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Saturday 16 November 2019

Classy Castletown turn on the style to sink Gusserane and claim eleventh title

Dominic Smith Electrical Senior Football Championship Final: Castletown 3-16 Gusserane 2-10

The Castletown crew celebrating Sunday’s impressive county final victory with some of their youngest supporters
The Castletown crew celebrating Sunday’s impressive county final victory with some of their youngest supporters
Castletown captain Brendan Halpin raises the cup aloft in triumph

Alan Aherne

Castletown saved their best for the most important day of all, as a cracking display from start to finish saw them fully justify the tag of favourites with an impressive nine-point win over an out-foxed Gusserane side in this high-scoring Dominic Smith Electrical Senior football championship final before 3,800 supporters in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.

A goal after just 30 seconds set the tone for what was to follow, with the dominant north county men never headed thereafter as they collected the coveted title for the first time since 2010.

They now move joint top on the roll of honour with Volunteers after their eleventh outright success, having made the breakthrough in 1965.

And this latest victory was never in any real doubt, with Gusserane struggling to keep pace with their rivals for the most part despite a few brief flourishes.

It was a day when the old guard - the survivors from 2010 - joined forces with the exciting younger brigade to deliver the knockout blows for Castletown, and while some of the individual displays were exceptional, the overall delivery from the team was first rate as I couldn't detect a single weak link.

Nobody was more effective than the evergreen James Holmes, delivering one of the best county final performances in living memory exactly 20 years after himself and fellow long servant Colm Morris played in a losing decider against Kilanerin.

Operating at left half-forward, the 38-year-old grabbed three first-half points from play, and doubled his tally in the second period on an afternoon when the classy Castletown side delivered a superb 3-14 from play.

Eight players in all got on the scoresheet, with single contributions from a sextet while that memorable six-point haul from Holmes was embellished by an equally superb 1-6 from Jonathan Bealin, including 1-4 from play.

I felt beforehand that Bealin had performed better overall with his county rather than his club this season, but his comfort on the ball and quality finishing did untold damage on this occasion in a stand-out performance.

Four of the much-vaunted Gusserane attack did contribute to the scoresheet, but the game was all but gone from their grasp by half-time when they trailed by 2-8 to 1-6 after winning the toss and availing of the wind first.

They had trailed by 2-7 to 0-3 after 25 minutes after a big potential six-point swing, when they had a goal disallowed and Castletown rattled the net immediately on their next attack.

A mistake - a rarity on the day for the winners - then handed Gusserane a lifeline when they did rattle the net in the 27th minute, but the game took on a familiar pattern on the re-start.

With the O'Rahilly's having to push forward as much as possible, Castletown were content to invite them on before winning possession back and then repeatedly hitting them on the break.

The fact that the first of the winners' five wides didn't arrive until the 40th minute, by which time they had racked up 2-11 and led by seven points, sums up the quality of this performance.

And while they didn't quite match the 13-point gap that had divided the sides in the group stage in early April, they weren't far off it by the same token.

The Castletown defensive match-ups saw Conor Carty on the '40 on Mark Rossiter, with Joe Ahern on Páraic Conway to his right, while Joe Gardiner picked up Kenneth Cahill on the opposite flank.

Gusserane's two inside men, Adrian Flynn and Seán Ryan, were policed by Danny Gardiner and Frank Roche respectively, while Sam Wall drifted out from the right corner to play primarily as a fourth half-forward and was marked by Colm Morris.

At the other end, it was Graeme Cullen on Jody O'Shaughnessy, Mark O'Neill on Jonathan Bealin, and Adrian Redmond on James Holmes, while the inside line featured Jack Burford on Donnacha Holmes, Gavin Sheehan on Ben Brosnan, and Jack O'Connor on Brendan Halpin.

The firm foothold established at midfield by the dynamic young Castletown partnership of Rory Heffernan and Liam Coleman went a long way towards annexing the win, with their dominance reflected in the substitutions of Gusserane duo John Roche and Cillian Kehoe before the finish.

Ben Brosnan, clearly hampered by his hamstring injury, was relatively quiet until getting on a lot of ball in a deeper-lying role near the end when the play had opened up.

However, Castletown didn't need the county man to be at the peak of his powers, because most of the heavy lifting up front was taken up by Bealin and Holmes with that tremendous collective haul of 1-10 from play.

The men in maroon couldn't have wished for a better start, as Colm Morris cut through a gap to the right of the posts and managed to palm the ball to Brendan Halpin as he fell to the ground.

The captain displayed an ice-cool temperament by tucking his shot into the far corner of Micheál Ryan's net, and Castletown were up and running.

Gusserane did settle with a solo point from Seán Ryan after a good interception and long run by Gavin Sheehan, but a delayed handpass by Liam Coleman ensured that Jonathan Bealin was in the best possible place to slot over his first score in the seventh minute.

Mark Rossiter availed of the advantage being played to fire over from 40 metres, but Bealin made it 1-2 to 0-2 when he sold a nice dummy after excellent approach work by Rory Heffernan and Frank Roche.

Brosnan had to come outfield to get on the ball for the first time as the second quarter started, with his raking pass finding Brendan Halpin who in turn set up James Holmes for his opening point.

Rory Heffernan's assist after Castletown won the break from the kick-out left Holmes with open ground to run into and tap over, with the quality of play from the early pace-setters very easy on the eye.

Their midfield partnership thrived down the right in the 17th minute, with Coleman feeding Heffernan for a fine point.

Bealin punished a foul on the rampant Holmes before the latter widened the gap to 1-7 to 0-2 after Colm Morris displayed admirable determination in winning a 50-50 ball on the ground.

