Mighty Martin's on the double
Greenstar U-20 Football Premier Championship Final: St Martin's 1-9 Gusserane 1-7
St Martin's held on against a gutsy Gusserane fightback to claim the Greenstar Under-20 football Premier championship title in St. Patrick's Park, Enniscorthy, on the Sunday before Christmas.
The Piercestown-based side looked to be coasting to victory, leading by 1-9 to 0-4 with the game clicking into the 58th minute, but a bit of sloppy play in defence allowed Eoin Ryan to pounce for a goal and things quickly got nervy.
It would have been an incredible turn of events had Gusserane staged the most unlikely of comebacks.
Apart from a three-minute spell early in the second-half when they knocked over a trio of quick points, the New Ross District side were struggling.
They had managed just a third-minute Gavin Sheehan point apart from that and just weren't clicking at all.
The first-half was particularly disappointing for the underdogs, with St. Martin's able to completely control things after the opening few minutes.
It just wasn't working for Gusserane. The game was very congested in the middle third of the field, with both sides flooding it with quality assets.
St. Martin's moved the ball through the hands, with great patience in there, and were content to pick their opportunities.
To their credit, the work the Wexford District side did in that part of the field was excellent, as they didn't surrender cheap turnovers and worked their way into position to take on their shots.
They weren't always successful, ending with more wides than scores, but they did enough all told.
Gusserane did try to match that style but eventually started to inject some directness into their play with limited success. They'll probably look back with a little disappointment, knowing they had more quality than they were able to show, but sometimes it's just not there on the day.
They weren't helped by losing the quality of Jamie Sheehan to injury after just nine minutes. St. Martin's hadn't scored when he hobbled off, but they did get their opening point in the 13th minute when Ben Maddock kicked a free.
With the sides level at 0-1 apiece after the opening quarter, St. Martin's took full control. Jack Devereux availed of a quality crossfield Luke Kavanagh pass to put his side ahead, and quickly added another after Kyle Firman and Conor Kelly combined to pick him out.
A two-point lead became five with three in a row from Firman. He picked up a small pocket of space in the middle of goal to kick the first, while the next two came from frees after advantages were played and goal chances missed by Sam Audsley and Zac Firman.
If the Gusserane goal was living a bit of a charmed life, it didn't continue for much longer. With but David Cantwell made no mistake in poking home the rebound from close range.
Leading by 1-6 to 0-1 at the interval, St. Martin's moved a point further clear when Firman registered from a quick, short '45 after Michael Codd's shot was deflected behind by Donal Kinsella.
Yet they seemed to unsettle themsleves with their first change of the game soon after and didn't score again for 16 minutes.
Gusserane got a bit of a run going for a few minutes, with two Gavin Sheehan points added to by Kevin O'Donohoe to make it 1-8 to 0-4. Yet that momentum quickly fizzled out and there was no score at all in the game for twelve minutes.
Kyle Firman broke that hiatus with his fifth point after another assist from Luke Kavanagh, and St. Martin's could have wrapped up the title as they wasted several chances in the next few minutes.
Oisín Waters sold a lovely dummy, only to fire against the foot of the post with seven minutes remaining, and when Kyle Firman's shot was saved a minute later, Ben Maddock followed up and sent the rebound wide.
Joe Barrett seemed to rubber stamp the win with his 55th minute point that made it 1-9 to 0-4, but things got hairy when St. Martin's turned over sloppy ball deep in their defence three minutes later, as Eoin Codd fed Ryan and he fired high to the net.
From there Gusserane found some belief. Sheehan converted three free-kicks in the next three minutes as the St. Martin's defending suddenly got desperate and sloppy.
Conor Devereux could have wrapped up the game in the third minute of added time but fired wide from close range off his left boot.
Eoin Ryan had the last chance through bodies, from a good distance out, but his effort was blocked and the Piercestown boys survived to take the win.
The victory ensures that St. Martin's end their season with a second successive Premier Under-20 hurling and football double, after beating Faythe Harriers to the small ball crown in October.
St. Martin's: Brandon Dodd; Eoin O'Leary, Michael Codd, Joe Barrett (0-1); Ben Stafford, Philip Dempsey, Sam Audsley; Adam Cantwell, Ben Maddock (capt., 0-1 free); Conor Kelly, Jack Devereux (0-2), Luke Kavanagh; Kyle Firman (0-5, 2 frees), David Cantwell (1-0), Zac Firman. Subs. - Diarmuid Barry for Kelly (36), Conor Devereux for D. Cantwell (48), Oisín Waters for K. Firman (51), David Codd for Kavanagh (54), Jordan Hayes for Devereux (59), also Shane Walsh, Ben Morris, Conor Stafford, Jamie Berry, David O'Boyle, Conor Keane, James Mernagh.
Gusserane: Mark Flynn; Stephen Whelan, Donal Kinsella, Jamie Sheehan; Eoin Codd, Tommy Ryan, Paddy Sinnott; Emmet Cullen, Mark Kehoe; Evan Kiely, Sam Wall (capt.), Eoin Ryan (1-0); Kevin O'Donohoe (0-1), Gavin Sheehan (0-6, 4 frees), Oisín Foran. Subs. - Dylan Ryan for J. Sheehan, inj. (9), Ben Whitty for Kiely (50), Liam Ryan for Sinnott (60), also Aaron Whelan, Mick Hennessy, Ian Stafford, Seán Maher, Matthew McCillen, Conor Twomey.
Referee: Barry Redmond (Na Fianna Clonard).