A dank old day in December isn’t the ideal time of the year to be deciding a match of any importance but today’s Leinster club football final at Navan’s Pairc Tailteann was a contest of considerable significance, both for the silverware that was on offer and the ticket that victory provided to the All-Ireland semi-final in the New Year. The day wasn’t hectic and, to be honest, neither was the contest as my local club, Dublin’s St Vincents, skated to a ten-point victory over Offaly champions Rhode, winning by 1-13 to 0-6.
On the sports bulletin on RTÉ’s six o’clock news this evening, the winners were described as the ‘Marino Giants’. While such a moniker is certainly appropriate within Dublin GAA circles – where they hold 27 football titles, way more than anyone else – it’s not really one that can accurately be used beyond the county boundaries. Today’s Leinster title win was the club’s sixth, easing them into second place (one behind Portlaoise, one ahead of Carlow’s Éire Óg) in the provincial roll of honour while their three All-Ireland titles places them joint third (along with Cork’s St Finbarr’s) on that particular leaderboard, where they trail the Rangers of Nemo (with seven wins) and Crossmaglen (six). So while Vinnies is a club with considerable achievements at provincial and national level, there are other big fish in these waters too.
But what the Marino lads undoubtedly have right now is momentum. Today’s win marks the club’s first ever back-to-back Leinster title success in a year where, for the first time in thirty years, they successfully retained their Dublin title. It’s little wonder, then, that tonight they’re priced at 5/4 to retain the Andy Merrigan Cup next March, though it should be noted that their opponents in the All-Ireland semi-final next February, Connacht champions Corofin, are also on offer at exactly the same odds.
Today’s Leinster final was a bit of a non-event. From the instant that Eamonn Fennell rose to fetch the ball from the throw-in they were always on top and had already spurned a few goal chances before the match was five minutes old. With just over ten minutes on the clock and already two points clear, the inevitable goal arrived when Diarmuid Connolly’s deftly weighted pass sent Mossy Quinn in on goal and he buried it in the corner. And that, in truth, was that.
Rhode had the wind with them in the first half but they failed to trouble the umpires until Niall McNamee pointed from play in the 23rd minute – by which time they were 1-5 in arrears – and Vinnies reached the break with a healthy six-point cushion behind them. It went from bad to worse for the Offaly lads early in the second half when their captain Paraic Sullivan got into a stupid tangle with Diarmuid Connolly and received a second yellow for his troubles. It was plain sailing for Vincents from then on, with two superb Mossy Quinn points from play the highlight of the second half as the defending champions closed out an impressive ten-point win.
So the Vinnies juggernaut continues to roll on, with their unbeaten club championship run, which now incorporates all of 2013 and 2014, set to extend into 2015. How long it lasts then remains to be seen – their All-Ireland semi against Ballintubber’s conquerors Corofin will be a significant step up from the kind of opposition they’ve had to face over the last few months – but that’s one for the New Year.