Ardee Community School are Louth GAA Lennon Cup champions 2017. A 0-13 to 1-09 win over St Josephs CBS meant the Ardee school won the trophy for the first time since 2017.
Carl Gillespie’s late point proved just enough for St Cillians, as they edged out the team from Drogheda by the narrowest of margins in Darver. It’s own micro-climate, the Centre of Excellence venue is cold at the best of times. Approaching mid-December, a snowstorm provided the backdrop of this encounter. There was little love lost between the rivals – and the encounter proved frosty in every sense of the word.
Having seen off the Ardee challenge in last year’s semi-finals acquaintances were renewed in the final this time around. A team featuring Ryan Walsh and Daire Nally, they – as expected – provided the sternest challenge yet. That duo – from St Fechins and Newtown Blues respectively – were dangerous throughout for the 2015 and 2016 winners and offered the biggest threat to the Ardee challenge.
Ardee Community School blazed a trail en route to the final, with big wins over St Marys Drogheda, Scoil Ui Muiri Dunleer and Bush PP lighting up the group and latter stages. Only De La Salle Dundalk, who Ardee beat by four points, provided anything worthy of being considered a real challenge.
Awash with victorious St Marys and league champions – at both minor and Under 16 level, Anthony Durnin’s young side were marked out as contenders early on in the tournament. With players representing Mattock Rangers, Westerns GFC, John Mitchels and Hunterstown too, the coach had a strong panel to choose from.
It was notable then that the early favourites would meet the two-time reigning champions in the showpiece final in Darver. Unfortunately, influential midfielder Liam Jackson has missed virtually the entirety of the campaign and what he would have given to be on the field of play on Thursday night. He will have another chance in 2018.
Neil Kerr and Sean Sweeney patrolled the midfield area but early on, ACS struggled to exert any kind of control on the game. Two St Josephs wides came before Walsh finally put over. Either side of Shane Hickey’s fine solo effort, Shane Matthews scored two scores of his own.
But CBS pulled away through points from Nathan Sutherland and Nally and a goal from Walsh. He slotted low under Louth stopper Alan McGauley. Ardee were getting turned over too easily, losing the ball cheaply and struggled to make any great headway into forward areas. For that, in part, you have to credit the Joes.
Scores from Jonathan Commins and Ciaran Keenan reduced the arrears as Ardee started to show signs of life in the second period. The teams swapped wides and Gavin Kirk made a crucial block in the backs before Gillespie and Nally swapped scores leaving it 1-05 to 0-05 at the break, in favour of the Drogheda school.
That score presented a different kind of teamtalk for Durnin and Paudie Kirk, who had spent most of the campaign dampening expections that followed his young team around. It was now or never. In the midst of a cold front sweeping across the Darver pitch, it was time to turn up the heat and show just why they had been considered such red hot favourites.
Ardee responded in sensational style. Five straight scores from Keenan, Commins, and Matthews put them in control. The tide had well and truly turned, but there was work still to do. Two Nally frees drew them level and he repeated the trick to make it 1-08 to 0-10.
Quickfire points at the other – from sub Carl Gillespie from wide left and then Keenan – edged St Cillians back in front. Up by one with minutes to spare, Kerr took a necessary yellow card with a challenge he needed to make. From the free, the Joes made nothing of it. Ardee raced down the other end – and Carl Gillespie put daylight between the teams.
There was still time for Nally to respond but it wasn’t enough. A last gasp ball went awry in the Ardee backline, tantalising close to the goal line but it drifted across and wide.
For the first time in four attempts, the Lennon Cup campaign ends in success for Ardee CS. Those close to the panel will consider it deserved, and just. Players such as Conor Gillespie, Shane Matthews and goalkeeper McGauley won’t be around next year to go again. They can reflect on a job well done. An All-Star award would be a cherry on top of the fulsome dessert.
It was fitting that the players ended a campaign in which they hit so many high notes with a singsong as they returned to Ardee. Shane Matthews was the man leading the chorus. A Lennon Cup win is music to all our ears.
ARDEE COMMUNITY SCHOOL: Alan McGauley, Cian Taaffe, Cormac Raffety, Jack Grimes, Tristan Knowles, Donal McKenny, Gavin Kirk, Neil Kerr, Sean Sweeney (Andrew Bingham, 45), Jonathan Commins (0-03) (Marc Ward, 60), Ciaran Keenan (0-04), Cathal Fleming (Carl Gillespie, 46 (0-02), Trevor Matthews, Conor Gillespie (0-01), Shane Matthews (0-03).
Subs Not Used: Liam Jackson, James McDonald, Evan Malone, James McDonald, Aaron Hannity, Caolan O’Callaghan, Bobby Butterly, Dean Burns, Niall Farrell, Niall Clerkin, Ben Quaile, Craig Englishby, Andrew Rogers, Jake Gillespie, Aaron Keenan, Dylan White, Barry Cousins, Jordan Smith, Cian Smith.
ST JOSEPHS CBS DROGHEDA: Niall McDonnell, Evin McConnon, David Lally, Ciaran McCann, Thomas Clarke, Alan Connor, Marty Walsh, Shane Hickey (0-01), Cathal Doherty, Rian Aikpitanyi, Conor Faulkner, Sean Healy, Daire Nally (0-05), Ryan Walsh (1-02), Nathan Sutherland (0-01).