Fr O’Neill’s 3-24
(after extra time)
UNQUESTIONABLY, this was the hurling game of the year on Leeside with magnificent Fr O’Neill’s securing the Premier U21 title for the first time.
We are moving deep into the month of December but this was a game for the ages, a game of thrills and spills, of some sublime score taking, fantastic individual displays and some controversy too.
It went right down to the wire in the 81st minute after the sides could not be separated in regulation time, Midleton equalising from a free that was deflected into the net in the sixth minute of stoppage time after the 60 had been played.
Three players, Mark Motherway and Billy Dunne for O’Neill’s and Tommy O’Connell for Midleton were dismissed before the free was taken but it must be stressed that this was a very sporting game.
There were heroes all over the field for the new champions, Ger Millerick exhibited was a very special talent he is, Deccie Dalton gave a performance of a lifetime from placed balls, Daniel Harrington and Sean O’Connor excelled too while young Peter Hassett was superb as well.
Billy Dunne smashed home a big goal, Colin Swayne got another as did Jason Hankard on this day of days.
Midleton deserve immense praise too for the manner of their performance and they had Sean O’Leary-Hayes, Sean O’Meara, Seadnaidh Smyth and the outstanding Ross O’Regan making major contributions.
But this was O’Neill’s day, the day Páirc Uí Rinn became a winter wonderland for them, a winter that will now be much shorter in the great hurling homes of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge.
They led by a point at the break after being the more impressive side in that opening half.
It was 1-8 to 1-7 at that juncture, Colin Swayne belting in the O’Neill’s goal in the third minute when he found himself in the clear.
Dalton, Hassett, Hankard, John Millerick and Ciarr O’Connor also got on the scoresheet for the new champions.
Midleton, however, dug in there and after being five points in arrears they reduced it to one with Aaron Mulcahy notching their goal just before the break.
Cian Farmer posted a brace of points with Manley and Tommy O’Connell also raising white flags.
O’Neill’s got the perfect start when the sides resumed with Dunne drilling home a sublime goal after being set up by Hankard.
But Midleton responded again with points from Aaron Mulcahy, Cormac Beausang and O’Regan.
Their keeper Alan Power denied Dunne with a super save before Ross O’Regan struck for a goal in the 45th minute to give the Magpies the lead for the first time.
The sides were deadlocked after 53 minutes at 2-14 apiece before Dalton landed three sensational points from the placed ball, two long-range frees and a wonder strike from a sideline puck.
They had one hand on the trophy now but gallant Midleton did not wilt and from a free that took four minutes to take, O’Regan’s shot went in off an O’Neill’s defender.
Ciarr O’Connor came back, young William Abernethy came in too to replace Dunne and Mark Motherway while Gary Carroll came on for O’Connell for Midleton in extra-time.
Midleton led by a point after the first period of extra-time with O’Regan, Beausang and Manley all pointing.
Dalton added the points for O’Neill’s as the tension became almost unbearable.
And then it all changed again dramatically and positively for O’Neill’s with three unanswered points from Dalton and Hassett.
Then Hankard struck for a goal and from being one down they were five in front.
Cillian Broderick made that six before Sean O’Leary-Hayes right at the death brought it back to three again.
But that was it, a truly magnificent game of ball had ended and O’Neill’s went wild.
They had every right to, they had earned their right to the title on a day that will surely stand the test of time in a great GAA home.
Scorers for Fr O’Neill’s: D Dalton 0-15 (0-12 f, 0-1 sl), C Swayne, J Hankard and B Dunne 1-1 each, P Hassett 0-2, A Kenneally, C Broderick, J Millerick and C O’Connor 0-1 each.
Midleton: R O’Regan 2-3 (1-0 f), G Manley 0-6 (0-5 f), A Mulcahy 1-2, S O’Leary Hayes 1-0, C Beausang, T O’Connell and C Farmer 0-2 each, K Finn 0-1.
FR O’NEILL’S: C Sloane; A Kenneally, M Millerick, S O’Connor; G Millerick, D Harrington, E Motherway; C Broderick, J Millerick; C O’Connor, D Dalton, P Hassett; C Swayne, J Hankard, B Dunne (c).
Sub: M Motherway for C O’Connor (half-time); C O'Connor and W Abernethy (extra time).
MIDLETON: A Power; S Smyth (c), C Gunning, A Daly; S O’Sullivan, S O’Leary Hayes, S O’Meara; T O’Connell, C Beausang; S Finn, K Finn, R O’Regan; C Farmer, G Manley, A Mulcahy.
Sub: G Carroll (extra time).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Nemo Rangers).