Jimmies experience heaven on earth
Magical scenes as Ramsgrange stars master Martin's on their greatest day
Everybody loves a sporting fairytale, and one of the finest witnessed around these parts in a long, long time unfolded before 3,012 people in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday when a superb St. James' team strode confidently and majestically to a first-ever Tom Doyle Supplies Senior football championship crown.
St. James' 0-11 St. Martin's 1-6
There's nothing quite like those precious few minutes after a breakthrough victory when the celebrations kick in, and it was a special sight to behold as what seemed like the entire parish of Ramsgrange swarmed on to the field in the blink of an eye to acclaim their heroes.
St. Martin's experienced similar scenes just two years ago and still have a number of major titles to aim for over the coming weeks, but on this occasion they had to look on with regret as St. James' first appearance in a Senior final ended in glory.
And make no mistake about it, this was a thoroughly-deserved victory. Their nervy start was to be expected in a game of this magnitude, but it was significant that just two points were conceded before the underdogs slowly but surely found their feet.
And with the influence of powerful midfielder Matthew O'Hanlon growing with every passing minute, the patient approach work of St. James' was rewarded as they managed to edge clear by the break (0-5 to 0-4) despite playing into the wind.
Lesser teams would have allowed the disappointment of conceding a quick penalty goal on the re-start to linger, but these St. James' men are made of sterner stuff. Indeed, they went on to hold St. Martin's scoreless for an incredible 24 minutes and, though the 2013 champions did draw level, St. James' weren't going to be denied as late points from Brian Molloy and Kevin O'Grady ensured that players, mentors and supporters alike got to experience a little bit of heaven on earth just before 5.30 p.m. on Saturday.
Perhaps their victory over the same opponents in the Intermediate final of 2002 was a historical omen, but then again St. Martin's had romped to the title when the clubs met in the Junior 'B' decider just a few weeks ago. Of far more relevance to the outcome was the double blow endured by the men in maroon when regular goalkeeper Tomás Hayes and man-marker Jack O'Connor were ruled out with a broken wrist and broken thumb respectively.
Centre-forward Paudie Kelly was also suspended, along with Emmet Dunning of St. James', and it was a huge test of character for teenage Martin's netminder Nicky Greene who made his Senior debut in a county final and couldn't be faulted in any way.
The losers struck twelve wides to a mere three from the new champions, while poor shot selection was also evident in the number of tame kicks that fell short into the arms of St. James' goalkeeper John Ryan, who made his grandfather, Paddy Wickham, a very proud man.
The confidence St. James' brought to the biggest game of their lives was evident in the decision of excellent captain, Brendan Doyle, to play against the wind after winning the toss. And while Ciarán Redmond needed just 35 seconds to get their rivals off the mark, the first ten minutes featured more chances missed than put away by the dominant Martin's.
Ciarán Lyng did double their lead after a good delivery into space by Joe O'Connor, but five wides were also chalked up at a stage when St. James' were finding their feet and vulnerable. Ciarán Redmond should have done better from two frees, while one half chance for a goal was spurned after a five-man movement when the last pass wasn't controlled and the ball trickled tamely over the endline.
St. James' will no doubt look back on this period of the game with some relief as they were definitely under the cosh, but the confidence instilled by Dublin-born mentor John Nolan and the O'Hanlon brothers, John and Luke, started to emerge after Matthew O'Hanlon set up Adam Parle for their first score in the twelfth minute.
Sixty seconds later they were level, with a lengthy move started when O'Hanlon caught the kick-out and ended by a confident high kick by Brian Molloy. Both sides struggled to add to their tallies, with O'Hanlon pulling a free wide in between two Ciarán Lyng efforts which dropped short.
However, it's the natural instinct of a forward of Lyng's calibre to keep shooting regardless, and his persistence was rewarded when he restored the Martin's lead in the 22nd minute after a pass from Jake Firman who got through a lot of solid work throughout (0-3 to 0-2).
There was no denying the dominant midfield pairing overall, with Matthew O'Hanlon and Brendan Doyle in regal form for the Jimmies. And it was no surprise when the former created and finished the equaliser, winning a free which he converted from just outside the 45-metre line.
St. James' edged in front for the first time when Kevin O'Grady tapped over a free made easier by dissent after a clear foul on Adam Parle who continued the marvellous form which yielded 3-3 from play in the two semi-final outings.
Jamie Carty kicked the fourth point attempt from St. Martin's short after three in total before by Lyng, and St. James' went on to extend their lead with a super score. Parle was again fouled by Willie Devereux in the right corner, and Kevin O'Grady curled over a beauty with his left peg (0-5 to 0-3).
St. Martin's did manage to pull back a point before the break though, with John Ryan tipping Ryan Murphy's effort over as Lyng lurked in search of a lucky break.
And they hit the front again with a blistering start to the second-half as St. James' were caught napping from the throw-in. Joe O'Connor latched on to the break and bore a hole through the centre of the defence before popping the ball over Graeme Molloy to centre-forward Jamie Carty.