There was a brief respite for Gusserane when Adrian Flynn worked a one-two from a free with Kenneth Cahill and fired over, but the events of the 23rd and 25th minutes suggested that it simply wasn't going to be their day.

When another Flynn free from a central position dropped short, Páraic Conway was on hand to fist the ball to the net, but the goal was disallowed for a square infringement after referee Kevin Carty had a long consultation with umpires Jim Roice and Ger Halligan.

And to add to Gusserane's woes, when play resumed they were dealt the savage blow of conceding a second goal.

It was a real cracker too, with Heffernan and Donnacha Holmes combining to release Jonathan Bealin who planted a brilliant strike from distance into the top left corner of the net (2-7 to 0-3).

Castletown may have taken their eye off the ball somewhat for the only spell in the entire game after that beauty, although Gusserane deserve credit for the strength of their response.

Indeed, they pulled back 1-3 in just over two minutes, starting with a Seán Ryan point from a Mark O'Neill pass, before the scorer turned provider for Páraic Conway to split the posts with a high kick.

Anthony Masterson's re-start went astray, with Ryan pouncing to release Adrian Flynn who beat his ex-county colleague with a low strike to the left corner of the net.

Ryan and Sam Wall then combined for Mark Rossiter to kick one of the best points of the game from the right flank, but Castletown arrested the slide in added time when Joe Ahern found overlapping centre-back Conor Carty on the left and he made it 2-8 to 1-6.

Not alone that, but they effectively killed off any likelihood of a Gusserane comeback by adding three unanswered points inside seven minutes on the re-start, with James Holmes, Jonathan Bealin and Donnacha Holmes all obliging.

Seán Ryan's third was cancelled by a fifth for James Holmes after good work by his younger brother, with Adrian Flynn converting a free before the New Ross District men did briefly threaten a revival.

Castletown were going through another sloppy patch, with that first wide from a Bealin free followed by two more in quick succession from Ben Brosnan.

And they were jolted back into action in the 44th minute when referee Kevin Carty played an excellent advantage after a clear foul on Jack Burford.

He got back to his feet to find Sam Wall, who in turn passed to Páraic Conway, with his inviting delivery by hand palmed to the net at the far post by Gavin Sheehan, who had moved further upfield while Westmeath native Shane Flynn kept tabs on Brosnan.

All of a sudden it was 2-12 to 2-8 but, by the time Gusserane scored again almost twelve minutes later, a composed Castletown side had added another 1-3 and it was game over.

Bealin and James Holmes continued their scoring exploits, the latter with a curling left-footer from distance that went over via the crossbar.

They should have claimed a third goal in the 50th minute when Brendan Halpin and Liam Coleman combined to put Ben Brosnan in the clear, but his piledriver from close range was superbly saved by Micheál Ryan, and Bealin was inches away from palming in the break.

Páraic Conway then had a shot saved and cleared at the other end, before James Holmes showed he is human after all with his one poor kick of the game, into Ryan's grateful arms.

The pace of Robbie Brooks off the bench must be a nightmare for defenders near the end of a game, and he made an instant impact to finally seal the deal in the 55th minute.

He was just on for James Holmes, who got the ovation he so richly deserved, when his first touch saw him accept a pass from Donnacha Holmes and solo in along the left endline before drilling the ball low to Micheál Ryan's net (3-14 to 2-8).

Bealin and Flynn went on to swap frees, before Brosnan and Conway did likewise from play, but it was immaterial at that stage as the Castletown players and supporters were waiting patiently on the sideline for the on-field surge that greeted the final whistle.

Gusserane had seven wides, compared to the five in the second-half for the victors, while 15 of the 35 frees were awarded to Castletown.

They will travel to Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow on the last weekend of the month for the AIB Leinster Club opener against a more seasoned Eire Og, and on this form they have every chance of becoming the first Wexford outfit since 2004 to win a game at this level.

Castletown: Anthony Masterson; Frank Roche, Danny Gardiner, Colm Morris; Joe Ahern, Conor Carty (0-1), Joe Gardiner; Rory Heffernan (0-1), Liam Coleman; Jody O'Shaughnessy, Jonathan Bealin (1-6, 0-2 frees), James Holmes (0-6); Donnacha Holmes (0-1), Ben Brosnan (0-1), Brendan Halpin (capt., 1-0). Subs. - Stephen Moloney for O'Shaughnessy, temp. (12-15), Moloney for O'Shaughnessy (38), Ross Cody for Ahern (49), Robbie Brooks (1-0) for J. Holmes (54), Colin Kennedy for D. Holmes (60), Killian Pierce for J. Gardiner (60+2), Richard Farrell for Coleman (60+2), also Darragh Brooks, Andy Merrigan, Oisín Condren, Shane Halpin, Gavin Stamp, Risteárd Kinsella, Cian Bealin, Ross Bealin, Niall Hempenstall, Danny Dixon, Peter Devine.

Gusserane: Micheál Ryan; Jack O'Connor, Gavin Sheehan (1-0), Jack Burford; Adrian Redmond, Mark O'Neill, Graeme Cullen (capt.); John Roche, Cillian Kehoe; Kenneth Cahill, Mark Rossiter (0-2), Páraic Conway (0-2); Sam Wall, Adrian Flynn (1-3, 0-2 frees), Seán Ryan (0-3). Subs. - Shane Flynn for Redmond (24), Tom Foran for Cahill (38), Shane Cullen for Kehoe (45), Fintan Ryan for Roche (54), also Brian Hennessy, Eoin Ryan, Jamie Sheehan, Ciarán Conway, Tommy Ryan, Jamie Cooney, Seán O'Connor, Mark Kehoe, Donal Kiely, Liam Dillon, Darragh Doyle.

Referee: Kevin Carty (Sarsfields).

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