Counsel in a different class
Good Counsel 7-20 Scoil Aodháin 1-1
The complete team performance was served up in considerable style in Seamus Hearns Park, Killeshin, on Tuesday when an outstanding Good Counsel (New Ross) team inflicted a 37-point hammering on shell-shocked Scoil Aodháin from Whitehall in this one-sided Top Oil Leinster Schools Juvenile football 'A' championship final.
It was a mesmerising display of teamwork, slick passing and clinical finishing from the super blues who were quite simply in a different class.
I cannot recall a more comprehensive victory at this stage of a competition in more than 25 years covering the second level schools scene, and it was a real feast for the eyes.
It was hard to believe that this was the same team I had seen struggling at times on the way to capturing a third successive South Leinster crown with a two-point pre-Christmas dismissal of Clane Community School in Fenagh (1-9 to 2-4).
However, they have played with freedom and confidence since that hard-earned win, underlining their credentials initially when one of their fellow football strongholds in the province, St. Patrick's of Navan, were crushed by 4-16 to 0-7 in the provincial semi-final.
Any team emerging from Dublin in the 'A' grade must have a certain degree of ability, and a look at the programme for Tuesday's final revealed that Scoil Aodháin were calling on players from seven strong clubs: St. Vincent's, Whitehall Colmcille, Craobh Chiaráin, Na Fianna, Ballymun Kickhams, Erin's Isle and St. Margaret's.
Yet, they were powerless to prevent the onward march of Good Counsel who had the title wrapped up long before half-time, by which stage they were ahead by 1-10 to 1-1 having played against the wind.
After that it was simply a matter of guessing what the winning margin would be, and the only pity is that this competition doesn't extend to an All-Ireland series as it would have been interesting to see how the Barrowsiders matched up against their fellow provincial victors.
The hills around the exposed Co. Laois venue were snow-capped on a chilly day, but Counsel supporters had their hearts warmed by the quality of football served up by their charges.
Dealing with the wind and sun did cause a couple of early problems, but nothing that couldn't be overcome.
Indeed, Scoil Aodháin struck for the game's first goal in the fourth minute when Paul Daly swung his boot at a Denis Toro shot, wrong-footing netminder Michael Kirwan and directing it to the net.
It was merely a blip, though, and there was no panic from the Counsel lads who had grabbed the opening point beforehand from Gary Porter.
The full-forward was a constant menace to the Dublin defenders, finishing with five scores from play and repeatedly getting to the ball ahead of his marker and popping handpasses to colleagues only too happy to take aim at the posts.
Porter doubled his tally before defender Alan Kehoe made a vital block to prevent a goal chance, and a brace of points from stylish captain Conor Foley, the second from a free, restored the Good Counsel lead they would never relinquish in the 13th minute (0-4 to 1-0).
The opening goal for the eventual winners came from a lovely flowing move at the end of the first quarter, started by strong centre-back Danny Glennon.
His long ball found Gary Porter who handpassed to Eoin Whelan, with the midfielder off-loading to his right for corner-forward Shane Culleton to rattle the net.
Porter and Scoil Aodháin substitute Charlie Madigan exchanged points, but that latter score in the 20th minute proved to be the last for the outclassed losers.
Culleton, Darby Purcell and Kyle Rankin widened the gap to 1-8 to 1-1 before the city side had a chance to get back into contention when a defender was penalised for handling the ball on the ground close to his own goal-line.
James Maloney stepped up to take the spot kick, but Michael Kirwan dived low to his left and made a fine save.
What little confidence remained on the Scoil Aodháin side was completely sapped after that incident, with Porter and Foley adding late points to leave Counsel clear by 1-10 to 1-1 at the break.
It was a procession of scores for the by now wind-aided leaders on the re-start, with eager players forming an orderly queue to test their accuracy.
Rankin and Foley (two) claimed points before the former added two goals in less than 40 seconds.
The first came when he palmed home a high delivery by Eoin Whelan, and the second was an audacious lob into the top left corner after goalkeeper Luke Garland directed the subsequent kick-out into his path (3-14 to 1-1).
Foley chipped in with an equally classy goal, calmly picking his spot as the overworked netminder remained rooted to the spot.
And Rankin added his third in the space of under nine minutes, robbing Garland of possession and tapping home from close range (5-15 to 1-1).
The substitutes were also keen to raise a few flags between them, with Cillian Byrne getting goal number six in the 58th minute before Charlie Phelan added the seventh close to the finish.
Another replacement, Michael Sheehy, claimed a couple of points, with Darby Purcell, Gary Porter and Conor Foley also adding to their personal tallies.
This was Good Counsel's first Leinster Juvenile football 'A' championship crown since 2013, and their seventh in all after earlier victories in 1995, 1996, 2002, 2010 and 2011. The progress of this talented crew as they move through Junior and Senior ranks will be watched with interest.
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'); Eoin Whelan (Fethard), Billy Reid (Glenmore); Eoin O'Brien (The Rower-Inistioge), Conor Foley (Horeswood, capt., 1-7, 0-2 frees), Darby Purcell (Sarsfields, 0-3, 1 free); Shane Culleton (Gusserane, 1-1), Gary Porter (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown, 0-5), Kyle Rankin (St. Fintan's, 3-2). Subs. - Cathal Parker (Horeswood) for Dunleavy (HT), Rúaidhrí Delaney (The Rower-Inistioge) for Reid (45), Cillian Byrne (Fethard, 1-0) for Culleton (49), Michael Sheehy (Graiguenamanagh, 0-2) for Rankin (49), Callum Arthurs (Tullogher-Rosbercon) for Purcell (54), Charlie Phelan (Glenmore, 1-0) for Doyle (54), also James Murphy (Horeswood), Joe Devlin (Bannow-Ballymitty), Conor Whelan (Adamstown), Adam O'Grady (Fethard), Jake Molloy (Fethard), Ewan Russell (Horeswood), Richard Liu (Fethard), Tadhg McDonald (Adamstown), Michael Harpur (Bannow-Ballymitty), Jack Redmond (Rathnure), Fionn Mullally (Gusserane), Adam Whelan (Gusserane), Eoin Power (Gusserane), Thomas Mullally (Glenmore), Seán Nolan (Fethard), Oisín Hayes (Davidstown-Courtnacuddy).
Scoil Aodháin: Luke Garland; Oisín Quinn, Rhys McCarthy, James Maloney; Seán Grehan, Daniel Day, Cian Hill; Seán Gannon, Seán Stone; Darragh Kane, Curtis Mullins, Finn Markey; Lee Rafferty, Denis Toro, Paul Daly (1-0). Subs. - Charlie Madigan (0-1) for Rafferty (17), Marcus Young for Hill, black card (43), Adam McLoughlin for Markey (44), Luke Williams for Mullins (47), Daniel Maher for Young, inj. (48), also Adrian Neville, Rúairí Falls.
Referee: Brendan Hickey (Kildare).