Was the comeback or the collapse the more remarkable story of Leinster final?

Remarkable. It’s the only word worth using to describe yesterday’s Leinster Club final. A remarkable way to win a game and equally a remarkable way to lose it. And quite a remarkable end to the GAA season, writes John Divilly.

Was the comeback or the collapse the more remarkable story of Leinster final?

Did Moorefield win it or did Loman’s lose it? The phrase ‘game management’ is plastered on most dressing-room walls and posted on the WhatsApp groups after all post-match analysis.

The Mullingar lads will cringe this morning when they review the final seven minutes at O’Moore Park.

They were in the driving seat. The south Newbridge lads were drifting out of Portlaoise shaking their heads. The television lads were picking their man of the match and the Leinster Council were tieing the blue and white ribbons around the McCabe Cup.

St Loman’s had shown produced admirable comebacks against Mullinalaghta and

Simonstown. Yesterday, they once again produced a comeback. They overturned a three-point half-time deficit and went on a scoring spree in the second half. However, they couldn’t see the game out and a combination of panic and errors allowed Moorefield to claim the unlikeliest of victories.

I had hoped to be settled quietly on the terraces yesterday. But no terraces were opened to the public. Instead, all paying spectators were ushered into the stand. It turned out to be a great call by the Leinster GAA as there was an electric atmosphere created by the supporters.

It wasn’t an error-free game but it was a classic championship final which had everyone on the edge of their seats. Some of the score-taking, tackling and marks were truly memorable and this was helped by some wonderful common sense referring by Barry Tiernan. It’s a long time since I saw a game of football being refereed like a hurling game. In other words, letting the game flow as much as he could and permitting physicality to thrive. Kudos to the Dublin official.

The memorable scores? Ronan O’Toole’s 1-2 in the second half was brilliant. His goal went as follows. Paul Sharry collected a short kick-out and sprayed a 40-metre pass up the line to O’Toole. He passed inside to Windsor who moved it on to Ken Casey.

Instead of Casey pulling the trigger from a tight angle, the impressive O’Toole had continued his run. A smart hand-pass out to the onrushing Loman’s centre-forward and he smashed it low to the corner of the net.

The other two goals were equally impressive and Roly Sweeney had a hand — albeit indirectly — in both. The first of the two St Loman’s goals came after the turned the ball over from a Sweeney mark for Moorefield. Seven seconds later, Ken Casey crafted a beautiful finish to put Loman’s three points ahead.

Roly made up for it though. When my man of the match, James Murray, drove hard at the Lomans rearguard, they presumed he would go all the way. He didn’t. Waving frantically at the back post was the evergreen 37-year-old Moorefield legend, and he slid the ball under the advancing goalkeeper, Jason Daly.

Great goal but this was the first of St Lomans’ game-managements mishaps. Rewind back a minute. Paul Sharry had a free on his own 20metre line. His game-management up to then had been exemplary and he had kicked two great points.

Instead of kicking up the line, he went across his own full-back line where the ball eventually found its way to Loman’s centre-back, Paddy Dowdall, on the stand side. The ball still hadn’t crossed the 20-metre line. Dowdall should have cleared long. Instead, he shipped a big tackle and then tried to hand-pass a floater to a colleague.

James Murray was decisive, he intercepted and the Moorefield comeback was on. Paul Sharry’s second yellow was another energy-sapping moment as was Billy O’Loughlin’s ‘Calamity Jane’ moment of madness. Eanna O’Connor had missed two frees in the first half, one with his left foot and the other from the ground. His last-gasp effort was gone wide in everyone’s minds, except for the peerless Roly. He could have easily let it drift wide.

His determination yesterday was his most impressive characteristic for me. He believed in himself and his team.

He pulled all his experience from his locker and he risked a little. He could have let it go wide and extra-time would have ensued.

He gambled, kept the ball in play and Kevin Murnaghan gave the Kildare men an early Christmas present.

Westmeath’s John Heslin had number 14 on his back but only played in that position on one occasion in the first half.

Ten minutes into the first half, he drifted into the full forward spot. He won position but was immediately surrounded by Kildare men. He didn’t go back in there again and he was right.

While he didn’t handle as much ball as he would normally do, he freed up valuable space for Casey, Dempsey, and Ronan O’Toole. It was a clever team tactic and an unselfish move by Heslin. It should have been the decisive move of the match from Luke Dempsey.

St Loman’s played with no sweeper. Each Loman’s defender backed himself to win their own duel and while they did so on numerous occasions, the concession of seven converted frees will add to their misfortune today.

They can and should be proud of themselves. They played some sweet football. Game-management will come with experience. Moorefield had experience of a previous Leinster triumph but nothing will compare to this, their sweetest ever victory.

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