Pearse Og rule hurling roost

November 30, 2004
The 2004 hurling year in Louth belonged to Pearse Og, who brilliantly captured a second county SHC. And nobody can argue with the Holy Family parish club's status as county champions - they beat all three of the Wee County's other main hurling powers en route to collecting the Paddy Kelly Cup for the second time. As championship victories go, the one achieved by Pearse Og in the 2004 Louth senior hurling championship was about as emphatic and satisfying as any team could wish for. Nobody could argue with it. Pearse Og got the better of Knockbridge, Wolfe Tones and Naomh Moninne, establishing themselves as the undisputed kings of the Wee County's hurling landscape. They also secured promotion to Division One of the Armagh league for the first time, marking '04 out as a landmark year in the club's history. Not content with that, the club went on to complete a famous treble by also claiming the junior hurling league and junior hurling championship. When Pearse Og won the Louth SHC for the first time in their history in 2002, the breakthrough success raised a few eyebrows amongst the county's hurling fraternity. Who were these cheeky upstarts? What did they think they were up to challenging the superiority of Knockbridge and Naomh Moninne? Upsetting the applecart. The audacity of it all! The cynics - oh, ye of little faith! - suggested it was a one-off. Pearse Og had their day in the sun and now they would disappear back into relative obscurity. When the county title was surrendered tamely in 2003, the cynics were having a field day. They rubbed their hands in glee and patted each other's heads in mutual commendation. In 2004, however, Pearse Og roared back in resounding fashion. Their senior championship success was even more creditable than that of two years previously. By capturing the county's premier title for the second time in three seasons, Pearse Og proved that they are unquestionably a force to be reckoned with. What a victory it was! As sweet as they come… Pearse Og are here to stay. The 2004 Louth SHC final took place in ideal conditions at Ardee's Pairc Mhuire on Sunday September 5. Pearse Og made it two out of three with a five point defeat of town rivals Naomh Moninne, 1-11 to 1-6. The sides had met three weeks earlier in the final match of the round-robin section. Pearse Og, already through to the county final following victories over Wolfe Tones and Knockbridge, had nothing to play for on that occasion and lost out by eight points to a Moninne outfit battling for their championship survival. However, in the county final, with the stakes equally high for both teams, a different pattern of play materialised. The free-taking ability of 17-year-old Man of the Match Gerard Smith was instrumental in Pearse Og's win. The young sharpshooter, who lined out at right half back, landed six frees and a point from play over the course of the hour. The sides were level at the break but Pearse Og moved within touching distance of the Paddy Kelly Cup with a strong start to the second half, which saw them open up a four-point gap. Moninne were unable to live with the winners and, even though they reduced the deficit on a couple of occasions, the heroic Smith registered four Og frees in the final quarter while Moninne failed to score. Pearse Og scored five points in the first half but the concession of a seventh-minute goal meant they were only level at the short whistle, 0-5 to 1-2. They struck decisively on the resumption, altering the complexion of the match with a powerful surge: John Callan pointed directly from the throw-in and Martin Myles followed up with the game's decisive goal following good work from Shane Callan. To their credit, Kieran Somers' charges closed to within a point with 16 minutes left, 1-6 to 1-5, but Conal Lavery ended twelve barren minutes for the winners with the next point of the match. When Moninne again reduced the differential to the minimum, Pearse Og responded by throwing the experienced Paul Callan off the bench into their attack. The winners took a firm grip on proceedings for the closing stages and were worthy winners of the 2004 Louth SHC. Two-thousand-and-four was a historic year for Louth hurling as it marked the first time that the county championship was run-off on a league basis. The all-Dundalk final was something of an unexpected pairing as neither team had featured in the 2003 decider. But with a win and a draw respectively, Pearse Og and Naomh Moninne conspired to eliminate defending champions Knockbridge, denying the villagers a fifth successive final appearance. Pearse Og went into the decider with the bulk of the team that beat the 'Bridge by 3-11 to 1-9 in the '02 final at Clan na Gael Park again available. They were also boosted by the fact that they had just gained promotion to Division One of the Armagh league. Furthermore, they had also won the Maurice Murphy Perpetual Cup (junior hurling championship) with victory over St Fechins in the final, and the likes of Gerry Hoey, Shane Callan, Noel Callan, Conal Lavery, Mattie Boland and Martin Myles Jnr. were bidding for a unique double. The 2004 senior final was a repeat of the '97 decider, which Moninne won by eleven points. A lot has changed in seven years… There were two key developments in 2004 that contributed enormously to Pearse Og's second SHC win. The introduction of the junior hurling championship had a positive influence on the younger players in the club. Pearse Og had won the minor championship in 2003 and the new competition gave the younger lads something to aspire towards, helping many of