THEY’VE been knocking on the door since 1978 but finally St. Brendan’s of Manchester have arrived, announcing themselves as All-Britain Champions at the sixth time of asking.
In a dramatic final at McGovern Park the Lancashire champions pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in the modern era of the competition to edge Sean McDermotts by two points.
In a game between two clubs synonymous for homegrown talent - McDermotts fielding thirteen homegrown starters - it was fitting that local boy Ciaran Connolly flicked home the decisive goal mirroring his intervention in the Lancashire final against John Mitchels.
Sunday’s final was a classic game of two halves, Brendan’s facing an eight-point deficit by half-time thanks to a whirlwind McDermotts start but making the most of the wind advantage in the second-half to roar back into contention.
The Warwickshire champions scored all but three of their points in the opening half hour, Joel Powney with a free and two points from play that only Devine could respond to via a free.
With the sun proving awkward for the Brendan’s defence a long ball into the goalmouth dropped into the path of an inbound Conal Dowling who slotted the ball past Fintan Harkin and into the net.
Brendan’s, who themselves only scored three points kicking towards the clubhouse end in Ruislip, hit back with scores from Liam Burns and Devine (free) but McDermotts were in control at this stage and when a long ball into Dowling was expertly fielded Powney’s supporting run allowed the full-forward to dummy his marker and drive superbly into the far corner of the net.
Once Powney slotted over his third free of the half the gap was eight and McDermotts looked to be heading for a first All-Britain since 1975.
Yet the change of ends – and the intervention of the Brendan’s bench – proved the telling of this tale.
The Manchester club were a different animal in the second-half as they went long and direct, their key players in Devine and midfielder Ethan Gibson stepping up to the plate in a big way.
Points from Devine and Tomás Ryan set them on the way, although Powney cancelled those out with two clinical frees; but back they came and when Colm Conway plucked a wayward ball out of the sky Brendan’s moved the ball through the hands to feed a waiting Devine at the back post for their opening goal.
Now it was game on and now they took a grip on proceedings, winning the breaking balls and looking for Devine where possible.
The Tyrone forward drove another point to reduce the gap to four before substitute Caoimhin Quinn sent over another soon afterwards.
McDermotts needed a response and got one through Jack Hallahan but they were left to rue Chris Hayden’s shot that cannoned back off the near post.
A let off for Brendan’s, they pushed forward again with Devine posted to full-forward.
His fifth point, a first for Gibson and a second for Quinn had the margin down to the minimum as both teams were reduced to fourteen for the closing few minutes, before Quinn was shown a black card to leave Brendan’s a man down.
Still, the momentum was theirs and when a high ball was launched into the London sky, Connolly appeared in just the right place to flick the ball beyond Felgate for the winner.
McDermotts pushed to the very end, one final scramble in the goalmouth cleared by Brendan’s to safety and finally, after such a long wait, All-Britain glory.
* Sunday’s early game at McGovern Park saw the London Intermediate Champions St. Joseph’s land their maiden provincial honour with the All-Britain Shield. A 1-10 to 2-02 victory against Oxford’s Éire Óg was sealed by a much improved second-half performance capped by a superb catch and finish to the net by Joey Halligan. The Hertfordshire finalists had started brightly thanks to goals from Kevin Morrissey and Piers McGlynn but a second-half haul of 1-05 from Joseph’s proved their undoing, captain Niall McAlynn starring for the West London club who end a memorable season with more silverware.
Man of the match:
Ryan Devine (St. Brendan’s)
The Owen Roe’s forward was simply a colossus for his team, his intervention after half-time turned the tide at a crucial juncture.
St. Brendan’s: F Harkin; H Ward, C Ryan, O Kirk; P Mallon, C Gribben, L Burns (0-1); E Gibson (0-1), O Clarke; P McCoy, R Devine (1-5, 2f), T Ryan (0-1); C Conway, J Donaghy, P Fox. Subs: C Quinn (0-2, for Mallon 20); C Connolly (1-0, for Fox 53); C Deeney (for McCoy 55).
Sean McDermotts: M Felgate; C Folan, L Gilbride, D O’Brien; D Staunton, M Mannion, J Chapman; N Gilbride, A Willis; J Owens, J McDowell, C Hayden; J Hallahan (0-1), C Dowling (2-0), J Powney (0-7, 5f). Subs: J Rogers (for Owens 47); C Coughlan (for Hayden 50).
Referee: Gavin Dixon (London)