Second half comeback helps Wheery retain title

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john.ocallaghan

The first major silverware of the GAA year in Offaly is heading to West Offaly after Wheery retained the under 20 football title with a five point victory over St Patrick’s in a well contested final at O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Saturday last.

St Patrick’s put it up to the champions and were well deserving of their three point lead at half time but, just as they had done in their semi-final the previous week, Wheery were much more impressive in the second half and quickly took control of the game and St Patrick’s were unable to contain them.

A goal a minute after the restart was the score which kickstarted their effort, and two quick points put them in front. St Patrick’s battled to try and get back in the game but the scores which had come fairly freely in the first half were much harder to come by after the break. In all they only managed three points in the second half as Wheery turned a three point half time deficit into a five point win.

This was a repeat of the 2018 final, which Wheery won by 12 points, but they were made to work much harder to retain the title on this occasion. The 2017 title, the last at under 21 level, was also won by Ferbane so this crown has headed in the Ferbane direction for three years in succession now.

This was a very entertaining final with both sides playing the game in the right spirit. The first half was a ding dong battle the lead change hands a number of times. The sides were level on six occasions as St Patrick’s really took the game to the favourites and they finished the half on the up to lead by 0-10 to 0-7 at half time.

A minute after the restart they were level for the seventh and final time when sub Cathal Flynn fired home a fine goal and Wheery took control after that. They quickly went two up but St Patrick’s hung in within a score of their rivals until midway through the half. In the final quarter Wheery pushed out to a six point lead before a late St Patrick’s score left five in it at full time.

Wheery are deserved champions as they played for the full 60 minutes. Although they were under pressure in the first half, they kept plugging away. It was something similar in their semi-final and as on that occasion, a goal a minute after the restart was the score that set them on their way. They made a double substitution in attack at half time, bringing in Cathal Flynn and Darragh Flynn and Cathal made an immediate impact as he fired home the only goal of the game a minute into the second half. Indeed he had a major impact on the second half and finished up his side’s joint top scorer.

St Patrick’s will be disappointed. They played very well in the first half and stretched Wheery. Corner forward Ciaran Breen kicked three first half points (and added a fourth in the second half) as they put pressure on their opponents. They were slick in their movement and were well on course for the title at the break. However they were unable to maintain that momentum in the second half as Wheery upped the tempo and although they fought on to the end, their efforts came up short.

Wheery can celebrate another title and full back Conor Butler was a towering figure. The all action David Nally led a strong half back line where Conor Kenny and Aaron Brazil also impressed. Sean Ibbotson won lots of possession in the middle of the field while in attack Bernard Corcoran kicked three good points, Cian Johnson was a constant threat, Sean Flynn worked tirelessly and sub Cathal Flynn made a vital impact.

For St Patrick’s Briain Nolan, Adao Dafe and Rory Egan put in a good stint in defence. Cian Farrell virtually ran himself into the ground in an impressive display while in attack Ciaran Breen, Ciaran Nolan and Jack Brady were always involved.

Cian Johnson and Cian Farrell exchanged early frees before David Nally pointed for Wheery. Ciaran Breen and Ciaran Nolan put St Patrick’s in front for the first time after seven minutes but Cian Johnson levelled from a free. A sweeping move led to another Ciaran Breen point but Cian Johnson levelled and Bernard Corcoran put Wheery back in front midway through the half.

St Patrick’s hit the next three points, two from Cian Farrell (one free) and one from Ciaran Breen, as the gap between the sides stretched to two for the first time. Back came Wheery and Michael Egan and Sean Flynn from a free brought them level again after 23 minutes. Cian Farrell’s free put St Patrick’s back in front and Alan Harte and Ciaran Nolan added further points as they led by 0-10 to 0-7 at half time.

Wheery got the ideal start to the second half with a goal after a minute. A quick move saw Cian Johnson feed Cathal Flynn and he shot low from 13m to the corner of the net. Bernard Corcoran and Sean Ibbotson added points to put them two up. St Patrick’s missed a couple of frees as they fought to get back in the game and after eight minutes had a goal chance when a quick free set Cian Farrell rampaging through. The ball ran loose and he pulled first time on it but Harry Balsiger threw his body in the way and blocked the shot. Ciaran Breen did add a point shortly after as they cut the lead to one.

Cian Johnson and Cathal Flynn pushed the lead out to a goal but Cian Farrell kept St Patrick’s in touch with a point. Going into the final quarter Cathal Flynn and Michael Egan put a bit more daylight between them. Eight minutes passed without a score before Bernard Corcoran and Cian Johnson pointed to put six between them.

Cian Farrell did point a free but despite a lot of late pressure, St Patrick’s couldn’t breach the Wheery rearguard any further and they held on to retain their title.

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