Not for the first time the U21 grade produced a Christmas cracker. Sarsfields held their nerve, and their title at Dolla in the tightest of finishes, an Aidan McCormack point separating the sides before Niall O’Meara failed on a late free that would have sent it to a replay.
It was dramatic stuff in difficult conditions at the Silvermines venue. Sarsfields were hit for two goals in the opening half but kept their composure to narrowly shade an engaging contest.
This U21 has its critics. Many see it as a nuisance item, which overlaps with other grades and causes fixture headaches. As the bold boy in the class it gets put to the back, shunted out of sight while others are indulged. Yet the critics regularly get their answer when the grade coughs up memorable contests. Sunday last was yet another of those occasions. Great expectations surrounded this game and no one was disappointed.
It was advantage Kilruane at the half way mark. They’d played with a modest wind in their backs and got two valuable breaks in the shape of a brace of goals. Both carried an element of embarrassment for defence and goalie as shots from outfield went all the way; Ciaran Cleary and Justin Cahill were the credited players.
It left the defending champions four adrift at the interval but there’s quality in this side and it showed up in the third quarter, which they dominated. Point by point the lead was wiped and then we headed into a knife-edge final spell.
If there was a player-of-the-championship being honoured from this series then Aidan McCormack would be most people’s choice. Game-on-game he’s been the go-to man for Sarsfields’ scores and once again he did the business on Sunday.
Kilruane had recovered from a poor third quarter and battled their way back to a two-point lead with about eight minutes to play. Then McCormack hit three on the trot, the middle one a free, to ease Sarsfields into a minimal advantage as the game headed into injury time.
Would there be a last hurrah from Kilruane? The opportunity came with a free about forty meters out to the right of the posts. Worryingly for the North champs Niall O’Meara had mis-hit his previous free and in the tension of the moment sent this one badly wide.
Many would have liked a replay and there was understandable sympathy for O’Meara who’s enjoyed an exciting year on the hurling pitch winning an All Ireland intermediate medal and showing eye-catching form with the U21s to earn a call-up to Eamon O’Shea’s extended panel.
Yet objective analysis would concede that Sarsfields were, on balance, deserving winners. Those first half goals were heavy blows but they never blinked and had most of the best individual displays.
McCormack provided the headline act but there were best support roles from such as full back, James Ryan, centre back Ronan Maher and the midfield pair of Stephen Cahill (the hardest worker on the pitch) and David Corbett. Add in other inputs from the likes of Conor Lanigan and Michael O’Brien and it all amounted to a match-winning impact.
There was less individual impact for Kilruane but instead a typically spirited team ethic. There were times when you felt they’d simply out-wrestle Sarsfields but in the end they just hadn’t enough. Crucially Aidan McCormack out-shone Niall O’Meara and that proved critical.
Overall though one’s lingering memory of the game is of a fantastic tussle between two honest and spirited teams. And it wasn’t just all heave-ho effort either; the quality of the hurling was amazing given the conditions. Long live U21.
It’s become a hardy annual by now but inevitably the lateness of this championship raises the issue of club games in general and the difficulties organisers have in completing fixture schedules. Moyle Rvs. put through a few interesting motions at last week’s County Convention presumably with this issue in mind. They want U16 players barred from county minor panels and they want the back door removed from the All Ireland minor championships. Both suggestions will go to Congress where it will be interesting to see what emerges.
Do U16s on minor panels create a major problem for fixtures? I would have thought that it’s a minority issue with only the most precocious talents spending three years on minor panels. They tend to be stand-out players of the Eoin Kelly or Joe Canning variety. Without banning them of course you could pass a regulation stating that U16s on county panels cannot affect club fixtures.
Allowing only the provincial winners through to the All Ireland minor championships would certainly free up some club games though there is a strong counter argument that sees merit in the development of these players through prolonged involvement during the summer. Of course it will have been noted that if such a regulation existed in 2006 we’d have missed out on a minor All Ireland.
The Football Review Committee has entered this debate also with a suggestion to reduce minor age to seventeen in order to avoid a clash with the Leaving Certificate. Somehow eighteen seems more of a coming-of-age landmark though I can certainly understand the FRC thinking. At least there’s debate around these issues at the moment, which is indeed welcome.
Finance is a big debate issue also at the moment with many units of the Association in difficulty and others like the Dublin County Board attracting lucrative sponsorship deals. Eamon Buckley’s very detailed report to the Tipp Convention last week showed a working surplus for 2013 of over fifty grand. It’s a welcome improvement on previous years, though the downside is that part of the story relates to our poor showing at inter-county level during the summer. It also has to be set against the background of a legacy debt of around six hundred thousand.
Interestingly income from gate receipts in 2013 earned the Board over €350,000, which was an increase of around €113,000 on the 2012 figure. Some won’t like me mentioning that almost 90% of that money came from hurling. Again when you look at income from the national leagues the difference is stark. We got over €128,000 on the hurling side but just over €18,000 for football.
Yet despite this heavy hurling bias on the income side our spending on the two codes is close to fifty-fifty. Am I the only one who thinks this is daft? Actually this is the great debate we’re not having with too many people tip-toeing around sensitivities.
P.S. Season’s greetings to all readers.