The downs are on the rise
27 May 2005
The Downs may have relinquished their senior football championship title with little fuss, much to their own frustration, but the club did manage to obtain some silverware and chairman of the minor committee, Johnny Murray, explains to the Maroon and White how this was achieved.
Many neutrals who were asked what was the best football they saw at club level in the county last year came up with the same answer the Premier minor football final that comprised of two matches after St Finians and Clann Braonain drew their opening clash. St Finians emerged victorious in an enthralling encounter and the amalgamation of The Downs and fierce rivals Coralstown/Kinnegad proved that with a little bit of effort, determination and dedication, anything is possible.
"I suppose in the past there has been a bit of rivalry between the two clubs," laughed Johnny. "But the majority of these young lads go to school together in Rochfortbridge and whatever differences the older generation may have, it certainly hasnt filtered through to these lads."
The premier minor championship kicked off back in July and although St Finians were to win the championship, it was a very different story at the start of the campaign as in their first match, they suffered a defeat to Caulry/Castledaly, although Johnny points out that preparation for the first match was non-existent.
"We only met for the first time the evening we were due to play Caulry/Castledaly, so we had no work done beforehand and looking back now, we had lads on the sideline that probably should have been playing. We lost the match by two points but decided there and then to give it a real go. There was a panel of 29 to choose from and there were some excellent footballers in the squad," added the St Finians mentor.
St Finians got their campaign back on track with a win over Ennell Shamrocks in their next outing. The match itself was an entertaining contest as both sides produced an excellent standard of football throughout and this win gave St Finians a renewed confidence as they prepared for the rest of the championship.
Johnny said: "Ennell Shamrocks were a very good side and to beat them was a huge bonus for us. After that match we knew we had a chance of winning the championship and the lads knew it to. Everyone turned out for training and the squad was eager to do as well as they could."
A win over St Patricks put St Finians in a prime position to make the knockout stages of the championship, but first they would have to see off the challenge of a Mullingar Shamrocks side that were searching for a coveted three-in-a-row of minor titles. The town team did not know what hit them as the amalgamation side went at them with everything right from the start and deserved to run out winners by a staggering eleven points.
The rest of the teams left in the championship now knew that St Finians would be their main threat and a meeting with St Brigids in the semi final confirmed their strength in depth. St Brigids had come through group B along with Clann Broanain and were thought to be a useful side, but The Downs/Coralstown/Kinnegad mentors had their homework done.
"I went to see a few matches in the other group and to be honest was fairly confident that we were stronger than anyone of the them with the exception of Clann Braonain. The win over St Brigids in the semi final proved that as we comprehensively beat them," revealed Johnny.
As is usually the case, the minor final preceded the senior final. The success of Westmeath in winning their first ever Leinster senior football title meant that all championships were finished later than usual and so the minor decider was in early November.
There was nothing to separate the sides at the end of an enthralling encounter as St Finians failed to hold on to a one point lead in the dying moments of the match. A draw was probably the fairest result as neither side deserved to lose this contest. Overall there was never too much between the sides as St Finians held a one point lead at the interval, 1-4 to 1-3.
St Finians made a great start to the match when midfielder Greg Crowley found Luke Folan with an excellent pass and the wing forward fired home a superb goal to give the black and ambers the perfect start. Clann Braonain responded with a point before St Finians responded with a point through midfielder Ronan Foley. Corner Forward Danny Mooney converted a free to leave the scores 1-2 to 0-1 after 15 minutes.
Two minutes later and Clann Braonain were right back in the match when danger man David Glennon scored a goal after a well worked move. The same player converted a free to level the scores as half time approached. However, there was time for a few more scores as Clann Braonain went in front for the first time in the match after another converted free.
The introduction of Stephen Devine had an immediate impact on the match as the St Finians forward slotted over two frees to put his side back in front as the sides retreated for the half time break. St Finians were given a glorious opportunity to stretch their lead at the start of the second half when they were awarded a penalty after Foleys attempt at goal was foot blocked.
Devine put his effort wide and Clann Braonain were let off the hook and the took full advantage of the miss to draw level three minutes later. Points from Foley and Mooney put St Finians back in front by two with ten minutes of the second half gone.
