Ardfert (Kerry) 1-7 Loughrea (Galway) 0-9
By Brendan O’Brien
IT took a pointed free deep into injury time to deliver the All-Ireland Junior Club football title to Ardfert.
It was a fittingly dramatic ending to a campaign that has seen the Kerry champions living on the edge all year long on their way to this title.
Yesterday’s win couldn’t quite match the excitement of their semi-final victory over Monaghan Harps, when two goals late in extra-time rescued them from elimination, but they still made their supporters sweat one last time before clinching the win yesterday.
"If we were 10 points to the good we’d give it away," said manager Pat O’Driscoll afterwards. He was only half joking.
"We need to be living on the edge, that’s the way we are. It’s been the most stressful couple of months but I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.
"We weren’t happy at half time, there was a lot of gnashing of teeth. After all the hard work put in to get this far we weren’t playing up to scratch at all. We just said ‘lads, would ye buck up?’ We had half an hour to prove ourselves and, in fairness, I’ve never seen a team to die as much as they did for the club out there."
While undoubtedly a team effort, the 1-6 from full-forward and former Underdog Stephen Wallace was the difference between elation and despair for the Kerry and Munster representatives.
Wallace’s efforts were matched only by Loughrea’s David Tierney who had been the star performer in the opening half. Tierney slotted over six points in that period - two of them from play - despite playing deep in midfield.
He was equally troublesome to Ardfert when fielding high balls, winning possession and accelerating forward.
The Connacht champions also benefited from playing an extra man at the back, a tactic they adopted to counter Ardfert’s year-long knack of grabbing more than their fair share of goals.
The Munster champions combated both problems to better effect after the break, limiting Loughrea to just the one point after the restart, Tierney’s fifth and final free coming as early as the 41st minute. It was a scenario few would have predicted after the Galway’s side’s ownership of the first half.
For all that, the north Kerry boys had actually taken to the illustrious surroundings the quicker of the two, with Wallace’s first free after two minutes being followed soon after by the first point from play by Brendan O’Flaherty.
It was then that Loughrea stepped in to dictate the play, dominating the midfield thanks largely to the irrepressible Tierney. Though Loughrea’s platform was sound, their attempts to build on it continually fell about their ears thanks to some poor attempts on goal.
It fell to Tierney to rectify that ailment. By the end of the half he had six points, two from open play.
Ever since they first stepped gingerly outside Kerry late last year, goals have been the currency on which Ardfert have made most profit and so it proved again midway through the first half.
Mairtin Ferris - son of Sinn Féin deputy and team selector Martin - was the catalyst, his hand-pass from the edge of the parallelogram sending Stephen Wallace into a one-on-one duel with Ray Power which he won by coolly slotting the ball under the advancing goalkeeper.
Against all odds, that left the Kerry champions 1-2 to 0-4 to the good but driven by Tierney, Loughrea continued to turn the screw, leaving the pitch at the break 0-8 to 1-3 to the good.
The second half failed to match the standards set by its predecessor, with 24 minutes passing before either team could score from play.
Crucially, Tierney’s influence on the game waned considerably, with the midfielder managing just one more free after 41 minutes, his side’s only score in the entire half.
Ardfert were beginning to set the agenda but it took time for them to secure any concrete results for their efforts and with 10 minutes to go they still trailed by two points.
Ardfert finally discovered the key to unlock the Loughrea defence as the end approached. Wallace landed another brace, one from play, before John Egan was deprived a score by the post. The door was caving in and the last push came, fittingly, from Wallace’s last-gasp free.
ARDFERT: D Dineen; M Moloney, C Flaherty, J Stack; S Flaherty, E Corridan, B Maloney; J Best, M Ferris; J Egan, E Ferris, J Dowling; S Griffin, S Wallace (1-6, 6f), B O’Flaherty (0-1). Subs: F Wallace for Griffin 48.
LOUGHREA: R Power; T Kelly, P Mahony, D Melia; S Creaven, G Keary, B Mahony; D Tierney (0-7, 5f), D McClern; T Tierney, N Shaughnessy, J O’Loughlin (0-1); A Joyce, J Maher (0-1), K Colleran.
Subs: F Kerrigan for Joyce 44.
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).