Rory steers Martin's to glory
Seven-point haul from ace forward secures county title
The sheer class of ace attacker Rory O'Connor propelled a strong St. Martin's side to a second Greenstar Under-21 hurling Premier championship title in three years at Innovate Wexford Park on Tuesday, maintaining their dominance over one-time under-age partners Glynn-Barntown in the process.
St. Martin's 1-16 Glynn-Barntown 1-8
With eight points dividing the sides at the finish, and O'Connor contributing a magnificent seven from play, it's fair to say that the county Minor was the essential difference between them as the competition drew to a conclusion just in time for the return to secondary school and third level.
Glynn-Barntown must be sick of the sight of that maroon jersey at this stage, having also lost the last two Wexford People Minor Premier finals to their near neighbours. And when you throw in the fact that the Killurin crew also went down to Rapparees in the 2013 Minor decider, plus to Crossabeg-Ballymurn in last year's Under-21 showpiece, it highlights just how tough it can be to get over the line and claim silverware.
In this instance there was no hard luck story, rather the simple fact that they had to bow to a superior team. St. Martin's were caught napping in last year's first round by Buffers Alley, and that is the beauty of knockout competition and the reason why the Under-21 grade is so popular with so many followers.
Otherwise, this win may well have marked a three-in-a-row but, either way, the supply lines are clearly working very well out Piercestown and Murrintown way.
Promising county footballer James Stafford was given the onerous task of keeping tabs on Rory O'Connor, who started at full-forward but drifted into various positions. And though he had the legs for him pace-wise, the silken stickwork of the Martin's number 15 meant he was able to create that extra bit of space for himself and punish Glynn-Barntown to the full.
It was by no means a one-man show though. For starters, the supply from outfield was of a generally high quality, and secondly, the other forwards had the good sense to leave plenty of room for their main marksman to do his stuff rather than crowding him out.
In reality, St. Martin's could, and should, have won by more. They also struck the grand total of 19 wides, compared to seven from Glynn-Barntown, while they conceded three times as many frees (15-5).
In fact, all bar one point of the winning total of 1-16 came from play, with captain Joe Coleman converting a '65 in the tenth minute.
That was the leveller (0-4 to 1-1), as Glynn-Barntown had taken the lead midway through the opening quarter with a scrambled goal.
Coleman and Matthew Joyce swapped early points and Harry O'Connor then split the posts before his younger brother took the limelight. However, when the otherwise unflappable full-back Conor Firman tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a route out of danger in his own square in the seventh minute, the ball spilled and Glynn-Barntown corner-forward Aaron Kehoe was on hand to force it over the line (1-1 to 0-2).
St. Martin's reacted well as Harry O'Connor was only denied an immediate reply by a good save from Adam Kennedy before Rory O'Connor opened his account and Coleman added that '65.
Glynn-Barntown regained the lead when Kevin Mahoney caught a Kennedy puck-out and pointed in the 14th minute, but Jake Firman hit back within seconds and St. Martin's were never headed thereafter after an exchange of scores between Rory O'Connor and Matt Doyle (free).
A good solo point by Barry O'Connor and a Seán Stafford finish from a Firman pass made it 0-8 to 1-3, and the gap remained at two by half-time after Matthew Joyce converted a free and Rory O'Connor hit back with his third.
Glynn-Barntown remained in contention throughout the third quarter, but they didn't score with enough frequency to ultimately stay with their opponents. Indeed, they only managed four points in total after the break with just one - from Rowan White in the 41st minute - arriving from play.
That score made it 0-11 to 1-6, after Matthew Joyce had earlier narrowed the gap to one from a free but Rory O'Connor and Darren Codd responded. When Codd pointed it meant all six Martin's attackers had registered at least once, compared to a losers' forward division mustering a mere 1-3 between them; and even at that, White's point arrived after his move to midfield.
St. Martin's nearly goaled too in the 37th minute when Rory O'Connor gathered a Joe Coleman pass on the left and cut inside, but his handpass across the square was flicked away to safety by defender David Clarke.
Glynn-Barntown brought Ben O'Shea out around midfield and this left Donal Kelly free to sweep for the leaders, but they found themselves ahead by just the minimum once more in the 45th minute after Matthew Joyce knocked over another free (0-11 to 1-7).
However, the last quarter belonged to the eventual victors, and the goal that finally broke the resistance of the blue and green crew arrived in the 47th minute.
It was a lovely team move, with Joe Coleman finding Harry O'Connor with a clever reverse handpass before the ball was passed to Seán Stafford who made no mistake from close range.
Although Joyce pointed from another free, the last five scores went to St. Martin's as they hammered home their advantage, but they could afford to be sloppy too as six more wides were also amassed.
Rory O'Connor, with an overall strike rate of seven points from eight shots, claimed three of those late scores.
And the considerable quality of the winners was underlined when Conor Coleman - who would walk on to any other Under-21 club team in the county in my view - scored with his first touch after being introduced in the 53rd minute.
The last point was picked off by Jake Firman as St. Martin's claimed the second Under-21 Premier title in their history after that final victory against Rapparees two years ago.
One last thought entered this writer's head as Rory O'Connor delivered his masterclass: in my humble opinion, he is one of the top four forwards in the county at Minor level, the others being Mikie Dwyer (Fethard), Connal Flood (Cloughbawn) and Rory Higgins (Rathnure).
None of that quartet started in the forwards in Wexford's All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Limerick for various reasons.
It was unavoidable in O'Connor's case as he was suspended, while the mentors played Flood in the backs, but imagine the impact all four might have made together…we can but wonder at this stage!
St. Martin's: Dylan Byrne; Donal Kelly, Conor Firman, Johnny Hamilton; Adrian Ryan, Aaron Maddock, Mikey Coleman; Jake Firman (0-2), Joe O'Connor; Barry O'Connor (0-1), Joe Coleman (capt., 0-2, 1 '65), Darren Codd (0-1); Seán Stafford (1-1), Rory O'Connor (0-7), Harry O'Connor (0-1). Subs. - Conor Coleman (0-1) for H. O'Connor (51), Michael Codd for D. Codd (58), Nicky Greene for Stafford (59), Tony Kelly for B. O'Connor (60), also Calum Quirke, Ben Maddock, Cian Ryan, Kyle Firman, Eoin O'Leary, Jack Devereux, Philip Dempsey, Adam Cantwell, Brad Cohen, Martin Whelan.
Glynn-Barntown: Adam Kennedy; Calum O'Shea, James Stafford, David Clarke; Matt Doyle (0-1 free), Jack Fenlon (capt.), Shane Codd; Frankie Hynes, Pádraic Weafer; Rowan White (0-1), Kevin Mahoney (0-1), Fionn Cooney; Aaron Kehoe (1-0), Matthew Joyce (0-5, 4 frees), Ben O'Shea. Subs. - Ciarán Joyce for Kehoe (46), Conor Fenlon for Codd (54), also Daniel Carroll, Ian Moran, Cathal Leacy, Dylan Roche, Bill Joyce, John Lacey, Stephen Lyne, Cillian Joyce, John Crean, Jamie Crean.
Referee: John Carton (Monageer-Boolavogue).