Clann Braonain narrowed the gap with a well worked point, before St Finians midfielders Foley and Crowley combined for the latter to fire over a point. Centre forward AJ Murray opened the gap to two points as goalkeeper Brendan Cleary made an outstanding save and deflected the ball over the bar.
With five minutes remaining, Clann Braonain drew level once again and although both sides had chances to score the winner, the defences held firm and a replay was needed to decide the outcome of the 2004 premier minor football championship.
"It was an outstanding game. Both teams produced some great football. Its kind of hard to take it all in when your so involved but speaking to people afterwards, they were all impressed by the performances of both sides. We had a very difficult decision to make before the match whether to play top scorer Stephen Devine or not. Stephen had missed the semi final win over St Brigids because he was away on holidays and the team won so easily in the semi final that it was very difficult to drop anybody.
"But great credit to Stephen, he took the decision well and when he was introduced in the final, he gave a great display and scored two points. We knew we were still in with a shout for the replay and the lads were eager to win which was great to see. Anyone could have trained this team to win," said Johnny modestly.
The management team of Johnny, Emmett McDonnell along with their four selectors made a number of changes for the replay as Stephen Devine retained his place while, Darren Price switched from his customary position at half back to half forward.
St Finians got off to a flyer and were three points up after ten minutes thanks to two Stephen Devine frees and a point from Luke Folan. Clann Braonain replied with 1-2 in the next five minutes to turn the match on its head. Devine and Chris Cole levelled matter with two well taken points. The sides then exchanged points with Darren Price firing over one of the scores of the match after a fine solo run from midfield.
Devine then played a short 45 metre free to Greg Crowley and the return pass saw the half forward tap over a fine score. Price stretched St Finians lead with his second score of the match. Their opponents replied the best way possible when they scored their second goal of the match to put them back in the lead. The switch of Price into the half forward line looked to have paid off when he scored his third point of the afternoon just before half time to level matters once again.
Clann Braonain scored the opening two points of the second half before Devine and Cole levelled matters for the third time in the match. St Finians then lost their momentum as Clann Broanain pulled three points clear with ten minutes remaining. However this was to be their last score in normal time as Devine, sub Stephen Hickey and Ronan Foley all pointed to tie the game at 2-8 to 0-14 at the end of normal time.
Extra time proved to be just as exciting as scores started to flow. Clann Braonain opened the scoring during this period but St Finians found a way back and Devine (2) and Stephen Cole found the range to put the black and ambers back in front once again. A quick free by AJ Murray found Stephen Cole and the substitute made no mistake in firing the ball to the net.
The second half of extra time saw St Finians stretch their lead to five points when Chris Cole found the range but Clann Braonain were not about to give up without a fight as they clawed they way back into the match as they closed the gap to two points, although this was as close as they could manage and St Finians held on for a historic win, 1-18 to 2-13.
"It was an amazing game and the lads were just exhausted afterwards, they had just given it their all. Darren Price, Stephen Devine and Jason Lynch were outstanding but everyone of the players played their part in the win. We put in a tremendous amount of hard work throughout the year and the end result was worth every bit of it," said Johnny.
"Around half that team are overage this year but we have a good few lads who are a year older now and will be more than able replacements for the lads that cant play. Our underage structure has improved and we intend to keep building for the future."
The new minor committee set up within The Downs club were to also taste success on their own when they won the Club 2 minor championship. This competition comprised of a 13-a-side championship where a group of seven teams competed for the top two places and a place in the final.
Amazingly this championship began as early as April but still the final was not played until November. The Downs had a three month break between their opening match and their next competitive outing, something that Johnny was not too pleased about.
"It was very hard to keep the lads going for three months without a competitive match but it was well worth it in the end. We met Milltownpass in the final in November and the match was played in terrible conditions, which is not fair on these young lads. On the day all the Kinnegad lads came over to Rochfortbridge to support us and that was greatly appreciated," revealed the Westmeath under-16 manager.
Once again The Downs were involved in an epic encounter that required extra time and with a number of their players only having a weeks rest from the premier final, the win was made all the sweeter as a last minute point by 15-year-old Simon ODonnell ensured the win for the Black and Ambers.
So the future looks very bright for the club and although their seniors had a quiet year, it may not be too long before The Downs are the top dogs in Westmeath football once again.