Counsel dig deep for glory
Good Counsel 1-9 Scoil Mhuire (Clane) 2-4
Digging deep is part and parcel of the Good Counsel (New Ross) DNA at all levels, and that precious quality was seen in all its glory in the Netwatch Carlow Training Centre in Fenagh on Friday when the Top Oil South Leinster Juvenile football 'A' championship title was retained with a battling two-point win over Scoil Mhuire from Clane.
Momentum appeared to be with the Kildare side when they hit three points without reply to edge into a 2-4 to 1-6 lead nine minutes into the second-half of this tight contest.
That was the signal for Good Counsel to show their true capabilities, though, and it's a great tribute to their collective team effort that Clane didn't score again while the New Ross lads picked off three points to claim the honours.
Their tackling, harrying and shepherding of the player in possession ensured that a number of promising Scoil Mhuire moves broke down when danger threatened, while Counsel had two attacking aces who combined for the vital winning scores.
Team captain Conor Foley had split the posts three times from play before he earned a free and lofted it over in the 42nd minute.
That was the leveller, and he was unlucky to see his next effort for a point rebound off the woodwork.
The score to restore the Counsel lead was a thing of beauty, with Darby Purcell playing a one-two with Kyle Rankin before arrowing over a sweet kick with his accurate left boot (1-8 to 2-4).
Purcell followed with another strike from the same area that shaved the post before going out for his team's ninth and final wide, but he brought his personal tally to 1-3 in the 52nd minute.
Clane were punished for giving possession away cheaply from a line ball, with a Counsel counter-attack ending with Gary Porter feeding Purcell who left a two-point gap between the teams.
There was no room for relaxation with such a narrow advantage, and Clane stayed in the game as a Porter point attempt fell short before Kyle Rankin's effort on goal was smothered.
John Paul Gill kicked the fourth and final Scoil Mhuire wide from a long-range free before the game moved into added time, but Counsel's defensive qualities continued to shine all the way to the last whistle.
Corner-back Alan Kehoe was fouled and earned some relief from the pressure, only for Clane to launch another attack and secure a free in a scoreable position. A brief row followed, though, and experienced referee Pat Moran changed his decision to a throw-in after allowing the dust to settle.
With the storm weathered, Counsel were set to return home with a most welcome companion; mentor Kevin Kehoe had given the shield to South Leinster Schools Servicing Officer Pat Henderson upon arrival at the venue, and the task of bringing it back to base again in New Ross fell to captain Conor Foley.
Gary Porter had opened the scoring for the Barrowsiders in the third minute, but they didn't register again until the beginning of the second quarter.
And they trailed by 1-1 to 0-1 at that juncture, as Dean Comiskey's equalising point for Clane was followed by a fortuitous goal in the 13th minute.
An attempt at a point from wing-back Daire O'Doherty came back off the woodwork into the welcoming arms of Adam Fanning who coolly tucked the ball away from close range.
Counsel stepped it up considerably in the second quarter, with Conor Foley kick-starting their comeback when he was rewarded for persistence by grabbing his first point after earlier efforts from a free and from play dropped short.
Darby Purcell punished a foul on Danny Glennon with the next point, and Foley equalised after vital work by grounded midfielder Eoin Whelan in the 23rd minute.
The kick-out that followed was caught and driven back over the bar by wing-back Callum Gamble with a superb piece of individual flair, and there was even better to follow.
Conor Foley passed inside to full-forward Gary Porter whose instantaneous off-load to Darby Purcell split the defence wide open, and the Sarsfields sharpshooter drove low and hard to the net (1-5 to 1-1).
Unfortunately, that good work was undone to an extent in first-half added time when Clane hit back with an equally well-worked goal.
Daire O'Doherty fed midfielder Darragh Swords who handpassed to Izac Jamirah, and the centre-forward gave netminder Michael Kirwan no chance with a tidy finish into the left corner.
Conor Foley pointed inside two minutes of the re-start, but he dragged a goal attempt to the left and agonisingly wide from an Eoin Whelan pass before Clane enjoyed a purple patch.
Free-taker John Paul Gill brought them level with two successful kicks before Jamirah set up full-forward Oisín Tighe for the lead point, and character was needed in spades from Good Counsel in order to rescue the situation.
And they certainly weren't found wanting on that score, with the victory giving football in the school a welcome lift after the early championship exit of their Seniors.
On that note, I had confidently expected the team they lost to by 16 points, St. Mary's (Edenderry), to beat the side they had drawn with one week before, Naas C.B.S., in the group decider.
I was wrong, though, as the Lilywhites recorded a convincing 3-8 to 1-6 win to dump the All-Ireland Junior champions of two years ago.
As a result, they will be one of seven potential opponents for St. Peter's when the quarter-final draw is made on Thursday, along with Knockbeg College, Marist (Athlone), Scoil Aodháin (Whitehall), Coláiste Eoin (Stillorgan), Louth Schools and Dundalk Schools or Offaly Schools.
Those last eight games will take place on January 20, but first up are the hurling quarter-finals.
St. Peter's will face Kilkenny C.B.S. in Ferns Centre of Excellence tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1.15 p.m., while Eire Og in Carlow will host Good Counsel versus Dublin North or Dublin South (full details to be confirmed).
Good Counsel: Michael Kirwan (Glenmore); Kevin Dunleavy (Adamstown), Eoin Kennedy (Tullogher-Rosbercon), Alan Kehoe (Horeswood); Cillian Doyle (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy), Danny Glennon (Tullogher-Rosbercon), Callum Gamble (St. James', 0-1); Eoin Whelan (Fethard), Billy Reid (Glenmore); Eoin O'Brien (The Rower-Inistioge), Conor Foley (Horeswood, capt., 0-4, 1 free), Darby Purcell (Sarsfields, 1-3, 0-1 free); Kyle Rankin (Our Lady's Island/St. Fintan's), Gary Porter (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown, 0-1), Cathal Parker (Horeswood). Subs. - Joe Devlin (Bannow-Ballymitty) for Dunleavy (40), also Rúaidhrí Delaney (The Rower-Inistioge), Shane Culleton (Gusserane), James Murphy (Horeswood), Callum Arthurs (Tullogher-Rosbercon), Michael Sheehy (Graiguenamanagh), Cillian Byrne (Fethard), Conor Whelan (Adamstown), Charlie Phelan (Glenmore), Adam O'Grady (Fethard), Jake Molloy (Fethard), Ewan Russell (Horeswood), Eoin Power (Gusserane), Tadhg McDonald (Adamstown), Michael Harpur (Bannow-Ballymitty), Jack Redmond (Rathnure), Fionn Mullally (Gusserane), Adam Whelan (Gusserane), Thomas Mullally (Glenmore), Richard Liu (Fethard), Seán Nunan (Fethard), Liam Winters (Taghmon-Camross), Matthew O'Neill (Adamstown), Adam Harris (Horeswood), Maurice Cogley (Taghmon-Camross).
Scoil Mhuire: Adam Farrell; Seán Sheridan, Ryan O'Connell, Darren Ward; Seán Malone, Cathal McKennedy, Daire O'Doherty; Darragh Swords, Fintan Hughes; Adam Fanning (1-0), Izac Jamirah (1-0), Kevin Hannon; John Paul Gill (0-2 frees), Oisín Tighe (0-1), Dean Comiskey (0-1). Subs. - Oisín O'Sullivan for Hannon (HT), John Chidgey for Comiskey (52).
Referee: Pat Moran (Laois).