*Photograph: Burren Eye Photography
Corofin/Ruan’s burgeoning underage dominance extended to a second successive Willie Chaplin Cup on Saturday afternoon but only after a stern evaluation from Feakle/Killanena in O’Garney Park, Sixmilebridge.
Venue: O’Garney Park, Sixmilebridge
Despite leading from start to finish, the final scoreline definitely doesn’t tell the full story of a compelling final showdown. Holders Corofin/Ruan did soar six clear at both the two-thirds mark and again approaching the hour but yet only held a minimum advantage entering the final minute of additional time.
Goals through Ronan O’Connor and substitute Matthew Purcell sparked a stirring Feakle/Killanena backlash that dramatically left a shell-shocked Corofin/Ruan gasping for air.
However, as quickly as the Feakle/Killanena blaze ignited, it was extinguished when Corofin/Ruan Joint-Captain Diarmuid Cahill caught the puck-out and bore down on goal before teeing up Shane O’Brien for the clinching goal.
It was yet another timely reminder to expect the unexpected when it comes to Minor A deciders as in 2019, Corofin/Ruan surprisingly stormed to a first ever crown in what was initially anticipated to be a 50/50 match-up with Clarecastle. And with 11 of the 20 players used in last year’s decider still eligible this season, the North Clare combo were widely tipped to retain their title with ease, only to be pushed all the way by a never-say-die Feakle/Killanena.
In spite of two very varying final performances, crucially Corofin/Ruan prevailed on both occasions and in truth they fully merited this back-to-back triumph on Saturday after controlling matters for the majority.
However, it must be noted that it was never comfortable at any stage and one wonders if Feakle/Killanena had believed in themselves a bit earlier, how different might the narrative have been?
After all, the result appeared a mere formality in the early stages when despite facing into the conditions, Corofin/Ruan would soar 1-2 to 0-0 clear by the fifth minute. Full of pace, power and untrackable overlapping runs, the defending champions went for the jugular and would be rewarded when Diarmuid Cahill was hauled down as he was about to pull the trigger for Shane Punch to welcomingly dispatch the resulting penalty to the bottom right corner of the net.
A brace of Keith Smyth points did finally get Feakle/Killanena off the mark but they would be cancelled out by Cahill and Punch as Corofin/Ruan carried a 1-4 to 0-2 lead into the water break.
That five point cushion would also be maintained until the interval as Punch and Smyth took their free-taking duel to new heights at 1-7 to 0-5. But there were glimpses of Feakle/Killanena’s potency as despite seven first half wides, there were also glorious goal opportunities for Ronan O’Connor and the impressive Smyth.
That warning sign finally came to fruition but only after finding themselves six behind as the unerring Shane Punch took his placed ball tally to 1-7 by the 38th minute to boost the holders 1-11 to 0-08 clear.
With Adam Hogan superbly anchoring their last line and Ian McNamara excellently spoiling chief threat Diarmuid Cahill, Oisin Clune’s release to the centre would add more threat to Feakle/Killanena’s attacking division. It would his midfield partner Ronan O’Connor that would provide the inspirational lifeline though as he slalomed through to unleash a bullet to the top right corner of the net, quickly followed by an equally eye-catching point. And suddenly the gap was back to just two as the sides regrouped for the final water break at 1-11 to 1-09.
Corofin/Ruan welcomed the brief recess to steady the ship once more and appeared to have averted any residual danger when re-emerging with four unanswered points, thanks to braces from Punch and Jack McDonagh at 1-15 to 1-09 by the 55th minute.
Nobody informed Feakle/Killanena of the script however as with the addition of Adam Hogan into the attack, they threw everything at the champions and it almost paid off.
Just two minutes shy of the hour mark, a stinging Keith Smyth shot could only be parried by goalkeeper Kealan Mounsey before substitute Matthew Purcell scrambled home the rebound, with a further duo of Smyth points leaving the narrowest of margins between them by the 64th minute.
With five additional minutes signalled, there was still time for an equaliser as all the momentum seemed to be on Feakle/Killanena’s side.
But when needed most, Corofin/Ruan character and experience came bubbling to the fore as Cahill’s expert catch from the puck-out allowed Shane O’Brien to billow the net followed by an insurance point for Michael Barrow to finally cement glory for a relieved Corofin/Ruan.
Scorers for Corofin/Ruan: Shane Punch (1-9, 1-0 Pen, 9f); Shane O’Brien (1-1); Diarmuid Cahill, Jack McDonagh (0-2 each); Ryan Power, Michael Barrow (0-1 each)
Scorers for Feakle/Killanena: Keith Smyth (0-9, 5f); Ronan O’Connor (1-1); Matthew Purcell (1-0); Gearoid Keane (0-1)
1: Keelan Mounsey
2: Marc O’Loughlin
3: Conor Leen
4: Jason Power
5: Jack Lyons
6: Cillian McGroary
7: Darragh McInerney
8: Ryan Power
9: Killian O’Connor
12: Michael Barrow
11: Diarmuid Cahill
10: Shane Punch
15: Jack McDonagh
14: James Organ
13: Shane O’Brien
18: Cian Doolin for McGroary (56, inj)
1: Seamus O’Donnell
4: Jamie Canny
3: Adam Hogan
5: Enda Madden
7: Eoghan Daly
6: Oisin Clune
11: Darren McMahon
8: Ronan O’Connor
9: Ian McNamara
12: Oisin O’Connor
15: Gearoid Keane
17: Rory McNamara
13: James Greene
2: Ryan Keane
14: Keith Smyth
18: Christopher Moloney for R. Keane (47)
10: Matthew Purcell for R. McNamara (55)
Referee: Eoghan O’Leary (Whitegate)