St Vincent’s vs Na Fianna : Goals Win Day for Vincent’s

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St Vincent’s 2-11 – 0-12 Na Fianna

In a somewhat fractious encounter, it was business as usual for Vincent’s as they went through, after Na Fianna initially raced out of the blocks, with two early points and a zip about them that looked potentially ominous.

Vincent’s did have to earn it, and it could well have gone into the melting pot when Conor McHugh hit the inside of the post, one on one with the keeper, four points down with 17 minutes remaining.

However, after Na Fianna’s blistering opening, two pieces of individual class in the next ten minutes, put them on the canvas, conceding goals in the sixth and sixteenth minutes.

First Enda Varley, from a seemingly unthreatening position in the corner, picked out Quinn with a delicious cross field ball, Quinn rounded his man, and netted.

Ten minutes later, after Na Fianna got their zonal defence lines muddled, Mossy Quinn was left free inside the “65” to receive the ball after a kick-out was worked up-field. Like deja vu from last year’s encounter, Connolly had “snuck” into the box and Quinn played an inch perfect fifty yard ball over Connolly’s man’s head. Connolly came back around his man, and placed perfectly to the corner.

Despite Vincents’ taking an ominously familiar 2-4 to 0-4 lead shortly after the twentieth minute, there was a sense that there was something about this Na Fianna side, that they wouldn’t roll over. Whenever Conor McHugh or Aaron Byrne got on the ball, frequently drifting towards the middle third to take it, they caused trouble, cutting Vincent’s open with pacey, incisive runs.

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McHugh was a handful, scoring four points from play

Na Fianna were struggling to execute what was clearly a well-rehearsed set play on their own kick-out, which was proving costly. They conceded two points on the trot midway through the first half when Nathan Mullins won one uncontested kick-out after another that had failed to reach their intended targets.

Even when Na Fianna won them in their won half back line, Vincent’s shifted seamleessly for one line of the field to the next, effortlessly getting eleven and twelve behind the ball.

To some extent, it was “Hobson’s choice” for Na Fianna. The alternative was to go long down the throat of the towering Dáithí Murphy, who had inches on both Na Fianna midfielders.

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Vincent’s tied Na Fianna up on their first half kick-outs

The once Na Fianna did hit and win a long kick-out which by-passed the Vincent’s front six, and indeed eight, Conor McHugh scored directly from the possession gained. It made you wonder might have been had Na Fianna had more success on the kick-out/set play execution.

Their troubles on kick-outs, combined with an over-anxiety by Na Fianna to play killer balls into the full forward line, at least three of which failed from promising positions in the first half, kept Vincent’s at arm’s length to lead by 2-6 to 0-5 at half time.

Any suspicion that Vincent’s would kill it off in the opening minutes of the second half, however, as they so frequently do, were put to bed as Na Fianna began to get into the kind of stride you’d expect they might have done with a couple more championship games under their belt.

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It was high intensity stuff

As they composed themselves far more in the early stages of the second half, they began to “out-Vincent’s” Vincent’s, coming off the shoulder at pace, creating and picking holes in the centre, and playing more methodical “pick and poke” football up front.

With Tomás Brady’s game controlling in the centre and Glenn O’Reilly’s incisive runs to the fore up front, they brought the score-line back to 2-6 to 0-9 by the 45 minute mark. That was after McHugh’s goal chance!

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Na Fianna controlled the tempo in the third quarter

Two unlikely misses from Connolly, being marked by Eoghan Murchan at centre back, let Na Fianna off the hook somewhat, before McHugh had his aforementioned goal chance.

With a sense in the Na Fianna section of the stands that they could really turn this one around, as ever, Vincent’s game management was supreme.

As ever with the calm heads of Michael Savage in goal and Ger Brennan at centre back, and the head and legs of Shane Carthy in the centre, they began to slow the game down and force Na Fianna to chase shadows to some extent, never letting them closer than three points.

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Craig Wilson calms thing down in the final quarter

When they stretched their lead to five when Dáithí Murphy burst through the centre to score, followed by one of Connolly’s 1-4, hope was more or less lost.

Na Fianna were naively drawn into the night’s third shemozzle, four points down in the final minute, killing both the clock and their last bit of momentum, as Vincent’s extended their lead to a slightly flattering five points in injury time.

Na Fianna may well rue allowing Vincent’s easy possession on a few kick-outs in the final quarter, when they had the men in place to go man on man. This allowed Vincent’s to control things at a point where Na Fianna really needed to force them long and hope to spoil Murphy in the air and win the breaks to put Vincent’s on the back foot.

In a game were Vincent’s will feel they kept Na Fianna at arm’s length, Na Fianna may also rue that from a total of three (and a half) to three clear “one on one” chances in the game, they converted none, while Vincent’s converted two, something which alludes to how not so far off the mark Na Fianna were.

They may well feel that had Jonny Cooper and Adam Caffrey been available and fully fit, respectively, and had they had a few more games to tweak their kick-out set-play, they could have turned this one over.

Of course, Vincent’s will probably feel they’d have upped a gear and kept them at arm’s length in any circumstances, as they so typically do to teams. Perhaps they’d be correct.

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Against a more than decent Na Fianna side, Vincent’s seemed to shifted seamlessly from one management team to another. Their performance marks them out, for me, as the slight favourites to win the championship ahead of Ballymun, having illustrated that we shouldn’t expect to see a post-Alex Ferguson type apocalypse after Tommy Conroy’s departure.

A mere cameo role for stalwart Ruairí Traynor, replaced in the starting line-up by Albert Martin, illustrates just how strong this Vincent’s panel is. This change, as well as the omission of what I presume was an unavailable Brendan Egan, and the line-out, as well as style, were identical to last year’s latter stages.

St Vincent’s : Michael Savage, Craig Wilson, Jarlath Curley, Mick Concarr, Cameron Diamond, Ger Brennan, Nathan Mullins, Dáithí Murphy, Shane Carthy, Gavin Burke, Diarmuid Connolly,Cormac Diamond, Enda Varley, Albert Martin, Tomás Quinn Subs : Tiernan Diamond for Martin (38), Joe Feeney for Burke (51), Fiachra Breathnach for C Diamond (51) , Ruarí Traynor for Varley (60)

Na Fianna : Conor McCarville, Niall McGovern, Niall Cooper, John Kelly, Darragh Kennedy, Eoghan Murchan, Senan Coughlan, Carl O’Connor, Tomás Brady, Gus Farrell, Glenn O’Reilly, Aaron Byrne Alasdair Fitzgerald , Conor McHugh, Eoin Neville Subs : Paul O’Hanlon for Kennedy (13), JJ Martin for O’Connor (36), Odhrán Maoileidigh for Neville (40), Michael Deegan for Farrell (55), Andrew Baxter for Coughlan (59)

Scorers : Vincents D Connolly 1-4, S Carthy 0-3, T Quinn 1-0, G Burke 0-1, E Varley 0-1 (1 free), Cameron Diamond 0-1, D Murphy 0-1 Na Fianna : C McHugh 0-6 (two free), G O’Reilly 0-3, A Byrne 0-2, G Farrell 0-1.

*Statistical analysis will follow in the coming days

By Stephen O’Meara