Na Fianna Kil' off Crokes challenge
Mobhi men defend crown in gripping U21 showpiece
NA FIANNA 0-10
KILMACUD CROKES 1-4
RESOLUTE Na Fianna produced a tactically assured display in accounting for Kilmacud Crokes in their Dublin under-21 'A' Football Championship final at Chanel College yesterday lunchtime.
In doing so, the Glasnevin men repeated last year's success against the same opposition and there was no doubting their supremacy over the hour in what was a collectively mature performance from Pillar Caffrey's men.
Their ability to retain possession and break through tackles was far more consistent than that of Crokes, who struggled to impose themselves for the majority of the game despite the best efforts of Jack Doughan, Mark O'Dwyer and Dillon Mulligan.
However, they would have fancied their chances within a minute of the restart after Paul Mannion had reduced their arrears to just two points and with the prospect of a strong breeze at their backs for the remainder of the half.
It was at this juncture that Na Fianna raised their game, implementing an incredibly patient and effective plan and they kicked their next two scores through the lively T Foran to re-establish their control.
A brief flurry of activity in the final minutes saw substitute Shane Cunningham strike an unerring low finish beyond Conor McCarville in the 58th minute but Na Fianna responded like true champions with the consistently excellent Feargal Breathnach kicking an insurance point in injury-time.
That we should experience such a tight conclusion seemed unlikely given the stranglehold that the holders had on affairs from the early whistle with Foran and Eoghan Neville kicking a point apiece inside the opening two minutes.
Conor McHugh added a free four minutes later and that lead should well have been larger but for some errant shooting from Na Fianna who enjoyed complete control at centrefield thanks to JJ Martin and Carl O'Connor.
After withstanding that early pressure without too much damage, Kilmacud slowly began to gain a foothold with Doughan, Mulligan and Graham Fogarty enjoying plenty of possession and a well-taken Alex Mulvey free saw them open their account in the 10th minute.
Mannion halved his side's deficit at the end of the first quarter and Crokes could well have sneaked the lead but for a number of shots that drifted safely into McCarville's hands.
Na Fianna ended a barren spell of 13 minutes when Lee Bird converted a free and a point from the impressive Adam Caffrey ensured his side enjoyed a deserved 0-5 to 0-2 interval advantage.
With Dublin minor panellists of this year, David Campbell and Cunningham, introduced after the break, Crokes looked to adopt a more direct approach but they were generally starved of possession with Emile Mullen, Mark O'Dea and the imperious Niall McGovern mopping up superbly.
After Foran had kicked two crucial scores as a response to Mannion's early point, Cunningham found Campbell to keep the tie on edge but Breathnach was exerting a telling influence as the half progressed and a foul on McHugh in the 48th minute was punished by a sumptuous free from Bird.
Breathnach's cracking score three minutes later looked to have settled the issue but Crokes rallied through Cunningham's precise finish from 10 metres and Na Fianna still required a last-gasp block from McGovern at the death to confirm their title defence.
SCORERS -- Na Fianna: T Foran 0-3; L Bird (2f), F Breathnach 0-2; E Neville, C McHugh (f), A Caffrey 0-1 each. Kilmacud Crokes: S Cunningham 1-0; P Mannion 0-2 (2f); A Mulvey (f), D Campbell 0-1 each.
NA FIANNA: C McCarville; K Reilly, S Burke, E Mullen; L Bird, N McGovern, M Maher; JJ Martin, C O'Connor; T Foran, A Caffrey, F Breathnach; N Flannery, C McHugh, E Neville. Subs: M O'Dea for Maher (19), J Kelly for Reilly (58).
KILMACUD CROKES: E Dalton; A Carr, B O'Carroll, E Gogan; M Durcan, M O'Dwyer, J Doughan; J Sweeney, A O'Malley; G Fogarty, D Mulligan, C O'Neill; S Horan, P Mannion, A Mulvey. Subs: D Campbell for Mulvey (ht), R McGowan for Carr (36), S Cunningham for Fogarty (39), N Carr for O'Neill (48), E O'Byrne for Horan (53).
REF: Garryowen McMahon (O'Dwyer's).