Gutsy Na Fianna conquer Crokes
DETERMINED Na Fianna, having narrowly lost deciders in 2007 and 2010, managed to hold off a storming late rally from Kilmacud Crokes to capture the (2011) Dublin U21 football title for the second time in the club's history at Parnell Park last night.
In doing so, the Glasnevin men have brought forward their success at minor level over the past four years under the shrewd tutelage of manager Philip McElwee.
There was little doubting they were deserving winners (1-10 to 1-8), though Crokes did kick the majority of the night's wides. But the Mobhi Road men almost had glory snatched from their grasp despite going seven points clear entering the final quarter, as they conceded momentum to Crokes who tallied an impressive 1-3 in a frantic 15-minute period at the conclusion of this entertaining, high-quality duel.
Na Fianna's two-man full-forward line of Adam Caffrey and Conor McHugh caused untold problems for the Crokes rearguard and ultimately were the difference between the sides.
The former kicked his side's opening two points, which were cancelled out by David Campbell and David Higgins.
But McHugh in particular ran riot throughout. His pace and intelligent running was a constant torment and he kicked a fine score to put Na Fianna two in front again midway through the opening half.
Dublin minor Campbell once again showed his shooting prowess with a superb score off his left boot to cut the gap once more but his side would soon concede the night's opening goal.
Senan Coughlan was pulled down inside the small square in the 21st minute following a breakaway Na Fianna move. Referee Seán McCarthy had no option but to signal the penalty, which was clinically dispatched by midfielder Barry Boland, younger brother of Dublin senior hurler Joey.
Paul Mannion and Jack Caffrey exchanged frees before the break to leave Na Fianna 1-5 to 0-4 ahead at the turnaround.
The Stillorgan men came out of the traps fast on the restart as Dublin senior Craig Dias split the posts after some clever work to create the space.
Na Fianna's defending, with the likes of Niall McGovern, Seán Burke and John Kelly to the fore was resolute and the Caffrey brothers, Adam and Jack, increased their lead with a score apiece.
Their goalkeeper, Conor McCarville, was then at hand to deny Higgins what looked a certain goal with a breath-taking save. It seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Kilmacud Crokes fight-back and a double from McHugh, a Dublin minor hurler in 2011 and dual ace this season, appeared to give his team an unassailable advantage (1-9 to 0-5).
But suddenly their was new life in Crokes. Their midfield duo of Mark Coughlan and Brian Hanamy became dominant and the latter drove his side forward at every opportunity.
Dias and Campbell both raised white flags before Higgins finally got the better of McCarville when clinically firing to the net in the 56th minute to leave the minimum between the sides.
The winners, however, regained their composure and when McHugh drew a late foul from Eoin Culligan, Adam Caffrey showed nerves of steel to convert the injury-time free and seal a famous win.