Junior Champions Once Again

ST NICHOLAS completed a south Louth clean sweep of this 

year’s county football honours when they captured the Louth

Junior Championship at the expense of a dogged Lannleire on

Sunday afternoon. Round one of this bruising encounter ended

all square in Haggardstown two weeks ago. On that occasion

 St Nicholas allowed the Dunleer outfit back into the game in

the dying seconds. There was no repeat of that slip-up at the

Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda as the Nicks celebrated their first

Championship silverware since 1994.

In Haggardstown, the Drogheda men had one hand on the cup only to stagger at the final hurdle, Lannleire’s more determined physical approach giving them a second bite at the cherry. It all turned a bit rowdy at the whistle last time and Sunday’s battle began in much the same vein as the drawn game ended. Referee Malachy Craven produced the notebook inside three minutes - Lannleire’s captain Carlos Lambe receiving a ticking off following an altercation with Nick’s play-maker Paddy O’Boyle. O’Boyle had the chance to get things rolling and he duly pointed the resultant free when Patrick Murtagh was fouled in front of the posts.Nine minutes in and Richard Gibney almost blasted St Nicholas into a four-point lead but his drive thundered back off the crossbar. Then in the tenth minute Lannleire got their opening score. Patrick O’Connor tapped over after some good work by Mark Dunne. 

O’Boyle popped up immediately to restore the Nick’s advantage from a‘45’ and minutes later Lannleire’s Paul Kearney made an important block on Keith Arnold’s goal-bound shot to once again deny the Nick’s a four-point cushion.Certainly the Nick’s were enjoying more possession but their propensity for giving away silly frees in front of their own goal was costing them. Carlos Lambe illustrated this perfectly on 18 minutes and team-mate Alan Murphy stepped up to tie the scores. When Murphy himself was fouled three minutes later in the same position the Dunleer men should have been in front but they somehow contrived to post their second wide. Fortunately for them the Nicks weren’t enjoying  such a strong spell in the shooting department 

themselves, notching up their fourth wide on the 20 minute mark.Successful frees carried the score on to three points each as half-time approached, and that’s the way it stayed until the extra fifth minute of a highly charged opening period. Paddy O’Boyle offloaded to the ever energetic Keith Arnold and he turned to fire home in front of the posts.

Murphy brought them level again with his third point of the match just as the second half got under way. A probing St Nicholas attack was broken down and the Dunleer men, wasting no time in turning defence into attack, raced downfield to make it 0-4 to 0-4.O’Boyle became the second man to enter the referee’s notebook when his boot came into contact with a player on the ground. He went some way to making up for it when he restored the Nick’s lead five minutes in, after strong running by Andrew Tinley to set him up. When Arnold knocked over another free on 40 minutes there was clear daylight between the sides for the first time.

But Lannleire simply wouldn’t lie down and die. Carlos Lambe

calmly dispatched two more easy frees, conceded yet again right

in front of the posts. Around this time too substitute Darren Noone carved out an opportunity that could have put Dunleer ahead. He chose to shoot, however, when a layoff to the unmarked John Farrelly might have proved more fruitful. It was a critical turningpoint. Having been let off the hook St Nicholas now made a big push for home and a sudden three-minute blitz opened up a five-point gap that rocked the midLouthmen. After a frantic goal-mouth scramble,

man-of-the-match Keith Arnold commandeered the ball and struck exquisitely on the turn to put the Nick’s in pole position once again in the 50th minute. Then Andrew Tinley - having another big game for the Drogheda men - finished off a flowing St Nicholas move.

The Nick’s were rampant now and just two minutes later substitute Jason O’Boyle pushed the ball past Stephen Flood in the Dunleer goal to give the Nicks a 1-8 to 0-6 advantage, with Arnold, Paul Hackett and Patrick Murtagh all involved. Five points down and with time running out, Lannleire mustered one last effort but a missed free-kick cost them dearly and, when the Nick’s No3 Mark Smith made a vital catch under pressure in defence, it seemed the chance was gone.It had been a very physical contest throughout and, with no love

lost between these two, the game threatened to descend into a bit of a free-for all. But the man in the middle generally handled it well. He issued further yellows to the Nick’s Mark Smith and Jason O’Boyle in an incident-packed few moments that also saw Carlos Lambe sent to the line for a second yellow offence.

As the match entered an understandably lengthy injury-time period Lannleire responded with their two best scores of the day through Murphy and centre-half John Boylan. By that stage only a goal would have done for the Dunleer support. Yet there was still time for St Nicholas to supply the icing on the cake as they finished the stronger. Paddy O’Boyle swung over another placed ball and when substitute Niall Branigan made it 1-10 to 0-8 there was just time for the Nick’s to savour the feeling of knowing that this was to be their day. Fourteen years after their last county success, the long

wait is finally over.

Alan Sweeney; Richard Kelly, Mark Smith, Brian Carter; Andrew Tinley 0-1, Shane Downey (capt), Declan Heeney; John Carter, Paddy O’Boyle 0-4; Richard Gibney, Aidan Carter, Ian Hackett; Keith

Arnold 0-4, Patrick Murtagh, Paul Hackett. Subs., Darren Thornton for S Downey, Jason O’Boyle 1-0 for I Hackett, Niall Brannigan 0-1for P Murtagh.

Stephen Flood; Brendan McEvoy, Peter Neacy, Barry Dunne; Paul Kearney, John Boylan 0-1, Paul McGeough; Carlos Lambe 0-2, Shane Kennedy; Alan Murphy 0-4, Patrick O’Connor 0-1, Mark Dunne; John Farrelly, John O’Connor, Mark Carney. Subs., Darren Noone for M Dunne, Robert O’Rourke for S Kennedy, Andrew Flanagan for J O’Connor, Paul Callan for M Carney.

Malachy Craven.

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Rathmullan Rd.

Drogheda

Co. Louth

Ireland