Stars see off Gaels in high-quality minor final

Minor League Division 1 final

Kingscourt Stars 1-14

Cavan Gaels 1-12

Paul Fitzpatrick at Dolan Park

The standard and depth in minor football in Cavan in the last couple of seasons has been exceptional and that was further exemplified last week as Kingscourt Stars claimed the Division 1 Minor League title with a win over Cavan Gaels after an outstanding contest.

Played before a large crowd in Virginia, these two talented young sides served up an excellent match which was full of physicality and quality scores and was in the mix right up till the final whistle.

Cavan Gaels led by five at one stage in the first half but the Stars reeled them in and a goal from Michael McKeon in the closing stages was the key score as the east Cavan lads got their hands on the cup.

The win sets up what looks like a mouthwatering county championship. Cavan Gaels timed their run to perfection last year in winning the championship, defeating a Mullahoran side who hadn’t lost all year in the final and continuing the club’s fine record in the Ulster Minor Club tournament by going all the way to the final in Belfast around the turn of the year.

This season, the same groups were back for another crack at it as the age grade has changed to U18 from U17. The Gaels defeated Mullahoran in a penalty shoot-out in the semi-final while Kingscourt had five points to spare over a strong Southern Gaels side (4-11 to 4-6); all four teams will fancy their chances in the championship with Ramor United and Killygarry (who contested the Shield final, Killygarry winning 2-9 to 0-11) also capable of taking scalps.

Both the Gaels and the Stars, then, were keen to lay down a championship marker here as well as get their hands on league silverware and it all contributed to an enjoyable spectacle played to a high standard between two well-coached and well-balanced sides.

Kingscourt Stars minor team with the Division 1 League cup. Photo by Adrian Donohoe Photography 0863716199

Ben Tully, one of the stand-out players in the grade, opened the scoring with a free for Cavan Gaels but Kingscourt, attacking the dressing-room end, soon replied through Daniel Putnam.

Lukas Hanly and Tiernan Kelly both registered points from play as the Gaels settled well into the match but by the eighth minute, the sides were level thanks to points from Kingscourt’s Callum Gaynor and Michael McKeon (free).

Tully, from play, and McKeon (free) traded scores to tie the game with 12 minutes played and the pattern continued as Joshua Shehu and McKeon added further frees.

The Gaels then found their groove and showed their ability with a haul of 1-2 in the space of two minutes. First, livewire Shehu registered from play and then, on the 20th minute, Tiernan Kelly found the net after combining well with Martin Anthony Quinn McDonagh.

Shehu, operating at centre-forward, soon added another to leave the Terry Coyle Park boys 1-7 to 0-5 ahead with 10 first-half minutes remaining.

But the Stars dug deep and would reel off four points in succession to the cut the gap to the minimum at the halfway stage. First, Noah McCormack, who had an excellent match, landed one from play and then two frees from the rangy McKeon sandwiched a well-taken score from speedster Caoimhín Magee as the sides went in at half-time with the Gaels holding a slender 1-7 to 0-9 advantage.

Kingscourt captain Cormac McAvinney is presented with the cup by Tony Ryan (Cavan county board). Photo by Adrian Donohoe Photography 0863716199

On the resumption, Louie O’Malley stepped up with two points for the would-be winners as they hit the front for the first time but, true to form, Tully responded with a free for Cavan Gaels to tie the game once again at 1-8 to 0-11 three minutes into the second half.

McKeon landed a long-range free for the Stars but Shehu caught a well-weighted pass spectacularly for a mark which was moved forward and the county minor player knocked over the resulting free.

Shehu was now humming and kicked a lovely point, after beating a defender, from the edge of the D in the 43rd minute to send his side back into the lead.

There followed 11 scoreless minutes during which Cavan Gaels dominated possession but struggled to make it count on the scoreboard. Both sides set up with lots of men back and looked to break at pace; the zip went out of the game somewhat in this period and, in hindsight, that probably suited the Stars, who soaked up a lot of pressure during this spell as the Gaels owned the ball but lost their shape a little and probably lacked a focal point in the full-forward line.

The deadlock was finally broken on 54 minutes and, crucially, it was Kingscourt who raised a white flag when Noah McCormack curled over a sublime point with the outside of the right boot.

Kingscourt managed to win the resulting kick-out and Callum Gaynor split the posts off the left to level the contest again and set up a rip-roaring finale.

Shehu won and converted a free on 58 minutes to make it 0-14 to 1-11 but the defining score of the match arrived a minute later.

A blistering run through the centre by Robbie Carey led to him lobbing the ball goalwards; full-forward Michael McKeon managed to get in behind the full-back line and half-rounded the goalkeeper before bundling the ball to the net.

That put three between them but there was time for more drama. Cavan Gaels were awarded a free which was moved forward and Tully stepped up to take it with goal on his mind.

With most of the Kingscourt players lining the goals, the midfielder’s powerful effort struck the crossbar and went over for a point, much to Kingscourt’s relief.

That left two in it with a couple of minutes of injury time remaining. Kingscourt lost centre-back Aaron Shekleton to a black card for a foul on Shehu and the Gaels man sent a dangerous high ball in from the resulting free but the whistle sounded for a square ball and, not long afterwards, ref Conor Dourneen blew it up.

Bobby Hanly carries as Luke Madden tracks his run. Photo by Adrian Donohoe Photography 0863716199

This was a thoroughly enjoyable match between two fine sides. Kingscourt may have had the advantage in physique up the centre but the Gaels had pace and firepower which made for a tremendously entertaining clash of styles.

The old rivalry between these clubs is alive and well yet this match was played in a sporting spirit and sets up what looks like an intriguing Minor Championship.

At this juncture, however, it is advantage Kingscourt Stars.

Kingscourt Stars: Cian Platt, Alex O’Neill, Cormac McAvinney, Mark Lennon, Luke Madden, Aaron Shekleton, Noah McCormack (0-2), Daniel Putnam, John McKeon, Louie O’Malley (0-2), Robbie Carey, Caoimhin Magee (0-1), Callum Gaynor, Michael McKeon, Peter O’Reilly

Subs: Ciaran Cooney O’Reilly, Sean Smith, Tadhg Fox

Cavan Gaels: Emiliano Vennettilli, Eivinas Griskas, Conor Doyle, Samuel Clarke, Darragh McDonald, Bobby Hanly, Simon Kolimar, Martin Anthony Quinn McDonagh, Ben Tully (0-4, 3f), Daniel Olude, Joshua Shehu (0-6, 3f), Cormac Crotty, Tiernan Kelly (1-1), Finn Crowe, Lukas Hanly (0-1)

Subs: Michael Monahan, Marcel Holko

Ref: Conor Dourneen