Burren 2-9 v 4-7 Ballyholland
Under 14 Football: SD U14 FC (Final)
20th August 2005 at 2.00pm - Clonduff
Published by Anthony McNamee on 20th August 2005.
It was far from easy, and for some time it even looked like they would be going home empty handed, but powered by greater fitness and drive, and a fine team effort lifted by some terrific individual performances, Ballyholland came out on top and were crowned kings of South Down under-14 football on Saturday afternoon.
Ballyholland had entered the game as favourites and in the end that extra bit of class told, but this was the quintessential game of two halves.
For most of the first half – largely based on the size and athleticism of midfielders David McEntee and David Fitzpatrick – Burren were utterly rampant and if it hadn’t been for a series of bad wides, would have been much better than the 7 point margin which they had at one stage amassed. Indeed, if Burren had have taken all the chances they made, they could even have put the game out of sight.
But a couple of hard earned goals kept Ballyholland in check during this tough time, and there is no doubting that they owned a second half when they cranked up several gears and turned on the style. During this time only for the woodwork, hit 3 times, and more importantly for the 3 tremendous saves from Burren’s outstanding keeper, Sean Garrivan, the Harps would surely have coasted to a much more comfortable victory.
Fundamental to this improvement was Ballyholland’s key players – team captain and fulcrum Kevin McAteer, the wonderfully gifted Robbie White, and the hugely influential Sean Anderson – all standing tall and taking the game by the scruff of the neck.
Ballyholland’s success this year has been built principally around their team effort. From one to fifteen (plus further down, displaying an enviable strength in depth), these Harps youngsters all play football. There aren’t any passengers on this team.
Though when any team comes up against their biggest rivals, they need their big players playing big games if they are going to succeed. This is as true of a senior All-Ireland final as an under-8 tournament final.
And the Harps desperately needed their big players to stand up and overshadow Burren’s David McEntee, who was head and shoulders above everyone on the pitch in the first half.
The St Mary’s side came flying out of the blocks and had banged in a goal and a point before Ballyholland’s players had even woken up. It didn’t end there either as for the best part of fifteen minutes they lay siege on the Harps goal, courtesy of complete midfield domination.
It has to be said that the Harps full-back line, led by Niall McQuillan, performed admirably under such pressure and along with goalkeeper Stefan Metcalfe, their sterling efforts were mostly responsible for keeping the scoreline respectable.
But even when they recovered possession, Ballyholland’s attacks were generally brought to an end before a shooting opportunity arose as the Burren corner-backs, Jamie McGovern and Andrew Fitzsimmons, were both in dominant form and were happy to snuff out any threat. Fitzsimmons in particular caught the eye for some terrific high fielding.
Still, despite tagging on a few points, Burren were not converting anywhere near the number of opportunities that they should have and a Rory Keenan point, followed by a Kevin McAteer goal – the reward for sheer persistence – finally gave the Harps some respectability on the scoreboard.
Burren did get some reward though and after a well-worked move, expertly finished by David O’Hare, was augmented with a couple more points, they moved 7 points clear as we approached halftime.
Then, along came Conor Madden with a touch of class and a game-changing moment.
A leg injury that restricted his mobility meant the normally free-running midfielder was reduced to a bit part role in full-forward. The Harps sorely missed his presence around the central areas, but with a hint of irony, it was a classic full-forward’s goal from Madden that got Ballyholland well and truly back into the game.
The big no.14 took an absolutely exquisite catch from a high ball in, turned his marker, and then drove low and hard into the bottom corner. Ruairi Kearney tagged on well-taken point a few seconds later and when the halftime whistle was blown, suddenly the Harps were looking at a molehill rather than a mountain to climb after the restart.
Maybe it was this lift, maybe it was some harsh words at halftime, maybe it was the lads just coming out of their shells, but whatever happened, Ballyholland were a completely different proposition after the break.
Right from the off this was obvious. Kevin McAteer took it upon himself to nullify the threat of McEntee and set about the task like a man possessed, chasing, harrying, blocking, always everywhere. Anderson, who had looked off the pace during the opening half, was suddenly reinvigorated and was taking the ball off his defence and spraying the ball around magnificently, setting the wheels of attack in motion. White was simply brilliant. Double and even triple marked at times, he took the bull by the horns put on a show of forceful running and unselfish passing that was a joy to behold.
Those were the big three, but they weren’t alone. Madden did everything his body would allow to provide a presence on the edge of the square. Kealen Haughey and Conrad Loughran fought for everything and took a lot of pressure off White, and Haughey even chipped in with two fine points in the early part of the half. The wing-backs Adam McAteer and Raymie Dunne, along with the ever-impressive James Hasson, swept up everything and put a wall in place to protect their full-back line.
In response McEntee still toiled hard and caused problems, while Donal O’Hare looked lively in corner-forward….but most of the traffic was going the other way, and it was left to Sean Garrivan to keep his side in the game with a series of magnificent stops.
But there was nothing Garrivan could do about a sublime strike by Sean Anderson with about ten minutes to go. Anderson had moved to full-forward by this stage and on receipt of the ball, struck it high into the top corner from 14 yards after a sweeping Harps move.
That gave Ballyholland their first lead of the day. Finally in charge, they saw out the last minutes of the game in a possessed manner and another goal from Anderson – sliding in to convert after a mesmerising run from White had left Burren at sixes and sevens – put a by now deserved gloss on the victory.
A late point from impressive Burren sub Ronan Magee reduced arrears again, but it was to turn out to be the concluding score. A few moments later, the final whistle sounded and mass celebrations ensued. Ballyholland had just won their first under-14 title since 1988. They might have done it the hard way, but they deserved every bit of it. They thoroughly deserved their moment in the sun.
So too did the Harps management team. The four-strong team was unfortunately depleted with Cyril O’Reilly and Sean Ross away on holidays and the senior team managers were brought in for the day, to help steer their ship. But they would happily admit that they were only there to give a hand to John Keenan and Mark Savage, two men for whom it was a very special day. Since last November, along with O’Reilly and Ross, 2 or 3 times a week these men have been bringing together a panel full of talent and moulding them into a winning team. At about 3pm in Hilltown, on a sunny Saturday in August, it was all made worthwhile.
Commiserations to all involved with a Burren team that put up a great fight, but this was simply Ballyholland’s day.
Let’s hope this is just part of a trophy-filled voyage through the underage ranks for the best juvenile team that the Harps have had in years.
S Metcalfe; C McGovern, N McQuillan, C McCartan; R Dunne, J Hasson, A McAteer; K McAteer (1-0), S Anderson (2-1); K Haughey (0-2), R White (0-1f), C Loughran; R Kearney (0-1), C Madden (1-1), R Keenan (0-1). Subs used: M Finnegan, C Havern.
S Garrivan; J McGovern, D Fegan, A Fitzsimmons; M McKay, D O’Hare, C McKay; D McEntee, D Fitzpatrick; D Gilfedder, M Rooney, B Grant; T Farrell, C Toner, D O’Hare. Subs used: P Farrell, R Magee.
Player of the Match: Robbie White