The second Sunday in December isn’t normally the kind of day that you’d expect to see a rip-roaring Gaelic football contest but that’s what was served up at O’Connor Park in Tullamore earlier this afternoon as Dublin’s St. Vincents came out on top in a six-goal shootout against Portlaoise to claim the Leinster senior club football title for the first time since 2007 and for the fifth time in their history.
Today’s Leinster decider was a real topsy-turvy contest, the outcome of which was impossible to predict until the Marino lads finally got their noses back in front with five minutes to go. They definitely finished the match far stronger than Portlaoise and an unanswered salvo of four points – three from Mossy Quinn and the other from Diarmuid Connolly – hauled them from a point in arrears to three points in front at the final whistle, winning on a 3-12 to 3-9 scoreline.
Vincents have developed a habit over the course of this back-end’s campaign of making life difficult for themselves and they didn’t deviate from this script at O’Connor Park today. They found the hard-working, hard-hitting and well-organised Portlaoise side tough to handle early on but then two well-taken goals – the first from Ciaran Dorney and the second from Ruari Trainor – turned the match on its head and with a six-point cushion as half-time approached it looked then as if this one might be in the bag for them well before full-time.
However, two needlessly conceded goals at the other end – both scored by Craig Rogers, one from play and the other via a superbly converted penalty – brought the Midlanders back on terms and when Brian Glynn raised a third green flag for them soon after the break and Rogers followed this up with a pointed free, the match was now theirs to lose. At that stage, Vincents had suffered a ten-point swing against them, which for a match at this time of the year should have proved fatal but it wasn’t that kind of match today and, as it turned out, Vinnnies were far from finished.
The score that brought them back into it was their third goal, which was created by a superb upfield run by corner-back Michael Concarr who knifed at speed through the middle of the Portlaoise backline and then offloaded to the in-rushing Shane Carthy who dummied the keeper and rolled the ball into the net. Portlaoise lost but then managed to regain their one-point lead over the next few minutes but they were finally engulfed coming down the closing stretch, the superb Mossy Quinn – who bagged another eight points today, four of them from play – leading the charge as Vincents closed out a three-point win.
Along with their second piece of silverware in just over a month, Vinnies now advance to the All-Ireland semi-final stage of the club championships. There, in mid-February, they’ll meet the winners of the Ballinderry/Kingdom Kerry Gaels quarter-final which is down for decision in Ruislip next Sunday (I think I said earlier in the week that this match was also on today but it wasn’t, it’s on next weekend). Another road-trip, most likely to Breffni Park, awaits the Marino faithful then.
And, of course, Castlebar Mitchels will at the same time be squaring up to Kerry’s Dr. Crokes in the other semi-final. While Crokes remain the bookies’ favourites to lift the Andy Merrigan Cup next spring, I really do believe that the fates have now decided that it’s going to be a Castlebar/Vincents decider on Paddy’s Day. Both have one more significant hurdle to surmount early in the New Year before they can plan on heading to HQ in March but both can, I reckon, face into their respective semi-finals with increasing confidence about their chances of making it to Croke Park for the decider.