Ardee St Marys Minors are setting their sights on a league and Championship double in 2017 and selector Mark Rooney believes the Ardee side have the strength in depth in their panel required to win a first ever Minor Championship for the club next month.
The young Marys emerged victorious from a bruising semi-final encounter with Cooley Kickhams in Darver on Friday evening, coming from five points down at the midway point of the second half to win comfortably by 2-12 to 1-09 in the end. They will now face Geraldines or Naomh Mairtin in the final, where the club will bid to win a first ever Minor Championship as a standalone outfit.
The Marys have a rich and longstanding history in Minor Championship competition, but that is as an amalgamation with other local sides – the Ardee Minors. 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of their four-in-a-row team of the 1960s and that combination last one the Minor Championship in 1987, thirty years ago.
Rooney believes his side are well equipped on going all the way this time around. “We’ve never won it as a club on our own. It’s 30 years since Ardee Minors won it and the club have their 90th anniversary coming up as well, so it’s a big year and there’s a couple of good teams coming up behind them as well,” he told ThisIsArdee.ie. “Hopefully we can take the monkey off our back and give teams coming behind a bit of belief and go on and win two or three in a row.”
In between now and the final, which is slated for the day of the Senior Championship final, the Marys have a number of league games to navigate – matches that come at a good team as a big squad vie for much-needed game time in an effort to impress. The semi-finals of the league beckon and Rooney says the team are “gunning to win all.”
A point ahead at the break on Friday evening, a quick start in the second half from Cooley saw St Marys fall give points behind. Rooney, part of a management team also including manager Tom Kirk and selector Dermot Gillespie, admits he felt it could have been the end of the road.
“Ten minutes into the the second half, five points down, I’m thinking this game is running away from us. The penalty swung it in our favour. Liam Jackson had the balls to take it and that swung the game,” he said. “They’re a determined bunch of lads, they’re hungry and they deserve to be a final.
“They showed a bit of character in the end. With their backs against the wall, they got stuck in. Some lads didn’t perform when they usually would and I suppose that’s why we have a big squad, a good squad. There’s lads who think they should be starting – and maybe they should be – and they did a job when they came on. If we are lucky enough to go on and win it, it’ll be a squad that wins it and not just 15.”
The Marys finished the game much the stronger and in injury time, substitutes Andrew Bingham and Tristan Knowles hit 1-02 to put the game beyond doubt. Other changes came out of a different kind of necessity – with Tom Jackson and Jonathan Commins succumbing to injury but Rooney says the quality of options available to the management is a big reason why the Marys stand on the cusp of Championship success.
“The subs made a difference when they came on. It was a physical battle, it was horses for courses. Lorcan Dixon, Joe Mulholland came on and threw their strength around the field,” he continued. “Andrew Bingham came on and he probably feels he’s unlucky not to be starting. But every game he’s come on in, he’s scored 1-10 so far. He’s pushing hard.
“We had a tough game against the Mochtas and that was the only real test we had,” Rooney says, alluding to being handed two walkovers in the group and winning the quarter final against Dundalk Gaels by 39 points. “Last week against the Gaels, we learned nothing from it. Cooley had a couple of tough games in their group and then the quarter-final so that was always the fear – going into the game without being tested. We hadn’t enough games under our belt.
“Over the years Cooley have always hit hard and are a physical team and they showed that on Friday. The lads weren’t going to get it easy. At half time, we were a point up but we weren’t playing well. We were doing fundamentals wrong – picking balls up off the ground. There were a few choice words at half time to try and get their act together and try and rally them.
We needed a few of the bigger lads to step up and in fairness, a few of them did get going. There’s only so much you can do as a management team. When they step out onto the field, it’s up to them,” Rooney added.
“Cooley were coming at us in droves. Tom Jackson going off was a massive loss. He was playing well, sweeping up and setting up attacks. We had to make calls, unpopular calls, it had to be done and lucky enough it paid off for us in the end. Shane Matthews hit a tough free to get us in front and it kicked on from that.
“A game like that will stand to us. Even if we are behind, we can come back. They are a determined bunch of lads. They’re training since last February and there’s never a moan out of them – they just get on with it. It wasn’t looking good at one stage. 12 minutes into the second half, five points down, you need the rub of the green.” They got it.