Moninne rediscover championship form

November 30, 2004
There were a number of positives to report from Naomh Moninne's year. With the senior championship played on an initial round-robin basis for the first time, they progressed impressively to the final only to produce a below-par display therein. There was also an abundance of activity at juvenile level - an area in which the club is making remarkable strides - as well as the much-publicised trip to Croatia. All in all, it was a busy, eventful and productive year… The highlight of Naomh Moninne's 2004 season was participation in the senior hurling championship final at Ardee's Pairc Mhuire on Sunday September 5. The all-Dundalk decider was played as curtain-raiser to the JFC final and was a repeat of the 1997 SHC final, which Moninne won by eleven points. It was the Black & Amber's first county final appearance since they won the senior championship in 1999 and they fancied their chances of outright success. After a sluggish start to the year when a number of players were unavailable, Moninne had got their act together in time for the premier competition and had looked the part en route to the final. They convincingly beat none other than Pearse Og (2-11 to 0-9) in the final match of the round-robin series, booking their place in the decider by virtue of that win. The county final was played in perfect conditions. A speculative seventh-minute goal from corner forward Padraig Mulholland, who pulled excellently on a loose ball, gave the losers an ideal start but Moninne were unable to build upon this and they only went in level at the break, 1-2 to 0-5. Gerard Connolly had been unfortunate not to register a goal in the 21st minute, when his shot was well saved by opposing goalkeeper Stephen Smith. In the end, Moninne paid the price for missing a number of first-half chances. Despite slipping four points adrift shortly after the resumption, Moninne made a real fight of it in the third quarter and twice closed within a point, but Declan Byrne's 46th-minute point was their last of the match and they faded out of proceedings as the game entered its final act. Up until then, exchanges had been close but the Black & Amber wilted disappointingly in the closing ten minutes, falling to a five-point defeat, 1-11 to 1-6. It was a disappointing performance on the biggest day of the year. Moninne had struggled to find their form in the Louth and Armagh leagues in '04 and had reserved their best form for the championship. The SHC was initially ran off on a round-robin basis to keep it in line with the three main football competitions and Moninne, who had lost to Knockbridge in four successive semi-finals, made the most of the new format, qualifying for the county final with an unbeaten record. They followed up their first-round draw with traditional bogey team Knockbridge with successive victories over Wolfe Tones and Pearse Og to advance to the county's showcase game for the first time in five years. While reaching the county final was a big plus in an otherwise disappointing year, the actual performance therein took much of the gloss off that achievement. In the run-up to the final, Moninne were confident as they had prepared well and the spirit in the camp was good. Thus, the manner in which their challenge faltered on the big day was a bit of a letdown. As far as on-the-field activity went, Naomh Moninne were flat out all year. They reached the finals of both the senior championship and the junior hurling league, and also had the distinction of taking part in the first-ever Louth junior hurling championship match - against Pearse Og at The Ramparts on Friday April 16. The club's ongoing progress at juvenile level is a joy to behold. To this end, they are one of the strongest club's in the Wee County, with up to 120 youngsters training on a regular basis (a few years ago, this aspect of the club was non-existent). These youngsters take part in training sessions at the Marist College pitch on Saturday afternoons: the first session from 1.00 until 2.00 caters for four- to nine-year-olds, while the nine-to-twelve age group is looked after during the following hour. Another feature of the 2004 season was the introduction of the junior league and championship, to help integrate new hurling clubs in Collon and Termonfeckin. The JHC was played for the Maurice Murphy Memorial Cup, which was presented to the County Board by the Naomh Moninne club. Unfortunately, they were beaten at the semi-final stage of that particular competition. Reflecting on the year, team manager Kieran Somers notes: "There was definitely progress made because we hadn't won a championship match in five years and this year we won two and drew with Knockbridge. The manner in which we secured that draw, with an injury-time goal, was as good as a win! "At the start of the year, we were decimated by injury and there were also a lot of lads unavailable either due to work or college commitments in Dublin. For this reason, we made a slow start to the season and it took us a long time to get going. However, it all came together for the championship, but we just ran out of time. We didn't get enough groundwork done early in the year, when lads were missing, and that probably caught up with is in the end. While progress was made, we were disappointed not to win the championship. Any year when you go out to win a championship and don't win it, it's going to be disappointing." While early-season events were far from ideal, there was an upside, as Kieran reveals: "The Armagh league usually kicks the season off, but this time we had a slow start with so many lads unavailable. The good thing was that we got to look at some of the younger lads and the fridge players got a chance to stake their claim. The best thing that came out of it was that we gave three young lads their championship debuts this year, which was the first time in six years that we've blooded homegrown players. "After Knockbridge broke away in 1998, we had to go out and get working on our underage structures and this is the first time that any of those players have come through onto the senior team." Two of the three players - [regular goalkeeper] James Connolly and Darren O'Hanrahan - are under 16s, while Ken Coleman is still a minor. "As time goes by, we'd hope to see more lads come through from the U16 and minor teams. If we got one or two a year, we'd be happy with that," Kieran notes. What were the manager's views on the 2004 SHC final? "We probably didn't do ourselves justice. We had chances early on but didn't take them, and we paid the price in the end. We have no excuses, however, because we were beaten by a better team on the day." Can Naomh Moninne build on their run to the county final? "Of course. It's all about confidence and winning those championship games should give the players confidence. We hadn't won a game in five years and then we reached the final unbeaten. That should be a big boost to the players. I think the new structure is good for all teams and hopefully Naomh Moninne can get into the habit of winning championship games. "Playing one championship game a year for the past four years was a joke. That's not the way any senior championship is played in any county. The round-robin system is the way forward and we should have at least three tough championship games each year from now on." What is a realistic target for Naomh Moninne next year? "This year our target was to win the championship and I'm sure it'll be the same again. We fell at the final hurdle but a lot of fellas will know it's there for the taking now, if we can show a small improvement again next year. It's been a long time since '99. There has been a lot of transition in the club since Knockbridge broke away and we have been busy rebuilding and regrouping. It was a good achievement to get to the final in 2004 and hopefully that's a sign of things to come. "There's a huge amount of work going in at underage level. We had 25-30 youngsters at the start of the year turning out at the Marist on a Saturday and that has gone up to 80. These are U10s and they need coaching and proper care, so you can imagine the amount of work, organisation and money that is going into that. Looking at those numbers, hurling must be the fastest-growing sport in Dundalk! "We should reap the benefits of all this work somewhere down the line. Patience will be required and it will take time, but the structures are in place. "The next thing we need is a field, a pitch that we can call home, somewhere to put down roots." Naomh Moninne made definite progress in 2004. If they continue in a similar vein next season, then the Paddy Kelly Cup won't be too far away. Naomh Moninne, 2004 Louth senior hurling championship finalists: James Connolly; Seamus Cahill, Barry Murphy, Padraig Fallon; Colm Feely, Joe Kennedy, Ger Collins; Eddie McArdle (0-1), Dominic King; Diarmuid Murphy, Declan Byrne (0-1), David Devaney; Padraig Mulholland (1-0), John Murphy (0-2), Gerry Connolly (0-2). Subs: Pearse Doherty, Padraig Murphy, Robbie Kearney.

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