Denn ease into All-Ireland semi-final

All-Ireland Club JFC quarter-final

Denn 3-16

St Brendan’s 2-6

Paul Fitzpatrick at Oliver Plunkett Park

An excellent second-half performance saw Denn advance to the All-Ireland Junior Club semi-final with an emphatic win over St Brendan’s of Manchester in Crossmaglen.

Denn had their hands full for the first half but as the contest progressed, their conditioning came to the fore as they ran through the St Brendan’s defence. And up front, they had outstanding performances from the likes of Thomas Edward and Sean Donohoe and Ben Conaty, whose scores killed off the UK-based side’s challenge.

Denn came into this game as favourites, unbeaten in 11 matches and having only lost one championship game in two years. St Brendan’s, for their part, ended a 25-year wait to win the Lancashire championship and then beat Warwickshire side Sean McDermotts in the All-Britain final.

At half-time, Denn held a two-point lead, 0-7 to 1-2. The Cavan champions looked like the better side but St Brendan’s physical approach was causing them problems.

The exiles set up defensively but their discipline let them down at times – in the first quarter, the referee signalled for 10 infringements (against four for Denn) and the three yellow cards he handed out in the first half all went to St Brendan’s players.

Early on, St Brendan’s utilised direct ball to their towering full-forward Colm Conway. The first two were expertly dealt with by Micheál Gaffney but they eventually profited from the third.

Owen Clarke, St Brendan’s outstanding midfielder, won a turnover and Liam Burns found Conway, who tucked away a good finish to the bottom corner.

But Denn recovered well from that early setback and would reel off six scores unanswered. Having found the mass defence hard to break down, Denn finally picked the padlock when Thomas Edward Donohoe released Ben Conaty, who slotted over their opening score off the left.

Frees from Conaty and Donohoe followed before ‘Ted’ took a pass from brother Sean and landed another just before the water break.

A free from Thomas Edward after a foul on James Brady made it 0-5 to 1-0 and a sixth point in succession arrived when the Donohoe brothers again combined, with Thomas Edward doing the honours from the dead ball once more.

Colm Conway used his size and soccer skills to engineer a point for St Brendan’s, who followed up with a 45 from goalkeeper Fintan Harkin, but after Tomas Corr won a kick-out, Conaty booted over a super score to leave two between the teams at the break.

Denn dominated the third quarter as their superior conditioning came to the fore. A feature of their performances of late has been a second-half surge and that was the case again here as they upped the ante and looked in a different league to their game but out-classed opponents.

St Brendan’s registered the first score of the second half when they carved out a goal chance which Ryan Devine, their danger man who was well subdued on the day, palmed over the bar from close range in the first minute.

Denn responded well when Conor O’Reilly, who turned in an industrious shift around the middle, went on a good run and finished with the left.

From the kick-out, Denn turned over possession and Thomas Edward Donohoe pointed from play. Denn were growing in confidence and soon added a lovely score from the impressive Conaty after a sweeping move involving Tomas Corr and Conor O’Reilly.

The crucial score then arrived in the 41st minute. Thomas Edward Donohoe struck the upright with a point effort and the ball fell kindly to half-time sub Jamie Reilly, who coolly rounded the goalkeeper and tapped into the empty net to make it 1-10 to 1-3.

St Brendan’s sub Aaron Fitzpatrick registered an eye-catching point but Donohoe again raised a white flag from a free. The county panellist was in great form and with Conor O’Reilly in particular on top around the middle, chances were coming his way.

Donohoe knocked over another from play, after a sharp turn from Reilly, before Conway and Conaty traded scores.

St Brendan’s grabbed a lifeline with eight minutes remaining when Devine’s effort dropped short; in the ensuing scramble, Mark Fegan pulled off a great save but Paddy McCoy pulled on the rebound and found the net.

That made it a five-point game but Denn were not rattled. Conaty pointed again from play and from the kick-out, Caoláin McCabe intercepted and tucked away to the bottom corner with a perfect finish.

Denn weren’t done yet; O’Reilly forced a turnover at midfield and found Sean Donohoe, who blasted to the corner of the net to make it 3-14 to 2-5.

Jamie Reilly was almost in for a second goal but was denied by a spectacular Clarke block. In the dying seconds, Conor Smyth and Cian McCann (free) raised further white flags either side of a McCoy point as Denn eased home with 13 points to spare.

Denn: Mark Fegan, Leon Cobey, Tomas Corr, Micheál Gaffney, Mark McSherry, Oisin Kiernan, James Brady, Conor O’Reilly (0-1), Bernard Gaffney, Caoláin McCabe (1-0), Eoin Reilly, Sean Donohoe (1-0), Thomas Edward Donohoe (0-7, 4f), Ben Conaty (0-6, 1f), Brandon Keogan

Subs: Jamie Reilly (1-0) for E Reilly (ht), Conor Smyth (0-1) for B Keogan (25), Andrew Cusack-Smith for C McCabe (25), Cian McCann (0-1f) for Conaty (57), Cormac Cusack-Smith for Kiernan (60)

St Brendan’s: Fintan Harkin, Hugh Peter Ward, Chrissy Ryan, Owen Kirk, Padraig Mallon, Callum Gribben, Liam Burns, Owen Clarke, Ethan Gibson, Paddy McCoy (1-1), Ryan Devine (0-1), Tomas Ryan, Jamie Donaghy, Colm Conway (1-2), Paddy Fox

Subs: Mark Hoare for Mallon (25 mins), Donal Purvis for Fox (34 mins), Aaron Fitzpatrick (0-1) for Donaghy (43), Conrad Tierney for Kirk (58)

Ref: Barry Tiernan (Dublin)