A MAN on the ‘inside’ is a bonus. Three is what wins you county titles.
Michael Wilson was in Celtic Park
A trio of Junior Championship final defeats in six years brought heartbreak for Drum but it also bred a desire that burned bright from Tommy Quigley’s first whistle on Saturday afternoon. In the end they simply ran away from an Ardmore team that didn’t show up on the day.
All over the pitch Drum were sharper and it was their own ‘inside men’ that did the damage. The O’Reilly trio of Rory, Conor and especially Kevin were superb. A lethargic Ardmore simply had no answer. Pace, power and accuracy were key as Drum’s system of sitting deep and breaking forward at speed into the wide open spaces of Celtic Park worked a treat.
Key to that system was Donal Brolly whose Wednesday night reprieve from a semi-final red card was perhaps the missing piece of Drum’s final jigsaw and it all came together beautifully.
“That’s my second and the club’s seventh Championship though I think it’s about time,” claimed the Drum stalwart, “There were a few finals in which we just didn’t turn up. We were probably closest against Trasna last year but we left it a bit too late. Today we came in here and said we wouldn’t be leaving it late again. We wanted to start early and put our stamp on the game and I think that’s what we did.”
Ironically given Drum’s excellent start the opening two scores came from an Ardmore team which appeared to have a number of key players carrying injuries. Those early scores were as good as it got for St. Mary’s.
Rory O’Reilly set up Conor for Drum’s opening fourth minute point which could have been a goal had the hand-pass been more accurate and St. Colm’s never looked back. They swarmed all over Ardmore who struggled to cope with the energy Drum brought.
Still, the first half could have turned into a repeat of the opening group game in this year’s Championship when, with Drum 0-4 to 0-2 on 16 minutes, Richie McGrotty was brought down and Ardmore had a penalty. The normally lethal Barry Gormley stepped forward and tried to send Drum keeper Eunan O’Hara the wrong way with a staggered run but the Derry Under 21 player wasn’t fooled and pushed Gormley’s effort away. It was a key moment.
‘Al’ McLaughlin did reduce the deficit to one point but from there Drum went into overdrive. There is never a good time to concede goal but any scored just before and after the interval are always mooted as major psychological strikes. Drum managed both.
They had already amassed an 0-8 to 0-3 lead when, with the first half entering injury-time, Rory O’Reilly again picked out Conor in the corner. The younger O’Reilly showed great pace to cut inside and release Ryan O’Hara who drove along the line before producing an emphatic finish into the roof of Eoin Mailey’s net from the acutest of angles.
If Ardmore were stagged by that they were basically knocked out one minute and 22 seconds into the second period. A dangerous high ball toward the Ardmore square looked to have been dealt with by Mailey who punched clear but once again Drum, this time in the form of Kevin O’Reilly, were quickest to react and the No. 11 made no mistake, stepping inside to finish with aplomb. It was a body blow Ardmore would never recover from.
Not even the award of a second penalty, from which Gormley this time made no mistake, threatened Drum’s advantage. That left seven between the teams at 1-07 to 2-11 but there was never a suggestion of an Ardmore fightback.
“In the group game we were firing but we didn’t get enough on the scoreboard that day. We did today,” explained Brolly, “That gave us a good platform.”
Despite the margin of victory, Brolly dismissed suggestions it had been a routine win and said the impressive performance was the result of a well drilled game-plan.
“It might have been easy looking from the stand but Ardmore are a hard side to play against though we knew we had the inside forward line to destroy any team in this league on their day. The management told us to get the ball into them early and let them do the work. We got the ball in and they did the work.
“I wouldn’t say it was ‘game over’ after that second goal. Ardmore never lie down but they were missing a few players from the group game and even their manager William McLaughlin was not on the line there to get them going which maybe effected them. I think we came in here today and hit them early and they never recovered from it.”
Brolly admitted he was a relieved man to even be playing after his suspension was lifted midweek but stressed it was the right decision.
“To be honest I never thought it (the semi-final sending-off) was a red card in the first place, I thought it was harsh. I have played 15 years of senior football and had never been sent off before, even on a second booking. I couldn’t understand that night what the red card was for so we decided to appeal. Thankfully we won it and I’m here.
“We had no excuses if we lost. We had our strongest team out, bar Paddy (McCloskey), and I am just glad I played. I have missed two finals before, I nearly missed last year due to a wedding and I didn’t want to miss another one.
“Since the group game we have worked on a game-plan and you saw it. We have worked on it every night in training. There is no doubt about that, it has been drilled into us every night. It’s all about getting the ball into the two boys up top and they will do the damage and they did that.”
Drum now go forward to an Ulster Championship clash but they will have to wait until November 4th to visit Breffni Park. If they can produce a similar level of intensity they could be a surprise package in the provincial competition.
Ardmore won’t have long to wait for a chance of revenge with their final league game approaching, ironically against Drum and while it will not have felt like it on Saturday evening, escaping Junior Football is probably a more precious prize.
But this was Drum’s day. To truly appreciate any victory you need to have tasted disappointment. Drum had that and it drove them to a richly deserved Championship title.
Drum - Eunan O’Hara; Eoin McCloskey, Liam Miller, Alex Moore; Damien Brolly, Donal Brolly (0-1), Marc McLaughlin (0-2); James McCartney, Ryan O’Hara (1-2); Conor O’Kane, Kevin O’Reilly (1-4, 2 forty-fives), Niall Ferris (0-2); Cahair O’Kane, Conor O’Reilly (0-5, 1f), Rory O’Reilly. (Subs) Eugene McCartney for Cahair O’Kane, 46mins; Ryan O’Reilly for Rory O’Reilly, 60mins; Cathal Brolly for J McCartney.
Ardmore - Eoin Mailey; Shane Higgins, Leonard Quinn, Brian McLaughlin; Anthony Hargan, Barry Gavin, Peter McLaughlin; Gerard Storey, Chris Duddy (0-1); Barry Gormley (1-3, 1pen, 1f), Danny Gavin (0-1), Richie McGrotty; William ‘Al’ McLaughlin (0-2, 2f), Kevin Robinson, Eddie Bell (0-1). (Subs) Eoghan Dooher for S Higgins, 25mins; Kyle McColgan for L Quinn, 33mins; Chris Gormley for B Gavin, 56mins; Jason Quinn for D Gavin, 56mins.
Referee: Tommy Quigley (Lissan)