Composed Counsel bridge 16-year gap
Barrowsiders outpoint St Mary's to qualify for All-Ireland series
Good Counsel's glorious record as a consistent force in both codes on the schools scene was embellished even further in Netwatch Cullen Park, Carlow on Saturday when they displayed admirable composure and no little ability to outpoint St. Mary's of Edenderry and clinch a fourth Leinster Senior football 'A' championship crown.
Good Counsel 0-13 St Mary's 0-11 PPS Senior Football A Final
It's hard to believe that 16 years have passed since the New Ross school's last success at this level, and that of course was followed by a never to be forgotten All-Ireland triumph over traditional stronghold St. Jarlath's of Tuam in Croke Park. Whether the current crop can match that feat remains to be seen, but for the moment they should bask in a warm after-glow after showing plenty of patience and self-confidence to erase a three-point deficit early in the second-half.
Trailing by 0-7 to 0-6 at the break in an always-tight contest, it was clear that Counsel needed to up their performance levels considerably when Mary's midfielders Adam Mahon and David Maloney picked off a point apiece inside two minutes of the re-start.
That was the signal for the Wexford school to step up to the mark all over the field though, no more so than around the centre where the two Darraghs, Joyce and Lyons, thundered into the game and ensured that Counsel were driving forward for long stretches as we moved into a critical phase.
The next three points were registered by the boys in blue and white as they drew level by the 40th minute. Jason Shiely converted a free after his Tullogher-Rosbercon clubmate, Thomas O'Connor, was fouled before a double substitution saw the injured duo of goalkeeper Cian O'Connor and defender Seán Barden replaced by Killian Dunphy and Tadhg Cody.
Counsel nearly grabbed a goal in the 36th minute when Thomas O'Connor pumped a free off the ground into the danger zone and Darragh Joyce's palmed effort was caught on the line by a defender. They maintained the pressure though, with O'Connor reducing arrears to the minimum before Adam Swan earned another free which yielded the equaliser from the former (0-9 each).
St. Mary's were surviving on scraps of possession at this stage but they did edge ahead again when their most dangerous forward, Jack Robinson - now shadowed by a third different marker since the game began in Eoin Porter - was impeded and wing-back Sam Doran converted the free.
Ian Carty was just off target with an effort which hit the post and went wide before an inspiring equaliser was kicked by midfielder Darragh Lyons in the 44th minute. The St. James' clubman with Buffers Alley blood drove high and handsome between the posts from distance for a score which really lifted his colleagues, and they were ready to raise the bar another notch.
An overcarrying offence was punished by Thomas O'Connor who made it 0-11 to 0-10, before good work from Jason Shiely and Tadhg Cody ended with Mikey Dwyer blasting over as we moved into the last ten minutes. Dwyer was narrowly wide with a goal effort that struck the woodwork after a lovely handpass by overlapping full-back Donncha O'Connor, but the relentless Counsel pressure did secure another score in the 56th minute.
This time bad defending cost St. Mary's dearly as substitute Jamie Myler was fouled after initially losing possession, and right-footed free-taker Jason Shiely obliged to stretch the lead to 0-13 to 0-10.
After that it was the turn of the Counsel defenders to show what they were made of. A goal chance for Jack Robinson was blocked by Eoin Porter before Cian Farrell chanced his arm from a free with a major on his mind. Killian Dunphy parried his effort and Porter was on hand again to mop up.
David Kelly made a vital interception after a strong run by Mary's midfielder Adam Mahon who made the mistake of handpassing to Jack Cully when his colleague's back was turned. The pressure didn't end there after Jason Shiely kicked a point attempt short less than 20 seconds into the almost four minutes of added time played.
Sam Doran launched a high ball into the Counsel goalmouth which Killian Dunphy fisted clear, before a Cian Farrell cross to the far post was grabbed by Jack Robinson who was fouled. Alan Kearney drove the free over the bar before Darragh Joyce crucially won the kick-out and was fouled to stall the Mary's momentum. They did attack one more time when Adam Mahon lofted a high free goalwards, but Counsel's strong full-back Donncha O'Connor got a vital touch on the ball as it dropped and the danger was averted.
Half a minute later the long whistle signalled an outpouring of joy from the Counsel contingent as they celebrated this superb achievement. They had been heavily outnumbered in terms of support, with the Offaly co-ed school bringing a large following of females who kept the singing going throughout.
However, they were silenced after the final whistle when the only chant to be heard was 'come on you super blues' from the Counsel players who had been pre-occupied with their onfield duties for the hour-plus beforehand. Now they will welcome the time available to prepare for the All-Ireland semi-final which isn't down for decision until Saturday, March 28.
And either way they will be facing unexpected opposition as Connacht finalists Summerhill College (Sligo) and Roscommon C.B.S. both accounted for fancied sides last time out and haven't tasted provincial success since 1985 and 1998 respectively. Counsel's golden era at this level was in the late nineties when three Leinster titles were won in five years - beating arch-rivals St. Peter's in a replay in 1995 and at the first attempt in 1996 before seeing off Marist from Athlone three years later.
A lot of near misses followed after the Hogan Cup victory of 1999, but the school has remained to the forefront as they were dominant on the Junior scene in the province too. Indeed, it could be argued that this latest win is one year ahead of schedule as many of the team were on the All-Ireland Junior-winning side last season.
