New champions emerge on incredible weekend of sport

Captain James Glancy lifts the Cup to delighted St. Mary's teammates and fans after last Sunday's County Final. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Congratulations to the St. Mary’s team, panel and management on securing the title of Leitrim Senior Football champions 2013.

Congratulations to the St. Mary’s team, panel and management on securing the title of Leitrim Senior Football champions 2013.

Their win over Mohill was probably a little more comprehensive than the final scoreline would suggest, but Mohill’s never say die attitude meant the Carrick men only really sealed the win with their two goals in the latter stages of the game.

When St. Mary’s dethroned the 2012 champions Melvin Gaels in a thrilling quarter-final replay I predicted they would go all the way. While Mohill had already caused the shock of the year by dumping out the favourites, Glencar Manorhamilton, I couldn’t see any of the teams left in the competition dealing with the strength and depth St. Mary’s had at their disposal.

It was their ability to spring key men from the bench against Melvin Gaels that won them that crucial game, including the experienced Jimmy Guckian and Conor McWeeney, who had made a name for himself at minor grade.

Speaking of minors a big buladh bos to the St. Manchan’s team on their county title and to Glencar Manorhamilton on winning the Intermediate title too.

McWeeney was to the fore in Pairc Sean on Sunday, while centre back Conor Farrell and Daniel Lowe put in two outstanding displays.

However, I was delighted to see Clem Cunniffe take the man of the match award with a towering and powerful display that was typical of the non-fuss way Clem has of going about his business on the field.

But it was really a squad effort that won the Fenagh Cup for St. Mary’s, not just in the final with some subs playing key roles, but throughout their run in 2013.

It’s essential St. Mary’s improve on their profligacy as they face greater challenges in the Connacht championship but if they can I’m sure they can defeat any team that comes before them.

They have a great young, home-grown management team in charge and I’m sure Tom Crowe and Joe Flynn Jr will have them well prepared for either the Sligo or Roscommon champions.

I would have liked to see Mohill win on Sunday. Philly McGuinness popped into my head on many occasions over the course of this summer and I know the club would loved to have brought home the Fenagh Cup in his honour.

But every Mohill player should hold his head high safe in the knowledge that just like Philly, they never gave up. That’s all he would have asked for.

Many of the adjectives used to describe Philly in his pomp – exciting, graceful, energetic, tenacious, thrilling – were evident in abundance in Croke Park on Saturday.

It was the greatest sporting event I have ever witnessed and if I’m lucky enough to attend a better match in the future it’ll be the one when Leitrim wins the All Ireland!

Replays are funny things and hard to predict, unless the pairing is made up of a distinct favourite and an underdog (favourites don’t tend to lose replays). Following the pulsating drawn game, everyone was wondering if Clare could play as well again, would Cork bring their A-game for 70 minutes, and just what surprise would Davy Fitz pull out of the bag this time.

As it would turn out, Clare would play even better, Cork improved dramatically but still couldn’t live with the Banner’s youthful abandon, while Davy played a tactical master-stroke that essentially won them the game.

In the days leading up to the final the former ‘keeper turned manager had been telling his 19-year-old panel member Shane O’Donnell that he was going to get time off the bench in the All Ireland final replay.

Stay tuned in he kept telling the youngster who is known for his eye for goal, but also for a propensity to let nerves and jitters get to him (understandable considering his age).

But Davy had already made up his mind – he was actually going to start O’Donnell at full forward at the expense of talisman Darach Honan (who showed what it is to be a team player by coming on as a sub and scoring the security goal in injury-time). O’Donnell learned of his fate two-hours before throw-in. There was no time for nerves. He had slept like a baby.

His first half hat-trick was the stuff of boyhood dreams and he finished the game with 3-2 before being withdrawn with minutes to play to one of the greatest standing ovations that famous stadium has ever witnessed. Incredibly, I wouldn’t have given him man of the match.

There were countless contenders on a Clare team that brought verve and abandon and joy and passion and speed to the game and all the people lucky enough to have witnessed this spectacle in person or on television.

But if one man epitomised what it takes to win an All Ireland, it was Clare’s full back David McInerney. Clare went a dangerous 17 minutes without a score in the second half as Cork reeled in an eight –point lead and the Rebels could have over-run the young Clare men at this stage were they not repelled time and again by the strength and determination of McInerney.

Leading by example and inspiring his team mates to equal his efforts, his every action screamed ‘I will not let us lose this game’. It was inspirational stuff.

Yes I was cheering for Clare in a stadium where Cork’s rebel red was in a significant majority. But I didn’t expect to find myself leaping up from my seat pumping my fist in response to Clare’s fourth goal, as if I had been born and reared in Ennis and my parents had met at the match-making festival in Lisdoonvarna.

The final whistle brought unrivalled joy to every Clare man woman and child that exist, while every so called ‘neutral’ felt privileged just to be there.

It was only as the Clare players flung off their helmets at the final whistle that you realise just how young they are. The average age of the team is 23 years-old and drops to 21.5 if you count numbers 8-15.

If ever the old sporting adage ‘if you are good enough you are old enough’ rung true it was here. We are extra fortunate that this young team should be around for many more years to entertain us.