Fullen Gaels 2-14
JHC All-Ireland final
NO talk of brave attempts here. To do that would be to patronise a Fullen Gaels that crossed the Irish Sea with a single aim: to win.
The picture of heartbreak at the final whistle, players left and right hitting the Croke Park sod, showed starkly the Manchester boy’s taste for being second best.
From Hough End to Pairc na hÉireann to Jones’ Road, they travelled in pursuit of glory this season and fell, ultimately, within touching distance of a most unlikely triumph.
Not many clubs with 38 members – 29 players – make it to All-Ireland finals. The fact that Fullen never saw that as an obstacle to victory probably tells you a lot about why they got so far.
They do not yield in the face of unlikely odds. The manner of their second half charge for victory – when at one stage they seemed destined to fade out of the contest – was awesome.
Gaels were still in touch following a fine display of counter-punching in the first half. Given the cats and dogs-like rain tumbling from the sky and the butterflies that were bound to have been fluttering in the bellies of the participants, logic dictated an edgy, attritonal opening. What does logic know?
The 30 minutes before the break were high on scoring, pace and action. Despite both sides employing sweepers in and around the half-back line, attacks were on top.
Fullen’s Waterford hit-man Robbie Power (who finished with 1-9) and Thomastown duo Michael Donnelly and Jonjo Farrell stood out.
The game’s opening goal came on 17 minutes with the sides all square on 0-6. A Farrell shot was saved by Tom Goulding, but Darren Burke was there to bat home the rebound.
Three minutes later Fullen put the ball in the Canal End net when a diagonal ball in from Lawless was chased down and turned in by Power.
Donnelly replied with a long free – a feature of the first half was Thomstown’s ability to respond to Fullen scores almost immediately. Burke squandered a prime goal chance next, blasting over the bar from close range to leave the score 1-9 to 1-6.
An effort from distance from Shane Lawless was cancelled out by Farrell, the last word of the half went to Power, his free from half-way finding the target.
On 40 minutes Darren Burke pointed to put Thomastown six clear. In my notes the word ‘procession appears here. The Kilkenny side had just scored 1-3 without reply and were short-money favourites to gallop to the winning post.
Patrick Duggan did level the scores early in the second half with an opportunistic goal for the British champions, but that was their only score in the second half’s opening 10 minutes.
So, as Thomstown pulled clear, we waited for the fishing strike. Michael Donnelly landed a 65 in the 43rd minute to stretch the lead to seven points ... Here we go …
… But then Lawless slotted a steadying point for the Gaels two minutes later. At least they were going to keep things respectable. Yet instead of being a harbinger of a dignified exit, this strike was the spark that lit the fuse.
From there on, Fullen Gaels raged against the prospect of defeat. A pair of frees from Power chipped away at the deficit. When he landed a point from play with nine minutes left, the lead was cut to a goal.
Stuart Waugh then slung over a super score to check Fullen’s momentum. This was another cue for the underdogs to cash their chips and leave the table without fuss.
Yet they sat tight and rolled the dice again. Two frees from Power brought them within two again with three minutes left. Three minutes additional time was announced and it was well within Fullen’s range to haul back the leaders through points.
They passed up easy opportunities for white flags, though, and instead went for goal. It was too soon.
That said, the charge for the line was magnificent; redolent of a more famous Manchester sporting outfit in their furious, relentless stride. Thomastown were pinned to the wall, every rushed clearance being ripped from the sky by the likes of Lawless and Raemon McEntee, James O’Shaughnessy and Power.
The sliotar was drawn by a force as strong as gravity towards the Hill 16 end. Alan Morrissey came closest with a saved shot, yet Fullen could not find that crucial goal.
And one minute into stoppage time, Donnelly (who else?) pointed to prompt a deep roar of relief from the large blue and white contingent in the Hogan.
Thomastown is the second largest town in Co Kilkenny with a population of 2,273. Most of them were in Croke Park on Sunday to see their boys go to battle with a club that’s picking a team from 29.
“Never in my life have I been in such a tough game as that second half out there,” said wining captain Farrell afterwards to Fullen. “Ye left everything on the pitch.”
That they did. Every reserve of sweat and guts was mined in search of victory. They hung tight when the cause seemed remote and in the final shake-up they were one puck of a ball from Heaven. A little more composure in the final reckoning and, perhaps, they could have made it.
Through a quite phenomenal effort, this game was there for them, and that’s what hurt like hell at the finish.
Fullen Gaels: Tom Goulding; Ruairi Wedel, Liam Knocker, Eoin O’Brien; David Neylon, James O’Shaugnessy, Conall Maskey; Reamon McEntee (0-1), Shane Lawless (0-2); Patrick Duggan (1-0), Robbie Power (1-10, 7f), , Simon Wallace; James O’Farrell, Brendan Moloney, Alan Morrissey (0-1). Subs: Alan O’Neill for Wallace (25min), Adrian Nash for O’Farrell (40min)
Thomastown: Darragh McGarry; Sean Mahony, Shane Lanigan, Brian Murphy; Barry Whelan, Pater O’Hanrahan, Richard O’Hara; Dessie Walsh (0-1), Derek Lannigan; Stuart Waugh (0-2), Michael Donnelly (0-8, 4f, 2 ‘65’), Darren Burke (1-2), Thomas O’Hanrahan (1-2), Jonjo Farrell (0-1), Dylan Waugh (0-1). Subs: Adrian Burke for O’Hanrahan (44min), Edward Tennyson for Murphy (47min)
Ref: Garrett Duffy (Antrim)