ON the day when it mattered most, the dark horses of this year's All-Britain Football Championship galloped away to glory.
Glasgow Gaels were crowned the best junior club side in Britain last Sunday afternoon, the Scotland Champions deservedly securing the Brendan Flemming Memorial Cup with a five-point victory against the holders St. Brendan’s.
Three years after going so close in Leeds when edged by Thomas McCurtain’s, there would be no stopping the team in the red hoops who grabbed the only goal of the match midway through the second-half through Darren Ashmore.
That left the Lancashire Champions with a mountain to climb in the closing stages as they simply couldn’t wrestle the impetus off defiant Glasgow intent.
With both teams missing key players after semi-final suspensions, Sunday’s showpiece of the provincial calendar brought the crowds out to South Manchester despite the atrocious conditions that turned this final into a slugfest – whoever could handle the mud and driving rain would reap rewards on a day like this.
That proved to be Glasgow Gaels, their bright start forging a lead that would largely remain intact for the remainder of the afternoon.
It began with David McGovern, the corner-forward grabbing a superb mark to curl over the opening score of the match before Tomás Clarke powered his way through the middle to add a second.
Brendan’s were struggling in those early stages but buoyed by a strong home crowd they worked their way back into the contest with scores from Nicky McCafferty and Chrissy Ryan.
Yet if anyone was making the slippery ball stick, it was Glasgow.
McGovern grabbed his third score of the half before Ashmore linked up with Darragh Elliott on the sweep to regalvanise their advantage.
The Gaels looked to their Fermanagh star Clarke as their catalyst and the Lisnaskea Emmett’s midfielder should have handed his side a golden advantage with half-time approaching; after Brendan’s failed to clear their lines Clarke found himself free in front of goal but dragged his shot wide of Fintan Harkin’s far post.
It was a big moment in this final but thankfully for Clarke it would not prove decisive.
In truth, the goal chances only really fell to one team at Old Bedians.
Back came Glasgow Gaels right from the restart, a super-alert Callum Gribben in the right place on the goal line to repel a goalbound effort away to safety.
It was another close call for the defending champions as the rain relented, they needed a reaction and they got one with full-forward Caoimhin O’Donnell-Quinn linking up with Ryan to bring the sides level.
Now it looked that they were finding their feet, urged on by the side line spectators they were seeing more of the ball and posing questions to the visiting back line.
Yet just when it looked as through Brendan’s were in the ascendancy, McGovern slammed that door shut with an inspirational score from distance to restore his side’s slender lead.
O’Donnell-Quinn grabbed another Brendan’s equaliser but the ball was starting to stick to Glasgow hands and one more exertion of pressure off a quickly taken free finally hit the jackpot, Ashmore swinging a leg at a breaking ball that nestled into the corner of the net.
It proved the difference maker, for now Glasgow Gaels had the title in their sights.
They still had to navigate a tense finale, one that they did by keeping a vice-like grip on the ball.
Brendan’s could only muster one more point after Ashmore’s goal through another O’Donnell-Quinn score (free) and while Clarke ran the show for Glasgow it was the introduction of Simon Holland that gave them the outlet in attack.
The substitute should have finished the match when free on goal, only to be denied by a firm Harkin block, but he atoned with a brilliant point from out on the right as the visitors kicked for home.
After what must have seemed an eternity of added-time for the men in hoops, the final whistle heralded their greatest achievement in the club's twenty-three year history as they banished the ghosts of 2019.
Now it’s time to venture into new territory against the eventual Ulster Junior Champions – it’ll be one of four teams left in that competition who they’ll face: Stewartstown Harps (Tyrone), Letterkenny Gaels (Donegal), Newtownbutler (Fermanagh) or Drumlane (Cavan).
Interestingly, Sunday’s result heralded a different All-Britain Champions for the third successive competition. While the 2010s was a decade of dynasties winning multiple titles – St. Peter’s of Manchester, John Mitchel’s of Liverpool and Dunedin Connolly’s of Edinburgh – will the 2020s prove to be the decade of opportunity for new clubs staking their claim for All-Britain glory?
Teams and scorers:
Glasgow Gaels: D McCowen; D McCoy, N O’Hagan, D O’Hanlon; F Moore, P Duffy, L Ryan; R Clarke (0-1), F Kineavy; S O’Brien, D Teague, E Boyd (0-1, 1f); D Elliott (0-1), D Ashmore (1-0), D McGovern (0-4). Subs: S Ryan (for McCoy 30); S Holland (0-1, for Elliott 38); R Stevenson (0-1, for Teague 48).
St. Brendan’s: F Harkin; HP Ward, C Gribben, B McGilligan; P Mallon, J Donegan-Casey, O Kirk; O Clarke, P Fox; J Riordan, R Devine, N McCafferty (0-3, 2f); P McCoy, C O’Donnell-Quinn (0-3, 1f), C Ryan (0-1). Subs: S Donnellan (for Riordan 49); J Dobbins (for Mallon 55); C Connolly (for Ryan 60).
Referee: J Kilroy (Yorkshire)