Brady leads Arva to Ulster Club crown

Ulster Club Junior Championship final

Arva 0-13

Blackhill Emeralds 0-6

Paul Fitzpatrick at Roslea

Arva St Patrick’s are the toast of Cavan after they claimed the Ulster Club Junior Championship title in a hard-fought battle with Monaghan champions Blackhill.

Played before a sizeable crowd (estimated at 1,000) in chilly conditions at Roslea, this was not a match for the faint-hearted, with hits coming early, late and often, and three red cards.

In becoming only the third Cavan club to win this title – after Drumgoon in 2002 and Denn in 2021 – Arva didn’t play the free-flowing football they are capable of but it wasn’t a game for that anyway.

This was winter football on a tight pitch against rugged opposition and on this occasion, steel and an unwillingness to take a step backwards won the day – and only when Arva had successfully faced down an experienced, tough and physical Blackhill, could they then added the flourish of three late injury-time points.

Arva were the better side for most of the contest and were full value for their 0-6 to 0-2 half-time lead. In fact, they should have been further ahead by then and certainly should not have had to endure some very nervous moments in the final quarter.

Luckily for them, they had a generational player like Ciaran Brady to make sure there was no slip-up. When Arva needed a score, they looked to Brady. When they were stuck for someone to break the line and win a free, they turned to Brady again. When Blackhill were poised to launch high ball on top of a couple of their towering attackers, it was Brady who helped shore up the back-line.

In every facet of play, the captain was the match-winner; he has played many great games for club and county but it is unlikely any will top this masterful performance.

Cian O’Hara, Stephen Sheridan, Kevin Bouchier (three, two frees) and the brilliant Brady accounted for the Cavanmen’s tally in the first half and they kicked on after the resumption, with Bouchier in fine form, to lead 0-9 to 0-3.

The game turned at this point as Arva missed a penalty and Blackhill grew in confidence and enjoyed their best spell as they cut the gap to three. The Emeralds, playing in their third Ulster Club final since 2016, are a very seasoned team with some imposing players and a sprinkling of pace and class and they refused to accept defeat meekly, making Arva earn it.

But Brady steadied the ship with a point and, in injury time, Ciaran Stanley, Conal Sheridan and Thomas Partington all registered to seal a memorable win.

The Monaghan champions opened the scoring with a mark from their go-to forward, dual player Philip Donnelly, but this would prove to be the only time they led in the match.

Arva replied through a 45 from goalkeeper Cian O’Hara, who had an excellent game, before half-back Stephen Sheridan drove forward to take a pass from Brady and nudge the Cavanmen, whose supporters made up the bulk of the crowd, into a lead they would not relinquish.

Kevin Bouchier, who has enjoyed a stellar season and has been particularly good in the Ulster Championship, was the leader of the attack for Arva on the day, combining his usual playmaking with high-quality place-kicking and scores from play.

All photos courtesy of Ulster GAA.

He hooked over from the left of goal to make it 0-3 to 0-1 but Blackhill were clingining on stubbornly – they saw a 45 hit the upright, missed a poor mark and scored a free through Darren McElroy to cut the gap.

A well-taken Bouchier free under pressure was followed by another from the same player and then probably the best score of the match, this time from Ciaran Brady. The captain gathered possession out on the wing, a long way from goal, and curled in with the left foot to make it 0-6 to 0-2 with three minutes remaining in the half.

Blackhill drew first blood after the break with a neat point from Anthony Courtney but Finbar O'Reilly's charges then took over. A superb free from Bouchier made it a four-point game and the former county underage star repeated the trick after a foul on Conal Sheridan.

Blackhill were feeling the squeeze; they went long with the resulting kick-out but Arva pinched it and fed Bouchier, who knocked over another to make it 0-9 to 0-3.

Ahead by treble scores on a day when chiselling out double figures was probably going to be enough to secure the title, Arva looked in a very commanding position but Blackhill showed they are a resolute bunch.

The pattern of the game changed in the space of a minute. Blackhill pressed but O’Hara dealt well with a high delivery; Arva broke at speed, with Barry Donnelly zipping along the stand side, but as Stephen Sheridan pulled the trigger, the ref adjudged there to have been a foot block and awarded a penalty.

However, Johnny McCabe’s kick was low to the left and wide and the missed chance seemed to have the double effect of rattling Arva and spurring Blackhill on.

Suddenly, the Emeralds had Arva pinned back. Two frees from McElroy cut the cap and when Thomas Geehan stuck over a terrific strike from the wing, it was a three-point game and all the momentum was against Arva.

At times in this spell, the would-be winners were trapped in their own full-back line but they found a way to ride out the storm and on a rare foray forward, it was Ciaran Brady who flung over a point from 35 metres to ease any nerves.

Blackhill kept coming and Arva were forced to defend deep, Finbar McAvinue making a huge interception at one point. As the game ticked into injury time and with Blackhill down to 13 men (to Arva’s 14), the Cavan champions finally pulled away.

Ciaran Stanley galloped down the right wing and split the posts for an effort which roused the crowd. Conal Sheridan, who carried an injury into the game, booted over another and with time almost up, Thomas Partington tore in along the end-line and knocked over Arva’s lucky 13th to wrap up an early Christmas present for club and county.

Arva’s victory was built on a massive work-rate, from the full-forward line back. Brady was magnificent while Bouchier, James Morris and Stephen Sheridan were among others who shone on a day when graft was more prized than craft. They will feel there is more in them, though, and the journey now continues.

Next up for Arva is a clash with British champions Wandsworth Gaels in two weeks’ time at an Ulster venue, likely Armagh. The winners will play the Leinster champions in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Arva: Cian O’Hara (0-1, 45), Finbar McAvinue, James Morris, Dylan Maguire, Danny Ellis, Stephen Sheridan (0-1), Thomas Brady, Tristan Noack Hofmann, Ciaran Brady (0-2), Jonathan McCabe, Barry Donnelly, Thomas Partington (0-1), Conal Sheridan (0-1), Kevin Bouchier (0-6, 4f), Peter Morris

Subs: Ciaran Stanley (0-1) for Thomas Brady (55)

Blackhill: Michael Shevlin, Killian Carragher, Donal Courtney, Thomas Courtney, Anthony Courtney (0-1), Ryan Courtney, James Daly, Aaron Kenny, Ciaran Courtney, Sean O’Brien, Darren McElroy (0-4f), Thomas Geehan (0-1), Hugh Byrne, Philip Donnelly (0-1m), Michael Geehan

Subs: Conor Martin for H Byrne (10), Jason Finnegan for S O’Brien (18)

Photos: Ulster GAA.

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