00:00 Saturday 03 December 2011  Written by Cois Farraige

Haven survive late rally to capture county U16B title

THIS cracking Rebel Óg U16B county football final in Coachford on Sunday last finished in a welter of excitement as Castlehaven, who seemed to be cruising to the title after a magnificent third quarter, were put to the pin of their collars to survive a late rally from a gallant Knocknagree side.

Two smashing goals at the start of the second half by the talented and exciting full forward Michael Hurley had put the Haven firmly in the driver's seat, following the concession of a goal on the stroke of half-time, and when they led by six points with only seven minutes remaining, it looked done and dusted. It wasn't.

The switch of outstanding full back, Gary O'Connor, to midfield, gave the north champions a new lease of life as they set about rescuing the game. Totally dominating the last ten minutes, they besieged the Haven goal and it was all hands to the wheel for the western winners as the lead was reduced.

The ability to strike back for vital points was crucial as the Haven snatched two in those closing minutes because when the classy Chris White rattled the Haven net in the 59th minute the lead was down to a dangerous two points. Four minutes of injury time produced drama galore, with the large crowd in full voice.

Outstanding full back, Ronan Walsh, brought off one vital block as the Haven lads threw their bodies on the line to prevent a winning Knocknagree goal. A 30m free from John Fintan Daly came back off the upright and it proved a vital miss because they were awarded another free in the 64th minute and had to go for goal or burst. The shot was blocked by the Haven defence and the final whistle brought a most competitive and enjoyable encounter to an end.

While Castlehaven had to battle hard in the end to pull off this unexpected win, there was no doubting that the laurels rested where they belonged on the day. Even though this Haven team had never won anything at U12 or U14 and thirteen of the side will be eligible again next year, they played some sparkling football throughout.

Colm O'Driscoll was rock-solid in goal, with a couple of great saves to his credit, and full back, Ronan Walsh, enhanced a growing reputation with another top-class display. Wing backs, the adventurous Patrick Bohane and the competitive Conor Cahalane, a chip off the old block, were superb all through in a tight defence where Ian Santry and Dave McCarthy gave little away in the corners. At centre back, captain, Brian Deasy, had a great duel with Knocknagree ace, John Fintan Daly.

Dominated

Midfielders Conor Nolan and Darragh Cahalane dominated exchanges for three-quarters of the game until they tired near the end while centre forward Czaba O'Mahony was one of the classiest forwards on view, kicking the opening three points for his side.

Once again the Haven had a real ace in full forward, Michael Hurley. Well held by outstanding full back, Gary O'Connor, and forced too far out from goal in the first half, Hurley thundered into the game at the start of the second half cracking home two goals and a point in the space of eight minutes that ultimately decided the destination of the trophy. He was a real leader for the remainder of the game.

Knocknagree were out-footballed for a lot of the game but never bowed the head and a cracking goal by Padraig Collins on the stroke of half-time actually had them leading at the break by two points. Collins, who started at midfield but moved to full forward, looked dangerous whenever he got the ball but was clearly hindered by an injury in the second half.

Full back, Gary O'Connor, lorded the defence in the first half, fell to Hurley's wiles after the break, but changed the game when moved to midfield in the closing stages. Daniel Murphy did well at centre back while Liam Murphy tried hard at midfield. Chris White showed lovely football skills at wing forward, with Andrew Sheehan and Eoin McSweeney also trying hard in attack.

Much was expected of John Fintan Daly in the Knocknagree attack but he came up against a tight marker in Castlehaven captain, Brian Deasy.

After a heavy night's wind and rain, the weather was perfect for this final but ground conditions were very soft, with most pitches unplayable at the weekend.

Referee, Pat O'Leary of Kilmurry, had no problems in a highly sporting contest.

The play

Castlehaven got off to the better start and centre forward Czaba O'Mahony got off to a flier when he pointed three times in the opening ten minutes, with a single reply from Eoin McSweeney. With both sides well-matched and the defences coping superbly, scores were few after that opening burst.

John Fintan Daly, from a free, closed the gap to a single point, 0-3 to 0-2, as the first quarter ended. The second quarter began with Haven goalie, Colm O'Driscoll, bringing off a great save from Liam Murphy and we had some really competitive fare before Darragh Cahalane pointed for the Haven in the 23rd minute. Daly answered from another free four minutes later and just as referee O'Leary was looking at his watch for half-time, Knocknagree struck for the first goal of the game.

Following a rare defensive error, Padraig Collins raced through on the Haven goal and passed inside to the unmarked Oliver O'Connor. Goalie, Colm O'Driscoll, proved equal to his shot only to see the inrushing Collins finishing the rebound to the net.

It was 1-3 to 0-4 at the break but the Haven re-emerged in defiant form. Within a minute Michael Hurley, set up by Rory Spencer Gallagher, had the ball in the Knocknagree net, Darragh Cahalane and Hurley added points and in the eighth minute Conor Nolan soloed through on a defence-splitting run, passed to Hurley and again the green flag was waving.

Six points in front against a shell-shocked Knocknagree, the Haven appeared to have the game at their mercy but to the credit of the Duhallow lads, they battened down the hatches subsequently. It was still 2-6 to 1-3 at the end of the third quarter thanks to a fine block by Ronan Walsh on Padraig Collins when a goal for Knocknagree looked certain.

All Knocknagree

With the switch of Gary O'Connor to midfield in the last quarter the pendulum began to swing towards Knocknagree and Daly had their first score of the half in the 46th minute. Back came the Haven with a fine point from David Whelton, set up by the rampant Hurley, but it was all Knocknagree now as Gary O'Connor kicked a point and Padraig Collins blazed over the bar from in front of goal.

Hurley increased the lead to five points with four minutes left but there was no surrender from Knocknagree as full back Walsh brought off another great block. Then came the goal from wing forward, Chris White, to close the gap to two points and the hectic finish saw Castlehaven holding out for a tremendous win, 2-8 to 2-6.

There were great scenes of delight as Rebel Óg's John Purcell presented the county cup to Castlehaven captain, Brian Deasy. The no-hopers had become county champions.

Scorers Castlehaven: Michael Hurley 2-2, Czaba O'Mahony 0-3, Darragh Cahalane 0-2, 0-1 free, David Whelton 0-1. Knocknagree: Padraig Collins 1-1, Chris White 1-0, John Fintan Daly 0-3, 0-2 frees, Gary O'Connor and Eoin McSweeney 0-1 each.

Castlehaven: Colm O'Driscoll, Ian Santry, Ronan Walsh, Dave McCarthy, Conor Cahalane, Brian Deasy, Patrick Bohane, Conor Nolan, Darragh Cahalane, Aidan Pearse, Czaba O'Mahony, David Whelton, Cathal Maguire, Michael Hurley, Rory Spencer Gallagher. Sub: Colin O'Neill.

Knocknagree: Pat Doyle, Andrew Cronin, Gary O'Connor, Brendan Murphy, James Kearney, Daniel Murphy, Patrick Twomey, Padraig Collins, Liam Murphy, Andrew Sheehan, Eoin McSweeney, Chris White, Brian Twomey, John Fintan Daly, Oliver O'Connor. Subs: Dave O'Connor, Matthew Collins, Paul O'Connor.

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