The tall attacker was about to pull the trigger when he was dragged back by Molloy who collected a yellow card, and Ciarán Lyng dispatched the spot kick high to the net past the left hand of John Ryan (1-4 to 0-5).
Then, and only then, did we witness the real worth of this St. James' team as they simply re-grouped and didn't let this cheap concession knock them off stride. A late challenge on Adam Parle enabled Kevin O'Grady to make it a one-point game again before Ciarán Lyng had an uncharacteristic miss from a free.
Ciarán Redmond followed up with two more wides from play, and it was clear that the close-marking St. James' defenders were getting to their opponents. Graeme Molloy did well to intercept an attempted handpass close to goal by Ryan Murphy to Jamie Carty, and the siege was lifted with the leveller in the 41st minute.
Daithí Hayes had been moved on to the menacing Adam Parle but couldn't stop him kicking a sweet point from the right corner, and a jersey tug on Shane Murphy left O'Grady with the task of pushing the Ross District side ahead again by 0-8 to 1-4 in the 43rd minute.
Jamie Carty screwed a kick wide at the other end before Jake Firman popped a pass to substitute Patrick O'Connor, just seven minutes on the field, but John Ryan advanced smartly to smother his kick and it ended up going wide after a ricochet.
That was another huge moment in the game, and it drew a powerful response from St. James'. The clever and accurate passing of Brendan Doyle was one of the main features all afternoon, and when he lofted a kick into the left corner in the 46th minute, Graeme Molloy galloped forward and struck a beauty between the posts (0-9 to 1-4).
Molloy made a timely block on a Jamie Carty kick as two of the Barron brothers, Paul and Jason, stayed close to Ciarán Lyng, and the exemplary defending of the leaders continued as another Patrick O'Connor shot was bravely smothered by Robbie Barron who was outstanding in my view. Doing the simple things well rarely gets a defender notice, but Barron should take a bow for the consistency of his approach, not just on Saturday but throughout the campaign.
The St. James' followers dared to dream as the game moved into the last five minutes of normal time, and indeed their vocal backing was immense throughout. St. Martin's weren't going to surrender easily though, and they finally ended that long barren period when Ciarán Lyng converted a free from the right corner after a foul on Daithí Waters by Paul Barron (0-9 to 1-5).
Kevin O'Grady kicked the last of the three St. James' wides before Jake Firman fed Lyng who added the equaliser in the 58th minute, and now we had a serious finish on our hands.
And when it was needed most, St. James' stood up and were counted. Matthew O'Hanlon played a free to Kevin O'Grady on the left, and when two defenders closed in he went infield to Brian Molloy who hung another trademark high kick into the clouds. It seemed to take an eternity to come down, and many breaths were no doubt held until it landed on the top of Nicky Greene's net to edge St. James' in front (0-10 to 1-6).
Fifteen seconds of normal time remained when substitute Liam Murphy made an immediate impact, feeding Kevin O'Grady for a point that nearly raised the roof off the stand.
Daithí Waters' high, hopeful kick to the square was cleared by Graeme Molloy before Edward O'Byrne got on the end of a four-man handpassing move, only to grab the hand of the defender who came in to tackle and concede a free.
Forty seconds later St. James' were safe, and the greatest day in the club's 88-year history had come to pass.
St. James': John Ryan; Greg Doyle, Jason Barron, Paul Barron; Robbie Barron, Graeme Molloy (0-1), David Doyle; Brendan Doyle (capt.), Matthew O'Hanlon (0-1 free); Donal Barron, Kevin O'Grady (0-5, 4 frees), Daniel Keating; Shane Murphy, Adam Parle (0-2), Brian Molloy (0-2). Subs. - Darragh Lyons for D. Barron (56), Liam Murphy for Keating (59), Mark Molloy for S. Murphy (60+2), also Noel Holohan, Enda Crosbie, Emmet Dunning, Stuart Dunning, Brian Kennedy, William Murphy, Alan Walsh, Andrew Walsh, Tomás Walsh.
St. Martin's: Nicky Greene; Daithí Hayes, Willie Devereux (capt.), Mark Maloney; Aaron Maddock, Harry O'Connor, Joe O'Connor; Daithí Waters, Stephen Murphy; Rory O'Connor, Jamie Carty, Jake Firman; Ciarán Redmond (0-1), Ciarán Lyng (1-4, 1-0 pen., 0-1 free), Ryan Murphy (0-1). Subs. - Patrick O'Connor for R. Murphy (40), Joe Coleman for Redmond (47), Edward O'Byrne for R. O'Connor (54), also Tomás Hayes, Jack O'Connor, Paudie Kelly, Conor Firman, Pádraig Morrissey, Donal Kelly, Tony Kelly, Darren Codd, Diarmuid Byrne, Barry O'Connor.
Referee: David Jenkins (Gusserane).