them make a seamless transition onto the senior team. Securing the use of facilities at DKIT for training and home matches also impacted enormously on the club's historic season. The fact that the premier competition was played on an initial round-robin basis (Pearse Og had to beat everybody else to ultimately get their hands on the silverware) made the 2004 success extra sweet. They kicked off their campaign with a one-point defeat of 2003 finalist Wolfe Tones at Louth village, battling back after trailing by six at the break. Pearse Og knew they had a lot to do if they were going to claim the county crown. Knockbridge were next up and this was a crunch game for both clubs, particularly as the holders had lost their opener. Despite going in as underdogs, Pearse Og put in a masterful display to book their place in the final. The club's emergent talent demonstrated its worth in this particular game. The third game - against Moninne - was of no true significance to Pearse Og and it was hardly a major surprise when they slumped to a 2-11 to 0-9 defeat. A final berth had already been secured, wherein they would make no mistake… Reflecting on the glorious season, centre half back Donnach Callan notes: "The introduction of the junior hurling championship and league for the first time acted as the catalyst and kick-started our season. It helped the younger lads bridge the gap between minor and senior, whereas in the past we had lost players. It brought a whole new sense of pride into the club and the players concerned got a chance to prove themselves against adult opposition rather than just sitting on the sidelines. Instead of the 15 that would be starting on the day, we had a lot more interest throughout the squad. We had 25-30 lads at training every night, all pushing for places on the senior team." As part of their training programme, Pearse Og were able to arrange challenge matches between the senior and junior teams. Sometimes, the juniors even came out on top! Everybody was playing for their place on the first team and nobody knew until the day of the game who'd make the starting XV. The new year saw six of the 2003 all-conquering minor team emerge onto the club's senior panel. "There was a whole new vitality in the club, thanks largely to the junior league and championship. Players came back who might not otherwise have bothered, and they also contributed." Regarding the county final, the inspirational centre half says: "We had approached the group game against Naomh Moninne with caution because we didn't want to pick up any injuries or suspensions. We still went in to win, but they had a lot more to play for on the day. "But the final was different. We knew they'd put it up to us on the day. Training began in earnest and we were training four times a week. We had secured a base at DKIT and having access to that pitch was vital to us. Everybody knew exactly where training was taking place and what time it started at. We had a solid base and the club would like to sincerely thank DKIT for their invaluable assistance during the year. There's no doubt that without DKIT's input we couldn't have had such a successful year. "We felt we were well prepared for the county final. Paul Callan came back in time for the championship and helped out with the coaching. He's vastly experienced and is a wonderful coach - his contribution was very important." Alongside Paul, Mick Lennon, Damien Callan and Paddy Larkin looked after team affairs. Donnach continues: "We weren't overly confident, but we were quietly confident. People had us down as underdogs but we knew we had a good balance with a young fit team and a good mix of experience. Most of us have played together with Pearse Og the whole way up from U10 level. Everybody was playing for the pride of the parish and that enabled us to raise our game another notch. With the minors coming through, things were falling into place." The final was also a poignant and emotional occasion for the team, as Donnach reveals: "Sean Conroy's mother passed away the week before the final and Sean made a lovely gesture when he put his 2002 winners medal in the coffin alongside his mother. We really wanted to win another medal for Sean. We went out to do it for him and there was going to be no stopping us." Thus, Pearse Og proved that 2002 was not a one-off. Rather, they demonstrated that '03 was a blip. Are there more championships in this team? "I think so. The team is young and there are more players coming through all the time. Our next aim is to put championship wins back to back for the first time. We'll go all out to win it again next year and we'll be better prepared than we were in 2002. We know teams will be coming at us so we'll have to work on counteracting that. "We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of support we got on county final day. Everyone in the parish would've been aware of the fact that we were training at DKIT and it whipped up a big interest. They came out in large numbers to support us and it was wonderful to see. The support drove us on and we'd like to thank the people of the Holy Family parish for coming along and cheering us on." Pearse Og deserved those cheers. What a team! What a year! Pearse Og, 2004 Louth senior hurling champions: Stephen Smith; Gerry Hoey, Padraig Larkin, Martin Myles Snr.; Gerard Smith (0-7), Donnach Callan, Sean Conroy; Conal Lavery (0-1), David Mulholland; Mark Rafferty, Paul Sharkey, Mattie Boland (0-1); Shane Callan (0-1), John Callan (0-1), Martin Myles Jnr. (0-1). Subs: Paul Callan, Seamus McDonagh

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