They opened proceedings on Saturday with a real intent as left half-back Bryan Power was set up for two points inside three minutes by Adam Swan and Bob Whitty respectively. The driving runs of Power and his Fethard colleague Joe Sutton were a highlight of the opening half as Counsel attacked the scoreboard end, but they were gradually reeled in after establishing a three-point lead by the end of the first quarter.
Stephen McGlynn had got St. Mary's off the mark from a '45 in the sixth minute, but Jason Shiely hit back with a good kick under pressure after Bob Whitty won a Darragh Lyons delivery in the right corner and moved across the field. The second of seven Counsel wides followed from Ian Carty (St. Mary's had three) before he made amends from an Adam Swan pass for a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after 13 minutes.
It was clear from the anticipation among the crowd when he got the ball that corner-forward Jack Robinson was the top Mary's forward, and a foul on the number 13 was punished by Sam Doran at the start of the second quarter. Robinson then narrowed the gap to one from a tight angle before his first marker, Seán Barden, picked up an injury, with Donncha O'Connor briefly picking him up before Eoin Porter was given the task.
A couple of point attempts from Bob Whitty and Adam Swan dropped short, and the spell of Mary's superiority continued as Robinson swung a high kick over the bar for the lead after Sam Doran had converted a free when he was fouled.
Referee Brendan Hickey called back the play for a free after no advantage accrued to Darragh Joyce and Thomas O'Connor equalised, with Counsel's first point in twelve minutes steadying the ship (0-5 each).
As an aside, it was unusual to see the powers-that-be appointing a Kildare official to this fixture given that Edenderry's 17 players used included ten of his fellow Lilywhites as well as six from Offaly and a sole Meath man. Having said that, no fault could be found in his performance, and for the record Counsel were awarded 22 frees with 16 for St. Mary's.
Counsel's opponents were All-Ireland champions only three years ago and clearly came to Carlow with designs on following a similar path. They went ahead again courtesy of Cian Farrell and, although Jason Shiely replied from a free, St. Mary's led by 0-7 to 0-6 at the break after Aaron Kennedy split the posts in the 30th minute.
It could have been a different story though as, less than 30 seconds earlier, a Darragh Joyce centre was knocked down by Thomas O'Connor and full-forward Mikey Dwyer raced through on goal. All of the advantage lay with the attacker, but his shot was just at the right height for netminder Wayne Cummins to make an admittedly fine save.
It was a blow to the Barrowsiders' chances, and it didn't get any easier for them when St. Mary's tacked on those two points on the re-start to widen the gap to 0-9 to 0-6.
What followed was vintage Counsel though as for the most part they were comfortable and measured on the ball, rarely wasting possession and regaining control of the contest slowly but surely.
Mentors Kevin Kehoe, Kevin Bates and Aidan O'Brien have fashioned another very impressive side in the finest traditions of the school, and the world is their oyster now although they can expect the challenges to get even tougher as they step into the All-Ireland series. Joint captains Donncha O'Connor and Darragh Joyce were presented with the cup on a day when 13 Wexford players had some on-field involvement in this sweet success while another 16 collected provincial medals as squad members.
Good Counsel: Cian O'Connor (Cloughbawn); Seán Barden (Adamstown), Donncha O'Connor (Tullogher-Rosbercon, joint capt.), David Kelly (The Rower-Inistioge); Eoin Porter (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown), Joe Sutton (Fethard), Bryan Power (Fethard, 0-2); Ian Carty (Taghmon-Camross, 0-1), Darragh Joyce (The Rower-Inistioge, joint capt.); Jason Shiely (Tullogher-Rosbercon, 0-4, 3 frees), Darragh Lyons (St. James', 0-1), Adam Swan (Fethard); Thomas O'Connor (Tullogher-Rosbercon, 0-4 frees), Mikey Dwyer (Fethard, 0-1), Bob Whitty (Cloughbawn). Subs. - Tadhg Cody (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown) for Barden (35), Killian Dunphy (Mullinavat) for C. O'Connor (35), Jason Dunne (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown) for Whitty (42), Jamie Myler (St. James') for Swan (46), also Stephen O'Gorman (Taghmon-Camross), Mark Rossiter (Gusserane), Stephen Stafford (Taghmon-Camross), Ciarán Conway (Gusserane), Alan Walsh (St. James'), Donnacha O'Connor (Tullogher-Rosbercon), Christopher Molloy (Fethard), John Roche (Gusserane), Emmett Daniels (Horeswood), Kevin Parker (Horeswood), Tomás French (Adamstown), Darragh Brennan (Mullinavat), Martin Fitzharris (Gusserane), Jack Burford (Gusserane), Luke Sinnott (Taghmon-Camross), Andy Walsh (St. James'), Liam Stafford (Adamstown), Martin Doyle (Fethard), Richie Waters (Fethard).
St. Mary's: Wayne Cummins; Mark Abbott, Joe Mulraney, Ian Quinn; Jamie Reilly, Dylan Kavanagh, Sam Doran (0-3 frees); Adam Mahon (capt., 0-1), David Maloney (0-1); Joey Higgins, Aaron Kennedy (0-1), Stephen McGlynn (0-1 '45); Cian Farrell (0-1), Alan Kearney (0-1 free), Jack Robinson (0-2). Subs. - Jack Cully for Reilly (38), Cian Brereton for Kennedy (46).
Referee: Brendan Hickey (Kildare).