Drumlane advance to JFC final

Junior Football Championship semi-final

Drumlane 0-10

Drumalee 1-4

Drumlane returned to the Junior Championship final for the first time since winning it in 2018 with this hard-earned win over Drumalee at Kingspan Breffni on Friday night.

The town side led by a point at half-time and there wasn’t much between them throughout but Drumlane, who played the last 21 minutes including injury time with 14 men, were deserving winners, albeit that the three-point margin probably flattered them a little.

Drumlane came into this game as fairly warm favourites. Having suffered a big setback with a heavy opening-round loss to Arva, they bounced back with some impressive victories including a 10-point win over Shannon Gaels, a come-from-behind defeat of fellow title contenders Knockbride and a 30-point mauling of Mountnugent last time out.

But Drumalee are a vastly-improved side. Ciaran O’Malley’s charges had struggled to get out of the group in junior ranks in recent seasons but have been re-invigorated this year, securing league promotion and returning to the last four of the championship.

Their well-organised defence and quality up top, particularly in the form of Sean O’Kane and Cian Byrne, had seen them lose just three matches of 19 this year. Also doing well in attack had been Tomás O’Keeffe but the full-forward was ruled out injured and back into the starting team came veteran Mickey Brennan.

And the former Cavan senior player got off to a great start when he stuck the ball in the Drumlane net just four minutes into the game. That goal put Drumalee in front after the Milltown men had fired over two points in the opening 80 seconds.

The first came directly from the throw-in, Cormac Flynn blasting over after good work from Ciaran Crowe and Darragh Dolan, and the second a well-taken effort from full-forward Michael Owens.

At the other end, Drumalee were keen to send high ball towards Brennan and from the second such delivery, this time from Eamon Quinn, they hit the jackpot when the ball broke and Brennan tucked away soccer-style with the left boot.

As the half wore on, defences were on top, with both sides fluffing their passes inside, resulting in a lot of turnovers. A free from Ryan Connolly and a well-struck mark from the same player made it 0-4 to 1-0 after 12 minutes but that was Drumlane’s last score of the half.

Owens spurned a good goal chance in the 15th minute, palming wide, and Brennan won a free which O’Kane converted moments later.

Connolly, uncharacteristically, missed a couple of dead ball efforts as the clock ticked down in the first half and Drumalee, working hard and thundering into challenges, added another point – a 43-metre free off the ground from Brennan - to go in one up at half-time, 0-5 to 1-1.

The second half was similarly low-scoring and followed a similar pattern to the first, the difference being that this time, Drumlane kicked on with a couple of scores in the closing stages to seal the win and a place in the county final.

Key to it was captain Connolly, who overcame those first-half misses to come up with big points when they were most needed and help his team through.

Drumlane levelled quickly when Dane O’Dowd went on a good run and found Liam Belton in space for a point and a lovely score from a tight angle by Connolly, after great work by Dolan, made it 0-6 to 1-2 on 36 minutes.

James McCahill laid off for Dolan, who ran at Drumalee and won a free which Connolly converted as the Sons of O’Connell looked like pulling away but to their credit, Drumalee dug in. Their cause was helped when Drumlane’s Josh Marsden picked up a straight red card for an off the ball incident on 45 minutes.

Goalkeeper Harry Clarke over-carried the ball and O’Kane knocked over the resulting free but after a clever crossfield ball from Dolan, Daryl McGurren gathered well and split the posts for an important Drumlane score.

A Brennan free made it a one-point game again with 54 minutes played. Six additional minutes were called and the game remained in the melting pot to the end but a monster 50-metre free from Connolly and, at the death, another from play by Flynn sealed a three-point win for Drumlane.

Martin Dunne’s side will now meet the winners of Knockbride and Arva. For Drumalee, the season is over but they can reflect with satisfaction on the progress they have made.

Drumalee: Brian Coombes, Daire Donohoe, Philip McArdle, Eoin Donohoe, Gerard Reilly, Enda McCormick, David O’Keeffe, Greg Duffy, Andy Fallon, Tommy Walsh, Sean O’Kane (0-2f), Leigh Dunne, Eamon Quinn, Michael Brennan (1-2, 2f), Cian Byrne

Subs: Aidan Lee for G Reilly (temp, 33 mins, reversed 37), Sammy Brady for G Duffy (44), Kieran Lynch for E Donohoe (50), A Lee for G Reilly (54), Dean Sherlock for E Quinn (57), Jamie Heffernan for Leigh Dunne (60)

Drumlane: Harry Clarke, Liam Belton (0-1), Shane Dolan, Josh Marsden, John O’Dowd, James McCahill, Ciaran O’Brien, Ciaran Crowe, Dane O’Dowd, Darragh Dolan, Mark Maguire, Ryan Connolly (0-5, 3f, 1m), Cormac Flynn (0-2), Michael Owens (0-1), Daryl McGurren (0-1)

Subs: Luke Longair for C O’Brien (5 mins, inj.), Gary Tubman for L Belton (41), Killian Frehill for C Crowe (temp, 55, reversed 57), Conor Connolly for M Owens (60, inj.)

Ref: Brendan Sweeney