Young Ireland clinch 2019 Melbourne 7s Title
On the last weekend in February, Young Ireland joined its fellow Sydney GAA clubs in the now annual pilgrimage to Melbourne for the Padraig Pearse’s 7s tournament, the de facto national club competition in Australia. In addition to the Australian clubs, both Singapore and Auckland were represented amongst the 53 teams which took part, making this one of the largest GAA events ever in Australia. With hurling, camogie, ladies, men’s and under age football competitions, music, children’s entertainment and good old-fashioned Aussie barbeques and grog, this event has become the Australian GAA equivalent of the Ploughing Championships back in Ireland.
The fun and games were not just off the field, as Young Ireland were entered in both the men’s and ladies football competitions. Both drawn in tough groups, the bus driver for the Young Ireland panels was told to be ready for a potentially early exit if things didn’t work out for either team. The competition format of four-team groups requires a team to win both of their round robin matches to be in with a chance of making the semi-finals. After that stage, it may still come down to score difference of more than one team in the group win both of their games. Therefore, a 100% record was needed by both teams to advance.
The men’s team was drawn to play Penrith Gaels (Sydney) and Sinn Fein from Melbourne, with the Brisbane Harps also drawn against both of those teams in the group. The ladies were drawn against Brisbane Souths and St. Kevins from Melbourne with Garryowen, also from Melbourne, the fourth team in the group but with the same fixture list as Young Ireland.
The men’s team kicked off first against Penrith Gaels in what was anticipated to be a group decider. In the game prior to this one, Brisbane Harps beat Sinn Fein with a last-minute goal. Penrith and Young Ireland had played a very tight encounter in the Young Ireland 50th Anniversary 7s tournament two weeks previously, with Y.I. lucky to scrape a win by the odd score. After an initial period of stalemate, Y.I. went through the gears to develop a dominant lead. Still, a fightback from Penrith was expected and it took a full-length dive from Fearghal Delaney to keep the Y.I. nets intact. Goals from Luke O’Connor and Conor O’Sullivan pulled Y.I. clear and there was even time for a rare Gerard McGovern burst through the attack. Unfortunately, his shot floated comfortably into the grateful Penrith keeper’s arms just when a third goal looked inevitable. A 16 point winning margin (2-13 to 0-03) put Young Ireland in a comfortable position in the group, knowing that Brisbane Harps and Penrith Gaels would have played their game before Y.I. next took the field against Sinn Fein.
As the lads took shelter from the Melbourne Summer heat, the Ladies were next out against a strong Brisbane Souths outfit. Life this season after goalkeeping stalwart Aoife Dolphin’s retirement was always going to be difficult and keeping out goals proved to be the downfall for Y.I. in this game. Despite this Ciara Devenney in goals pulled off a number of amazing saves and showed a shrewd reading of the game, with great kickouts to put her team mates back on the front foot. The Y.I. team worked hard in the open spaces and created several chances but were unable to be as clinical as their opponents. Final Score: Brisbane Souths 4-05 Young Ireland 2-03
A comfortable win by Brisbane Harps against Penrith Gaels left them top of the group but their score difference was still less than Young Ireland. This meant Young Ireland just needed to beat Sinn Fein to make the semi finals as group winners. With strong performances by Down defensive duo, Gerard Mc Govern and Anthony Doherty, and with Bobby O’Brien driving forward at every opportunity from goals, Y.I. ran out comfortable winners 3-11 to 2-06. Ronan Millar and Willie Ahern raised the green flags for Y.I.
The Ladies took the field for their second game knowing that a win was the best they could do, as Garryowen ladies had taken control of their group with a convincing win over Y.I.’s new opponents, St. Kevin’s. Both teams played as if the title itself was on the line in a real end to end cracker. Coach Mick Murphy, assisted by Jen Keating, cleverly rotated the players in a game played during the hottest part of the day. Noirin Cannon and Michelle Moyles were important support to both players and management along the sidelines.
Laura McAuley and Roisin Fahy held the back line solid with a strong interchange support from Teresa Gilmartin and Marissa Long. Emma Collins and Shelly Lowry rotated through midfield to the forwards supporting Eimear Courtney and Orla Craigie who was the chief Y.I. scoring threat in this match. Both Edel O Carroll and Roisin Murphy played pivotal roles, covering a huge amount of ground at both ends of the field and sharing the scoring load with Orla Craigie.
In the end only a kick of a ball separated the sides. St Kevin’s created the better scoring chances and won, but this was a tremendous effort by the Y.I. Ladies, who were roared on by the men’s team and many neutrals throughout the match. Final Score: St. Kevin’s 1-09 Young Ireland 2-04
With most of the girls new to 7’s and only a panel of 12 available, a number of players pushed through injury, giving it everything they had in the tank. They certainly did the club proud and can hold their heads high after a huge effort over the weekend. As the men awaited the semi-final draw, there were some envious looks in the direction of the ladies after they got stuck into a well-deserved slab of cider following their last game.
In the men’s semi-final draw with Young Ireland, were Melbourne powerhouses Garryowen and Wolfe Tones along with perennial tournament favourites Cormac McAnallens from Sydney. The draw pitched the Sydney teams against each other with the Melbourne teams playing off in the other game.
Y.I. now faced a formidable McAnallens outfit, who won the Young Ireland 50th Anniversary 7s tournament two weeks previously in Sydney. This was the game of the tournament with Y.I. putting it up to their more fancied rivals. A solid forward press by James O’Sullivan and Ronan Millar meant the ‘Macs’ tactics had to adapt and despite McAnallens finding the net first, Young Ireland always responded with the next score. Only the minimum was between the teams at the break with captain Conor O’ Sullivan leading strongly in midfield and Fearghal Delaney raising a green flag for Y.I.
