Midfield Dominance The Key As Michaels Claim West Title

St Michaels 0-17   Renvyle 2-10

Renvyle’s gallant Minors went agonisingly close to writing themselves into the history books on Saturday, December 21st last when they lost out by the bare minimum to their city rivals in an enthralling West Board Under 18 Division 2 championship Final in Rosmuc.  The West Connemara lads steadfast refusal to throw in the towel in the face of a sustained second half onslaught from the pre-match favourites saw them claw their way back into contention and ultimately almost snatch the most unlikeliest of victories against all the odds.  St Michaels were hanging on in those final few frantic moments and went perilously close to paying the ultimate price for not closing out this match at a much earlier juncture.

The opening quarter was tight and tense for the most part, with both sides taking a long time to get into their stride.  Renvyle wing back Brendan Regan opened the scoring on 3 minutes after a great individual solo run.  St Michaels captain, Dylan Thornton replied with a converted close range free on 5 minutes before powerful midfielder Eamonn Brannigan edged the city side head with the first of his eight points on 7 minutes.  Renvyle wing forward Cathal Acton clipped over a neat equaliser three minutes later following a well worked move involving Conor Clarke, Josh Lydon and Barry John Salmon.  Slowly but surely, however, St Michaels were gaining the upper hand in midfield and their policy of running directly and at pace through central channels led to the creation of no less than four clear cut goal chances throughout the remainder of the half.  None of these opportunities were availed of, however, much to the chagrin and disappointment of their supporters.

Renvyle, in contrast, created only one goal chance off much less possession.  It fell to impressive midfielder Conor Clarke who seemed destined to score only to be penalised for overcarrying.  Thornton landed a second free for St Michaels on 16 minutes but this was  quickly cancelled out on 18 minutes by the accurate free taking of Renvyle wing forward Nigel Walsh at the other end.  Moments later, his side were awarded a penalty after St Michaels goalkeeper, Stephen Daly, impeded Renvyle full forward Nathan Staunton in the square.  Centre forward, Barry John Salmon finished with aplomb and Renvyle appeared to be in the driving seat.  It proved to be a false dawn, however, as Michaels responded in a swift and decisive fashion.  Three unanswered points from play courtesy of the brilliant Brannigan between the 19th and 24th minutes took the wind out of Renvyle’s sails and levelled up proceedings at 1-3 to 0-6.  Two of the aforementioned goal chances were then subsequently spurned either side of a classy Barry John Salmon point on 27 minutes, a score which gave Renvyle a one point interval lead.

St Michaels stormed out of the blocks on the resumption and inspired by the mercurial Brannigan, they hit a real purple patch during the opening ten minutes which yielded five unanswered points from pay.  Brannigan set up the first for full forward Chris Sherlock before landing three of his own for good measure.  The high fielding ability of midfielder Daren Sinton, allied to the astute running and clever distribution of centre forward Andy Dunne were key factors during this period of St Michaels dominance.  The latter added the fifth point as the beleaguered Renvyle defence struggled to come to terms with the unrelenting nature of the offensive.

David Regan’s charges needed a bit of individual inspiration from somewhere and it came in the form of a fantastic solo effort from way out on the left wing by Conor Clarke.  This superlative score seemed to galvanise Renvyle and when Barry John Salmon split the posts with his second point from play on 43 minutes, the gap was back to two points.  Three minutes later, Dylan Thornton was put clean through on the Renvyle goal for the third time in the match.  He elected to lob the ball over the advancing James Salmon and his deft chip also cleared the crossbar, much to the dismay and disbelief of his management team.  Renvyle took full advantage of yet another let off with a sweetly struck effort from the boot of Gary Mullen and then Josh Lydon added a free on 50 minutes to leave the bare minimum between the sides.

St Michaels upped the ante once more, however, and three unanswered points from Mark Brown, Andy Dunne and substitute Aaron Collins ensured a speedy restoration of their earlier four point cushion.  St Michaels now led by 0-15 to 1-8 with only six minutes remaining and they appeared to be well in control of their own destiny.  Renvyle custodian James Salmon denied Chris Sherlock with a stunning point blank save as goal chance number six went a-begging for St Michaels.  Then to make matters worse, the Westside lads conceded another needless penalty on 55 minutes.  It presented Renvyle with a lifeline and once again Barry John Salmon showed nerves of steel to blast home the best penalty I have ever witnessed at a Gaelic football match.  St Michaels stuck to the game plan however and kept their shape and composure.  Sinton and Brannigan lifted the troops with two fast points but Renvyle defiantly refused to wilt and two converted close range frees by Barry John Salmon in injury time kept their hopes of a replay very much alive.  Carraroe referee Maírtín O Gríofa, who excelled throughout, presided over one last Renvyle attack before blowing his final whistle.   It was an attack that went agonisingly close to yielding that all important equalising point but ultimately didn’t, and St Michaels were able to breathe a huge collective sigh of relief after managing to secure this much coveted championship title almost in spite of themselves.

St Michaels were deserving winners of this West Board title for a number of reasons.  They retained possession much better than their opponents, dominated at midfield throughout and were much craftier and more cohesive in attack. On the minus side, the lack of a ruthless streak, an inability to convert goal chances and calamitous defending re the two penalties almost cost them dearly and St Michaels cannot afford a repeat of this in their upcoming county final joust with Dunmore.  Renvyle didn’t possess the same all round physical strength and guile of their opponents, but they compensated superbly with tremendous workrate, character, spirit and self belief, allied to some inspired moments of skill from a number of very talented footballers in their ranks.  On a personal level, I was every bit as proud of them in defeat as I would have been in victory.

Paul Gannon

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