MEELIN rounded off their marvellous campaign with a flourish in Croke Park yesterday as they deservedly claimed the honours in the All-Ireland Club JHC final.
The Duhallow side began their odyssey 12 months ago with the modest aims of conquering their own division, but their dynamic and fluid style of play saw them climb to the dizzying heights they attained yesterday.
They may have unleashed some powerful performances to dismantle teams en route to the national decider but this latest victory was testament to Meelin’s courage as they held their nerve to survive a gritty battle against Callan representatives John Locke’s.
There was a brief phase of anxiety in the first-half for the Cork men when John Locke’s pounced for the solitary goal of the game. A monster clearance by centre-back John O’Neill in the 11th minute wasn’t dealt with by the Meelin rearguard and corner-forward Ger Shelley stole in to bundle the ball to the net.
Meelin needed a period of time to settle down after that setback but once they achieved same, they proceeded to boss the remainder of the game.
By the full-time whistle, their manager Liam Ryan was elated at having successfully overseen the concluding chapter of a memorable tale: “It’s just a magical feeling. In the first 10 minutes, we weren’t performing well as we were waiting for something to happen. Then we got to grips with them and started working hard. That goal kept them in it for the whole game and my stomach had butterflies until the very last few seconds. Kilkenny teams do not die and they’re not beaten easily, so I didn’t relax until the end.”
Scanning the details of Meelin’s scoring return made for familiar reading. Their wonderful corner-forward Eamonn Brosnan has been shooting the lights out over the past 12 months and his standards did not dip on the club’s greatest day. His contribution stretched to more than six points though, as his deft touches and impressive vision created openings and bagged him the man-of-the-match award at the finish.
A modest Brosnan declared: “That award is only a small thing. It’s about everyone today, the 26-man panel, the backroom staff, the club officers and supporters. They have all done their job brilliantly and today we got our reward. Words can’t describe it. You’d be thinking, what are we doing here at all in Croke Park?
“Back in February last year when we started, we didn’t even think about this. But this team has been building at underage level and Liam came in to get it going brilliantly. He’s a super manager and this now is an unbelievable feeling.”
The post-match plaudits were not restricted to Meelin’s attacking star. Their defence was a resolute unit, epitomised by the displays of Denis O’Riordan and Diarmuid Linehan.
John Locke’s shooting did betray their approach work in the first-half as they fired seven wides but Meelin’s defensive covering was also a factor in that tally. JP Corcoran nudged John Locke’s in front by 1-2 to 0-4 in the 20th minute yet Meelin closed strongly before the break with a brace of points by Brosnan and one from Jeremy Curtin sending them into a 0-7 to 1-2 lead. The opening period was hard-fought but the total of six yellow cards meted out was mystifying as there was no rancour in the exchanges.
The control that Meelin exerted in the third quarter proved pivotal to their ultimate triumph. They did not cough up openings at the back and managed to prise open the John Locke’s defence with William Murphy and DJ O’Sullivan to the fore. By the 40th minute, their advantage had swelled to 0-10 to 1-3 and the lead could have been extended only for Brosnan to lash a 45th minute penalty just over the crossbar.
John Locke’s refused to succumb easily and they mounted a fierce assault to save the match in the closing stages.
Owen McGrath and Jason Corcoran, both members of last September’s Kilkenny All-Ireland minor winning team, worked extremely hard to instigate a revival. With nine minutes left, victory was still within their grasp as they only trailed by 0-11 to 1-5 thanks to points by McGrath and Simon Burke.
However, Meelin’s composure was admirable with the excellent Brendan O’Sullivan claiming the insurance point and their management then made a splendid gesture in injury-time, introducing 38-year-old Tom O’Mahony as a substitute to enjoy All-Ireland glory after spending 23 years lining out in the junior hurling ranks for the club.
Scorers for Meelin: E Brosnan 0-6 (0-4f, 0-1 pen); B O’Sullivan, DJ O’Sullivan 0-2 each; John Forrest, J Curtin 0-1 each.
Scorers for John Lockes: G Shelley 1-0; O McGrath 0-2 (one free); JP Corcoran, R Jackman, S Burke 0-1 each.
MEELIN: SM O’Sullivan; M Forrest, D O’Riordan, D Linehan; W Buckley, K Collins, Jerry Forrest; L Collins, W Murphy; John Forrest, S O’Riordan, B O’Sullivan; E Brosnan, J Curtin, DJ O’Sullivan. Subs: T O’Mahony for John Forrest (62).
JOHN LOCKES: P Morrissey; M Gordon, J Power, M Roche; A O’Sullivan, J O’Neill, M Hartley; O McGrath, J Corcoran; P Kennedy, JP Corcoran, R Jackman; S Bergin, G Shelley, S Burke. Subs: M Holohan for Gordon inj. (14), PJ Cody for Holohan (49).
Referee: O Elliott (Antrim).
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