien, inj. (56), Declan Courtney for Roche (58), also Dylan Cloke, Caolan Carty, Michael Farrell, Diarmuid Byrne, Ciarán Cronin, Niall McCrea, Ronan Kirwan.
Referee: John Tobin (Geraldine O'Hanrahans).