Corn na Macleinn - Round 1
GMIT Castlebar 1-12 v 1-4 Army Cadet School
Following a tough league campaign, The Men's Gaelic footballers of GMIT Castlebar had reason to think that lady luck was not smiling on them as they drew one game with GMIT Galway and lost further matches by a point (Athlone I.T. and GMIT Letterfrack) all of which had an element of controversy and misfortune they felt denied them to chance to progress to the play offs.
When news broke on the eve of their Championship opener against the Army Cadet School that, through a mixture of injury and illness Captain and centre half forward Johnny Morrin, centre half back Richard Bell, and influential corner forward Gerard O'Boyle, would all be missing it looked like the same lady lucky had a set on them and was having a cheeky grin at their expense.
When a fit and hard hitting Army outfit seemed to be getting the better of the opening exchanges and took an early lead, the signs seemed ominous and it wasn't obvious where the leadership and spark was going to come from in the depleted home side. The man that took the number 11 jersey from injured captain Johnny Morrin was Joe Faughnan and he quickly showed he had the physical strength to match the army men and the cool head to land the first score that settled the home side.
Achill man David Cattigan was in for the injured Ger O'Boyle and he was the next to step up, firing a thunderous point from out the field after a lovely passage of play. The army men came back and added a point but replacement centre half back Padraig Cullen was by now getting the measure of the cadets main attacking threat. (Once he got the hang of his new role he put in a colossal performance, time and again stopping attackers in their tracks with an inspirational performance - perhaps there was a presence on the sideline which could be the source of such inspiration!). And with Knockmore's Niall Gillespie starting to get the upper hand in midfield, GMIT were starting to find their feet and some of the fluid passing was a joy to behold with wing forwards Eoghan Hoare and Daniel Burke in particular enjoying great possession and sparking quick passing passages that the army men seemed hard press to follow.
Nioclas O'Lonain was coming out from full forward to secure good possession and when he laid off the ball to Eoghan Hoare, the Roscommon man was scythed and Liam Joyce made no mistake from the resulting free. Indeed this was the start of a one man blitz from the Islandeady man as he followed this up with his trademark move; meeting a long ball into his corner he secured possession, rounded his man with ease before tapping a delightful point. In a carbon copy move less than a minute later his man would not allow him to slip by so easily but in doing so he fouled and Liam slotted his own free with 3 points in as many minutes to put some daylight between the teams. The men from the Curragh did manage another point which David Cattigan immediately negated with his second to leave a 3 point gap at the break.
It was inevitable that the soldiers would mount a spirited assault and within the first few minutes they had fired an unstoppable shot, (which the faultless Paul Martin had no hope of reaching,) which rattled the GMIT net and added a point to edge in front. This lead could have been furthered were it not for the heroic defending of the full back line that was excellent throughout. Eoin Cripps managed to sweep up every ball that came into his corner; a touch or a flick enough to deprive the corner forward possession and inevitably, and seemingly effortlessly, he always seems to be the one to emerge with the ball to intelligently turn desperate defence into swift attack.
The tussle between Michael Cunnane and the Cadets full forward was a right old fashioned humdinger - quarter neither given nor asked. While it might have looked in early exchanges that he was coming off second best, the Tooreen man settled into the task with as fine and courageous a display of the art of the full back as you are likely to see, and his quelling of the full forwards threat was a major factor in weathering the storm. As was Derek Higgins' performance in the other corner, despite taking a nasty knock early on he put in what was undoubtedly his finest display in a GMIT jersey, his fielding under pressure and intelligent distribution a joy to watch.
With the wind taken from the army sails wingbacks Christian Lomboto and Michael McWeeney managed to link up with the attack and resume the quick passing and overlapping that the soldiers had but one answer for - the foul. They reverted to this tactic and Liam Joyce duly punished them tapping over two more frees to edge ahead.
The game was effectively won with two sublime scores in the following minutes. Daniel Burke took a pass and was quickly surrounded by a swarm of army defenders. Knocked to the ground he cleverly protected the ball while on all fours, miraculously not fouling the ball. Having legally gathered it he managed to straighten, incredibly free himself from the engulfing defenders and with barely a glance at the target sent the ball in a wide arcing loop to tail in for a point, the defenders looked at one another astounded as if they could not believe what they had just seen.
While it would be hard to match this for brilliance the next score outdid it for impact and was hard to beat for clinical accuracy. Truly dominant in midfield know Niall Gillespie fielded beautifully before setting off on his trademark loping solo run. He eased the ball to his knockmore club mate Joe Faughnan who played the deftest of passes into the path of the onrushing Eoghan Hoare. Taking out two defenders with the speed of the collection he was faced with the rapidly advancing fullback and goalkeeper but with effortless calm he dropped the ball onto his foot and neatly guided it into the corner of the net.
The soldiers were by now a spent force but it was to their credit that Castlebar refused to give them an inch, most notable in this was Jonathan Maloney. The midfielder covered the entire field, took the toughest of hits and just got right on up. The moved that typified his work rate came when an attack he had launched broke down and several Castlebar men were caught wrong side of the ball, a large gap opened up and the cadets midfielder started a counter attack Jonathan had to make up serious ground and in the end he had ran 50 yards when he not only caught the attacker but managed to legally strip the ball and set up another attack which culminated in Liam Joyce firing over a fine score to which he added a free bringing his tally to seven.
Kevin Burke didn't have enough time following his introduction to make much of an impact but he showed his eye for a chance when he latched onto a through ball but the angle forced him to wide to have a realistic chance of a score. Joe Faughnan neatly ended the game as he started, with a score, which came about from David Cattigan's refusal to give up on a seeming lost cause. 29 other players and all the sideline were satisfied that a wayward GMIT pass would roll harmlessly over the sideline but David astounded the defender who ambled over to take it with a phenomenal burst of speed to trap the ball before it went dead, he charged along the end line to feed Joe who calmly slotted the final point.
It was reassuring to see that while conceding a consolation score would not affect the outcome the defence were nonetheless throwing bodies on the line to make sure it would not happen. Three or four waves of an attack were bravely thwarted before a cadet spun away and pulled the trigger on what looked like an inevitable score. The recently introduced TJ Kavangh had other ideas and launched himself on the kick to smother it with a spectacular full length block.
Attention now turns to IT Blanchardstown, (beaten finalists for the last two seasons) who offer a formidable threat. The lads know they will have to up their performance to make it through to the semi finals which will be played in conjunction with the centenary celebrations of The Sigerson Cup in UCD. But based on this performance they have the ability and what's more the character to do so.