Words can only come close to describing the passion, determination and top quality play that was on display throughout this match. You simply had to be there to marvel at the spectacular final that unfolded for over an hour and a half. A final whistle had never been more cruel to divide two teams into winner and loser at end, because on this day every single player could honestly hold his head up high and be proud of his efforts.
The match began at a frantic pace that immediately demanded the crowd’s attention. It was remarkable that a first half that yielded only one score, a 15th minute 45 from Craanford’s Eamonn Doran, could be so enthralling. The fact that the teams shared 12 wide’s in this half suggests poor shooting, but this was not the case. Such was the high quality of hooking, blocking, tackling and hassling that clear chances were impossible to come by. This was despite the fact that both teams had highly skilful players with incredible first touch and pace sprinkled throughout the pitch. Castlebridge boys Aaron Doyle and Ryan Hanrahan and their Craanford counterparts Joseph Conroy and Cormac Doyle were top dogs in defence at this early stage of the game.
The second half brought the fireworks. The ball wasn’t long thrown in when impressive Castlebridge centre-forward Ross Banville drove an excellent ball into full forward Dylan O’Neill who caught the ball and buried it into the back of the net. Moments later, the same pair combined again when Ross Banville hit a ball over the top of the defence for Dylan O’Neill to run onto and volley into the net. Both sides then exchanged frees through an Eamonn Doran effort and two Ross Banville replies to bring the scores to 2-2 to 0-2. This lead could have grown further had it not been for some safe goalkeeping under the high ball from Craanford’s Patrick Kavanagh.
The game then exploded into life when Craanford emerged from a long period of pressure to go up the field and nab two sensational goals. The first came after Eamonn Doran delivered a dangerous low free into the box. After a ferocious goal line melee, the ball somehow squirted into the net to put Craanford back into the game. The second goal came seconds later when Pat Doyle swept the ball into the path of Pádraig Tobin who duly blasted the ball into the Castlebridge net with a powerful ground stroke. It was well and truly game on at this stage with the sides level at 2-2 apiece.
Ross Banville momentarily restored the Castlebridge lead with a good catch and score from out the field before Eamonn Doran levelled affairs again with another well taken free. As the game ebbed and flowed at a terrific pace, both sides pushed hard for and were denied crucial goals. Castlebridge goalie Jack Waters made a tremendous save from Stephen Greene just before Ross Banville and Dylan O’Neill came within inches of linking up for another great goal. In the closing minutes it looked like Castlebridge were bound for glory when Ross Banville scored a heroic point from way out the field and then extended the lead further with a cooly converted free in front of goal. Craanford refused to accept defeat and with very little time left on the clock, Stephen Greene clawed Craanford back into the match with a driving point and before Eamonn Doran struck a free under immense pressure to bring the game into extra time.
It was Craanford who started the better after the break this time when they stole an early goal through Stephen Greene. Some brave defending at the other end of the field just about denied Dylan O’Neill his third goal and Castlebridge had to be satisfied with an acute angle free by Ross Banville. Dylan O’Neill then turned provider when he crossed into David Doyle who tucked the ball neatly into the bottom corner to flip the lead once more. Just before the break Craanford climbed back on top through another Eamonn Doran free and a second point from Stephen Greene.
After an hour of hurling and so much effort invested into the match, the final ten minutes was always going to be dramatic and it did not disappoint. Craanford’s Bradley Crosbie did well to score an important point to put his team two points up. With five minutes remaining Ross Banville put the minimum between the teams to set up a nail biting finale. Castlebridge had two late chances to grab a goal and a point with the clock ticking but unfortunately their luck seemed to have run out and instead it was Craanford who plundered the final score of the match when Paddy Doyle passed to Pat Doyle for the game clinching score. Final score Craanford 3-9 Castlebrdige 3-7.
The final whistle brought jubilation for the winners and utter devastation for Castlebridge who had just came up that little bit too short at the end. Supporters were quick to congratulate both teams after what was a truly epic encounter and it was with great pride and honour that Craanford captain Gavin Goodwin stepped up and accepted the cup from Rackard League Co. Secretary Jim Dempsey after a win that will live long in the memory for the River Bann boys.
~Seán Óg Whelan
Craanford: Patrick Kavanagh, Joseph Conroy, Cormac Doyle, Martin Kavanagh, Stephen Greene, Alex Kelly, Aodhán Whitty, Eamonn Doran, Mark Doyle, Paddy Doyle, Bradley Crosbie, Pádraig Tobin, Eoin Byrne, Aidan Kavanagh, Adam Bailey, Jack Curran, Pat Doyle, Dean Wadding Nolan, Jack Flemming, Ross Bailey, Ciarán McLoughlin, Christopher Montague, Gavin Goodwin, Luke Byrne
Castlebridge: Jack Waters, Aaron Doyle, Ryan Hanrahan, Mark Doyle, , Hugh Manley, Thomas O’Connor, Mossy Scallan, Tiarnan Malone, Darragh Malone, Adam O’Leary, Ross Banville, Conor Roche, Paul Hearne, Dylan O’Neill, David Doyle, Darragh Howlin, Aodhán Byrne, Jason Murphy, Conor Keane, Ben McAleese, Corey Lawlor, Cian Rossiter, Gloudy Makiese, Ciarán Rattiagan O’Neill, Shane Jackman