In the second half, Y.I. continued to tick off the points but Macs were able to stay in touch with a second goal. Then with two minutes to go, Y.I. had a penalty to push four points clear. Ronan Millar stepped up to bury the chance. However, Macs drove forward from the kickout and rattled home their third goal to leave a point between the sides as the game entered the final minute. The Y.I. boys did not panic and maintained possession from their kickout. As Fearghal Delaney found some space through the middle, the Macs defence stood off to close down his passing options. But this gave the Meath defender a clear look at the posts and his fine point put Y.I. into the final on a score of Young Ireland 2-10 Cormac McAnallens 3-05.
The final saw Y.I. take on the reigning champions Garryowen who came back from the dead against Wolfe Tones in a bizarre semi-final game. With former All Ireland winner Ciaran Sheehan from Cork, and former Westmeath player Ray Connellan in their ranks, both playing Australian Rules professionally, this was another huge challenge for the lads, already after three tough games. An early goal to Garryowen put Y.I. under pressure from the start. When Y.I. lost Willie Ahern to severe cramp soon enough after that, reducing the interchange options, it was beginning to look like it was not going to be Y.I’s day. But Y.I. gradually got back into the game finishing the first half behind by 1-03 to 0-04.
The half time signs were good as the remaining panel looked fresh and ready to go again and early in the second half Jamesie O’Sullivan from Kerry struck home a cracker of a goal to nudge Y.I. in front. O’Sullivan, from Kerry was the elder statesman on the team and had Kerry minor trials with Mick O’Connell and Mick O’Dwyer back in the 1950’s. His experience was vital in keeping Y.I. motoring forward in the second half. Y.I. tacked on points as Garryowen struggled to get back into the game. Anthony Doherty maintained an impressive effort of scoring from frees in all four games, but his second half scores in this match were nails in the coffin of the Garryowen men.
After one Garryowen attack broke down, Darren McGeever worked the ball out of defence to Ronan Devlin. As Ronan carried the ball into the Y.I. forward line with McGeever in support, the Garryowen defenders were caught between tackling Devlin with the ball or marking McGeever. Devlin capitalised on an opportunity that no one else saw and attacked the Garryowen defence, rifling home a decisive goal to put Y.I. more than two scores clear.
The clock and the scoreboard were now powerful enemies of Garryowen and as the game ticked into the final minute, there was a ten point difference between the sides. Still Garryowen showed the hallmark of champions and hit 1-1 in the final minute. But the day belonged to the Young Ireland men who won on a score line of 2-11 to 2-05.
This was the fourth occasion for Young Ireland to win the tournament, adding to their successes in 2000, 2010 and 2015. James O’Sullivan and Damien Moynihan picked up their second Melbourne 7s title as players to back up their 2015 triumph. Coach John O’Sullivan and selector Brian Gillen were also on the 2015 playing panel, while Brian Deane added a second medal as part of the management team on both occasions.
All 14 players contributed hugely to the day from Declan Morely, Damien Moynihan and Ronan Devlin rotating through the backs with Anthony Doherty and Fearghal Delaney; Darren McGeever sharing the midfield duties with Conor O’Sullivan and Gerard McGovern; to Willie Ahern, Luke O’ Connor and Rory McKernan rotating through the forwards with Jamesie O’Sullivan and Ronan Millar. Bobby O’Brien was immense as a sweeper keeper and drove through the middle on many opportunities. About eight or nine different players ended up in goal covering for him at different stages of the day, showing the commitment they all had for their team mates.
The final whistle was the cue for huge celebration from the Y.I. supporters and players. Captain Conor O’ Sullivan lifted the shield and was presented with a cup to commemorate the occasion, which in a sensible move, was quickly handed over to fellow player Rory “Bomber” McKernan for safe keeping until the end of year dinner dance. The trip back to Melbourne on the bus was a memorable occasion for all who were on board and the celebrations continued into the week for the Young Ireland Champions.
Ladies Panel: Shelly Lowry (Co. Tipperary), Ciara Devenny (Co. Fermanagh), Emma Collins (Co. Clare), Michelle Moyles (Co. Mayo), Laura McAuley (Co. Tipperary), Roisin Fahy (Co. Galway), Noirin Cannon (Co. Donegal), Julie Kennelly (Co. Kerry), Orla Craigie (Co. Meath), Roisin Murphy (Co. Sligo), Edel O’ Carroll (Co. Kerry), Teresa Gilmartin (Co. Sligo), Marissa Long (Co. Kerry), Eimear Courtney (Co. Down). Management: Mick Murphy (Co. Carlow), Jen Keating (Co. Down).
Men’s Panel: Bobby O’Brien (Rathoath Co. Meath), Anthony Doherty (Downpatrick Co. Down), Fearghal Delaney (Dunshaughlin Co. Meath), Gerard Mc Govern (Burren Co. Down), Conor O’Sullivan (Youghal Co. Cork), James O’ Sullivan (Glenflesk Co. Kerry), Ronan Millar (Glenn Co. Down), Damien Moynihan (Glenflesk Co. Kerry), Ronan Devlin (Cargin Co. Antrim), Declan Morley (Skryne Co. Meath), Darren McGeever (Chlioch Cheann Fhaola Co. Donegal), Luke O’ Connor (St. Gabriels Co. Galway), Rory McKernan (Burren Co. Down), Willie Ahern (Canovee Co. Cork). Management: John O’Sullivan (Cromane Co. Kerry), Brian Gillen (St. Pauls Co. Antrim), Danny McErlain (St. Ergnats Co. Antrim), Brian Deane (Clann na nGael Co. Cork).