Under 14s steal the limelight
April 30, 2003
The Downs ended a six-year wait for an underage title when they captured the under 14 'B' championship last November. Team mentor Sean Carroll expects the success to augur well for the future.
A disappointing year for The Downs at senior level was compensated for when the under 14 team delivered a first underage championship to the club in six years after overcoming Maryland/Tang in a thrilling final last November.
Not since 1996, when a team containing current seniors such as James Conroy, Noel Molloy, Sean O'Leary and Brendan Murtagh captured the under 16 'A' championship, had the black and ambers tasted underage success. Ironically, Maryland/Tang were also their victims in that particular final.
The Downs also contested the under 16 'B' decider last December, but were forced to give second best to a superior Rosemount team. But the year still ended on a high with The Downs scooping the AIB Club of the Year award which was seen as fitting recognition for the major redevelopment work undertaken by the club over the past number of years.
"It wasn't a bad year overall," says under 14 mentor Sean Carroll.
"The senior championship campaign was a disappointment, but at least we had the underage to fall back on. We were delighted with the under 14 success and the under 16 team also went close to winning their championship. Hopefully, these achievements will augur well for the future," he adds.
Under the tutelage of Carroll, Mattie Carley and Sean Conneely, the under 14s defeated Tyrrellspass and Moate All-Whites en route to the final. They received a stern challenge from Tyrrellspass who they had just a point to spare over. Against Moate, they trailed at half-time, but pulled clear for a convincing win when favoured by the wind in the second half.
The final, which was played at Cusack Park on November 16, proved to be a classic encounter. Four times during a gripping opening half the sides were level and it was no surprise to see them deadlocked at the interval. Maryland/Tang opened up a two-point lead on the restart, but a physically stronger The Downs team bounced back to record a dramatic 3-5 to 2-7 victory.
The south county combination led by 0-3 to 0-2 at the end of the first quarter, but goal from full forward Tommy Conneely in the 18th minute had The Downs in driving seat. Maryland/Tang fought back to level before Kieran Egan scored their opening goal in the 28th minute. However, Conneely then notched his second goal to ensure the black and ambers of parity at half-time, 2-2 to 1-5.
Points from Conneely and Darren Price on the resumption suggested that The Downs were gaining the upperhand, but another goal from Egan in the 13th minute left them trailing by two. But an inspirational point from Irish basketball international Price provided The Downs with the impetus to go on to achieve victory. The decisive third goal was scored by Shane Power 12 minutes from the end, making it 3-5 to 2-7 in The Downs' favour.
Maryland/Tang managed the last two points of the game, but The Downs held on for the win.
"It was a great way to win a final," recalls Carroll, who refereed last year's intermediate championship final between Tubberclair and Tang, and was recently added to the inter-county panel of referees.
"They were a great bunch of lads to work with and a lot of the credit must go to Aidan McGuire who had them at under 10 and under 12 level. What's really encouraging is that all but five of them are still eligible for the grade and we'll be looking to go a step further by winning the 'A' championship with them this year."
The under 16 team - which was managed by Pauric Devine, Ger Brennan and Paddy Nolan - failed in their bid to make it an underage double, succumbing to Rosemount by 0-6 to 4-4 in the 'B' final at Rochfortbridge on December 15. The Downs enjoyed ample possession, but couldn't match their opponents in the scoring stakes. Despite the accurate freetaking of Stephen Devine, they trailed by 0-4 to 2-1 at the interval. A third goal from man of the match Danny Fox ended the game as a contest midway through the second half.
Decimated by injuries, illness and emigration, 2002 was always going to be a difficult year for The Downs senior team. And so it proved, although they were by no means pushovers for their opponents.
They made a dream start to the championship, beating eventual county finalists Castledaly by 3-5 to 0-10 at Rochfortbridge on May 19. The Downs' interval lead of three points didn't look like it would be enough given that they had played with the aid of a stiff breeze.
Castledaly had restored parity within six minutes of the restart, but Brendan Murtagh's 40th minute goal helped to turn the tide back in favour of The Downs who ran out comfortable winners in the end.
The black and ambers were brought back down to earth when they suffered a 0-5 to 0-11 defeat to St. Loman's in their next outing. But their hopes of reaching the knock-out stages were boosted when a late point from Tommy Cleary earned them a 1-8 to 2-5 draw with Tyrrellspass on June 30.
If the draw with Tyrrellspass had been a point gained, then a 0-10 to 0-10 draw with Moate All-Whites in their next game was definitely a point lost. The Downs had a glorious chance to make sure of victory when James Conroy raced one-on-one with Moate goalkeeper David Mackey, who produced an inspirational save, and the All-Whites launched one final attack which culminated in Mickey Heavin kicking the equalizing point.
Whatever chance The Downs had of reaching the quarter-finals were dashed when they succumbed to Athlone by 1-11 to 3-9 in their final group game. Tommy Kelly's men looked capable of taking something from the game until Neil Dolan swooped for an injury-time goal to ensure victory for the Shannonsiders.
In the All-County League, The Downs held their Division 1 status, but lost heavily to Castledaly in the Feis Cup. The club's reign as senior 'B' champions was ended by neighbours Coralstown/Kinnegad after a replay at the quarter-final stage.
"In the circumstances, I think that we did well to hold our own in senior football," Carroll claims.
"We began the year with seven regulars missing and that figure was increased to 10 before it had ended. Some rural clubs mightn't have been able to field a team if that happened to them, but we dug deep into our reserves and gave a good account of ourselves.
"This year, we hope to have a number of those lads back and I'd expect us to give the championship a good crack. The draw is favourable but, in saying that, we can't afford to take anything for granted," he concludes.
The Downs team which captured the under 14 'B' championship was: Shane Walsh; Alan Finch, Jack Hogan, Niall Keegan; John Fitzsimons, Mark Keegan, Philip Dowdall; Adrian Duncan, Darren Price; Shane Power, Simon O'Donnell, Karl Ferguson; Declan Lynam, Tommy Conneely, Noel Poynton. Sub used: Peter O'Donoghue.
The Downs team which contested the under 16 'B' championship final was: Brendan Curley; Caimin Keegan, Paul Kelleghan, Niall Nolan; Darren Duncan, Michael Ward, Kevin Gilroy; Greg Crowley, Ollie Merlehan; Darren Price, Alan Bardon, Stephen Devine; Aidan Duncan, Eugene McCormack, Mark Dalton. Sub used: Simon O'Donnell.
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