O’Brien Inspired St Pats Edge Baltinglass To Retain The Dunne Cup

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ST PATS 0-14 BALTINGLASS 0-12

DUNNE CUP FINAL – 25 JUNE 2019, COUNTY GROUNDS AUGHRIM @7:30PM

St Pats are the Dunne Cup Champions after edging out league Champions Baltinglass thanks to a strong second half showing in Aughrim to retain the trophy for the third year running.

Conor O’Brien set the tone for Casey O’Briens charges with a fisted opening point with only a minute on the clock and he was very much a thorn in the Baltinglass side throughout this contest and this pocket rocket is most definitely one to watch in this year’s Championship if his brilliant display tonight is anything to go by. For a small man he is more than capable of winning his own ball in the air and his pace and endeavor were a welcome addition to seasoned campaigners like Tommy Kelly and Stephen Duffy in the Full Forward line.

St Pats hit the ground running in the early minutes and fired over three unanswered points with Donie Fitzgerald firing over after great strength from Tommy Kelly in the build up to hold off Paddy Kirwan who he would have a ding dong battle with throughout. The Wicklow town men’s third score came from the boot of the wily veteran Padge McWalter in a well worked moved from deep with Donie Fitz doing great work in the build up. Baltinglass were dominating the airways with Peadar Burke and Mikey English plucking balls from the airways for sport and they eventually made that dominance count with great Baltinglass servant John McGrath firing over a sweet point while under severe pressure from St Pats defenders to open their account.

This really sparked Baltinglass into life as they rattled off the next four points to completely undo the great start made by the Wicklow Town men. Baltinglass second score of the game came from outstanding work from Cian Lee in the middle of the park and he offloaded to the lively Chris Heaslip who fired just over with the goal chance on. St Pats rearguard were being given serious headaches by a lively and quick Baltinglass attacking corp and Bryan Doyle back helping out conceded a free 50 yards out from his goal. Mark Jackson was already en route when the ball was brought up by the referee for dissent and made his challenge that bit more easy and he delivered the equalizing score to leave the sides level at 3 points apiece.

The Baltinglass command of the airways paid even more dividends with Mikey English fetching an absolute peach and laying it off to a willing Baltinglass runner in Adam McHugh who delivered a lovely diagonal ball to Chris Heaslip who fired over an absolute screamer of a point to give his team the lead. The provider became the scorer as Adam McHugh then extended the Baltinglass lead with a well taken free after last year’s Wicklow Minor Football Star Johnny Keogh was brought down. St Pats were finding it hard to connect with their inside men and Tommy Kelly and Paddy Kirwan were showing each other a little too much affection in their contest and ended up with yellow cards from referee Noel Kinsella for their troubles for their over exuberant hugging.

0-05 to 0-03 down at this stage, St Pats found another gear and it was the two best St Pats performers who combined as brilliant work from Padge McWalter was finished with aplomb by Conor O Brien to register his second score and Tommy Kelly fired up from his earlier tussle bore down on the Baltinglass goal but great pressure from Paddy Kirwan made sure he couldn’t get a good strike away and his effort off the outside of the right flew over the crossbar to level the game. Baltinglass were probing the St Pats rearguard by trying the long ball option to target man Jordan Deans but Shane Murley and company were keeping tabs on the very live goal threat and Deans was getting no change and found himself at times tracking the adventurous runs of Murley who truly was the Christopher Columbus of the St Pats team as he was all but making more runs around Aughrim than the chap delivering for the local Chippers. The maturity of this Baltinglass team showed though with players like John McGrath audibly calling the style of attack on the field and they adapted to suit the style that was getting the most results and a miscued diagonal ball almost deceived Ian Murphy in the Pats goal as the ball flew over his head where Peadar Burke almost managed to grab the ball and find the net but Murphy managed to somehow dispossess him and clear his lines. Baltinglass were finding the most return when they ran wide and delivered low diagonal ball to their lively inside line and during one of these attacks, Mcgrath was fouled 40 yards out on the stand side and who else but Mark Jackson strode up to nonchalantly stroke over a peach to put Baltinglass 0-06 to 0-05 ahead.

Donie Fitzgerald is a man back to the form he showed in his early years in the Blue & White and he was having a great game, interacting well with the strong St Pats half back line and was forever willing to get on the ball and it was he who drove forward to level it up at 6 each. Pats were now enjoying a good spell of possession and the brilliant ball carrier Dean Healy surged forward and after beating the first man the Baltinglass defense opened up like the Red Sea momentarily and he drove right up the heart of it with Baltinglass players scrambling to get to him and with John Crowe peeling off to his left in support, the split second decision of whether to try pass to his teammate or shoot himself, ultimately cost him as his shot found the top corner of the dressing room to his despair. Baltinglass got the warning message and a man better known for his fielding than his ball carrying, Mikey English surged like a high speed tortoise through the Pats defence only to be fouled and Adam McHugh fired over to restore the Balto lead.

The high fielding was not just being mastered by Burke and English as Johnny Keogh and John McGrath also fetching some lovely high balls and it was a McGrath mark that fed Johnny Keogh and he fired over and that was soon followed by a third Jackson bomb, this one launched from 5 yards in from the left sideline at a distance of 40 yards and it sailed over the bar and into Herbst yard. St Pats needed a response and it was a driving run from Padge McWalter who found himself one on one with Mikey English 30 yards out from goal and the Baltinglass man committed a good foul to bring him down before he got a clear run on goal and Stephen Duffy fired over while English got a yellow and that was to be the last score of the half as Baltinglass took a 0-09 to 0-07 lead into the break. Baltinglass were much the happier side as their high fielding coupled with the torrid time their attack were giving the St Pats defence would have gave them great confidence but St Pats were only two behind and yet to truly connect with their inside line.

