Unfancied St Flannan’s had secured a shock but thoroughly deserved victory over hot favourites Tralee CBS in the semi-final of the Credit Union Corn Uí Mhuirí (Munster Colleges SFC) and, in the words of their outstanding centre-back Seamus Hickey, “the double is definitely on now.”
The joy in their success was increased by the knowledge that it had been hard-earned against the traditionalists who will have nightmares after failing to live up to their billing.
A glimpse at this year’s championship tells the story of Flannan’s being crushed by Tralee by nine points in the preliminary round and the Green, with one of their best teams in years, were firm favourites not alone to confirm that superiority over the Ennis college but to go on and take the title.
However, the only certainty in sport is its uncertainty, and in a magnificent comeback Flannan’s rallied superbly to turn a six-point half-time deficit (0-11 to 0-5) into a thrilling one point win.
Scoring hero was wing-forward Enda Lyons who kicked the winner three minutes into injury time. There was still time for one more drama before the final whistle as Tralee mounted a desperate last attack and the ball was played into the path of substitute Alan O’Donoghue, but with at least an equalising point there for the taking, he went for glory only to see his kick sail harmlessly wide.
Egan was swamped by his delirious team-mates at the final whistle and rightly so. It isn’t often you get the chance to put a Kerry football team to the sword, but Flannans had a team of heroes. Few gave them a chance as they turned to face the wind six points adrift, but playing magnificent football they rocked the favourites with a Conor Cooney goal six minutes after the restart and then matched Tralee point for point, as the sides were level three times before Enda Lyons completed the fairy tale with the match-winner.
This Flannans side is as good a football team as you’ll find in this year’s colleges championship. Big and strong in defence where Seamus Hickey was a colossus, with wing-back Declan Clancy not too far behind, good in midfield where team captain Shane Ryan finished with four points to his credit, and up front Enda Lyons, Donagh Stack and Padraig McMahon tormented the Tralee defence at every opportunity. They will now meet a DLS Macroom team in the final who are as big and strong and, if Flannans are successful in the Harty final on March 12 in Cashel, the football decider a week later should not be missed, as the double would be a distinct possibility.
When Tralee look back on this game they will forever wonder how they lost it. They won the toss and elected to play with the strong wind and it was the correct decision, as they laid siege to Flannans defence from the throw in and led 0-6 to 0-1 after ten minutes.
The superb high fielding of Liam O’Sullivan and the industrious Stephen Browne gave them a grip at midfield and with David O’Callaghan sparkling in attack, it looked a case of how much Tralee would win by, Mark O’Sullivan punishing the Flannans defence every time for silly frees.
However, for all their territorial advantage, Tralee couldn’t quite put their opponents away and, in a great ten-minute spell just before half time, Flannans rallied with three excellent points and only the thickness of the crossbar denied Enda Egan a goal.
If Tralee needed any warning of just how potent this Flannans attack was, that period told them and while a six-point lead in football is significant, the Green could not afford to take their foot off the pedal.
The strong wind was clearly a factor and in the space of nine minutes Flannans chalked up 1-3 without reply to draw level for the first time, and they were denied a goal when Tralee keeper Kevin O’Shea saved superbly from Finbarr Neville.
Flannans were rampant: with Seamus Hickey majestic at centre-back and Shane Ryan and Cillian Duggan on top at midfield, Tralee were forced to defend for long periods. There was no let-up in the exchanges and the sides were level on two occasions before Enda Lyons brought this contest to an end with the winning score.
: St. Flannans: S. Ryan 0-4 (0-2 frees); C. Cooney 1-0; E. Lyons, P. McMahon (0-1 free) 0-2 each; C. Duggan, S. Hickey, D. Clancy 0-1 each. Tralee CBS: M. O’Sullivan 0-7 (0-5 frees); D. O’Callaghan 0-4 (0-1 free); A. Kelly, B. Costello 0-1 each.
: E. O Braoinain; S. O’Regan, C. Madden, S. Guilfoyle; C. Hickey, S. Hickey, D. Clancy; C. Duggan, S. Ryan; E. Lyons, D. Stack, C. Cooney; J. Egan, F. Neville, P. McMahon.
: F. Neylon for Egan; PJ O’Donnell for Neville.
: K. O’Shea; S. Brosnan, L. Kissane, B. Costello; P. Shanahan, A. Greaney, S. Higgins; L. O’Sullivan, S. Browne; D. O’Callaghan, A. Kelly, S. Wallace; BJ Walsh, D. Moran, M. O’Sullivan.
: P. Culloty for Wallace; C. Barrett for Kelly; A. O’Donoghue for BJ Walsh.
: M. Ryan (Limerick).