Casey O’Brien decided to help make that connection and take the game to Balto by introducing Aidan Dunne and Matthew Traynor with Jack Dunne and Johnny Delahunt departing. The two were deployed to the half back line with Dean Healy moving to midfield to counter the Baltinglass aerial presence and Padge to center forward to link the play. This was to be where the game was won for St Pats as this tactical stroke had a major impact on the opening exchanges of the second half as St Pats blitzed Baltinglass for the first four scores. Tommy Kelly palmed the ball off the top of the crossbar after Conor O Brien cut along the end line and hand passed to the back stick to the arriving Kelly. From the next play a high deflected ball in from McWalter was won by the on fire Conor O Brien and he fed Duffy who couldn’t make up his mind if he would shoot for goal or take his point and somehow managed neither. A McGrath foul on the red lad Donie Fitz was brought forward and a Stephen Duffy effort struck the post but the red lad was quickest to react and gathered to feed the oncoming Padge McWalter who fired over. Conor O Brien and Padge were dueling it out for who was to be St Pats man of the match and the young O Brien fisted over his third point and his second fisted score to put St Pats into the lead and Padge not to be outdone then took on 4 Baltinglass defenders and somehow managed to get a shot away which sailed over to the delighted roars of the St Pats faithful with the Wicklow men now 0-11 to 0-09 up.

The man to man duels in this game were extremely intriguing with Ciaran Doyle and John McGrath having a great set too and Paddy Kirwan was doing a fine job on Tommy Kelly, the most lethal marksmen in the league and both men were competing on and off the ball for every inch. A beautiful ball in towards Kelly and Kirwan was won by the Pats man and turning on a sixpence, he fired over the bar to extend the Pats lead to three. One big highlight was the efforts of Baltinglass corner forward Adam McHugh who’s tracking back was outstanding and it was he who dispossessed Dean Healy on his own 14 yard line with the Pats star lining up an effort on goal and he then launched a Balto attack from deep that St Pats managed to stifle. It was during this phase that something caught the eye of the officials in an innocuous clash as play moved out of the St Pats defence leaving St Pats player Ciaran Doyle down while the ball had moved up the field between Kirwan and Kelly who were not wanting to lose out to each other for a 50/50 ball and it was Kirwan who came up with it this time before being fouled as he tried to move up the field. During the break in play what appeared to be a straight red card was issued to Baltinglass player John Mcgrath by Noel Kinsella. McGrath was already on a yellow so it’s to be confirmed whether it may have been a black card or a 2nd yellow and possibly not a straight red as it appeared to spectators. The loss of McGrath with his experience and class as well as the numerical disadvantage were going to be a big blow to the Baltinglass hopes of claiming the silverware but Cian Lee was a man who was not going down without a fight and he led the Baltinglass fight back with two inspirational points from midfield after Tom Burke carried strongly to assist the first and the Baltinglass supporters were now fully fired up as their team were back to within a point.

The game was now finely balanced at 0-12 to 0-11 heading into the closing minutes and Baltinglass had brought in two fresh attacking options in the form of Sean O Brien and Tadgh O Toole with Jordan Deans and Adam McHugh departing the action however it was St Pats attacker Donie Fitz who found himself 30 yards out with multiple Baltinglass players bearing down on him from his right hand side and foiling any chance of swinging his right foot at it but top quality players like Fitzgerald are more than one trick ponies and he pinged an absolute humdinger off his left peg to put two between the sides. Baltinglass now needed a hero with time ticking away and it was young star Johnny Keogh, a star of the 2018 Wicklow Minor Football Team who always a man for the big occasion and he curled a right footed beauty over the black spot from 35 yards to close the gap back to one at 0-13 to 0-12 and a big roar from the Baltinglass faithful showed their approval. There are none better than Stephen Duffy and Johnny Keogh at converting from a placed ball with both having kicked some of the most important frees in Wicklow GAA and somehow these skills eluded both as they missed a free each that 99 out of 100 they would get but the impact was negated as their misses canceled each other out.

Stephen Duffy was coming more into the game in the second half and he was beginning to really conduct his forward orchestra as only he can, pinging balls from all angles and Tommy Kelly got on the end of one of his exquisite balls in from that wand of a leg and Kelly was only too happy to fiddle the tune by beating his marker and firing just over Mark Jackson’s crossbar to put Pats 0-14 to 0-12 up in the final minutes. It was a cross field ball into the St Pats forward line that was to be the provider of the next twist as in the chase for the ball, linesman Robert Roche spotted an infringement he wasn’t happy with and St Pats Tommy Kelly found himself being waved a yellow a card, his second and a red followed close after from referee Noel Kinsella and he departed the action to leave both sides with 14 for added time. St Pats however were not going to let their grip on the Dunne Cup trophy and they held on to see it out on a 0-14 to 0-12 scoreline when Noel Kinsella blew the final whistle.

St Pats Captain Stephen Duffy lifted the Dunne Cup and now that the Dunne Cup has been successfully defended focus will now shift firmly to the defence of their Miley Cup in this year’s Senior Football Championship against the many challengers with Baltinglass right up there amongst them. Huge congratulations to St Pats and also to Baltinglass who were league champions and these sides will be very much in the reckoning for Championship glory so we wish them all the best.

Bill Hill has been writing sports articles for years. Contact us at (087) 6009012 or billhillwicklow@gmail.com